Search
  • Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Restorative Readings: The Old Testament, Ethics, and Human Dignity
    Pickwick Publications

    Foreword by Walter Brueggemann, my chapter is entitled 'In conversation: The Old Testament, Ethics and Human Dignity'. A superb resource edited by Julie Claassens and Bruce Birch

  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
Pages
Social networking
« The journey is drawing to a close! An update on Courtney 1 October 2010 | Main | The problem of pornography - porn on the Internet, an infographic »
Friday
Oct012010

The predictable irrationality of ethics - why we find it more difficult to steal money

I read Dan Ariely's fascinating book 'Predictably Irrational' last month.  It gave me a great deal of insight into how we make irrational decisions, but more importantly how we can understand (and perhaps even predict) such blunders.

In chapters 11 and 12 of the book Ariely deals with the matter of ethics and morals.  He shows through a series of experiments how we make unethical decisions because of the way in which our brains value different things of the same value...  Perhaps you should read that sentence again?

Simply stated, let's say a Coke costs US$1, what is more valuable to us, the Coke or a US$1 bill?  Well, he conducted an experiment where he placed 6 Cokes in some University dormitory fridges, and a plate of 6 US$1 bills in other fridges.  After 72 hours he returned to see which of the items (the money or the cokes) were stolen more easily.

It is not surprising that he discovered that in almost all the cases the Cokes were gone, but the plate of money was untouched in almost every case.  

In short this experiment (and a few others that he uses to verify his assumption) shows that people are less likely to 'steal money' than 'steal coke' - why?  Well, there seems to be a far greater social stigma attached to taking cash than there is to taking objects.

Here's another example.  Let's say you're at work and your wife phones you and tells you that your child needs a pencil for school.  Would you feel OK -> Not too bad -> Too guilty to take a pencil home for her? Most people answered that they would feel OK to take a pencil home.

Now, let's say that there are no pencils at work, but there is a shop downstairs that sells pencils for 60cents.  The company's pettycash box is in your possession and no one is checking.  How would you feel about taking 60cents from the pettycash box to buy a pencil for your daughter (the value of the pencil you would have taken from your company is 60cents)?  

Most people indicated that it would be much more difficult to steal the money than it would be to steal the pencil from their employer... 

Why?  Well, we have been socialized to think that money is 'worth more' than goods or time!  People go to jail for stealing money, but we seldom hear about people going to jail for 'stealing a pencil', or 'stealing time', or 'stealing private phone calls' from work...

I was fascinated by this (predictably) irrational element to my own ethical decision making.  What do you think?  Is Ariely's interpretation of his findings correct?  Is the value of goods and time the same as the value of money?  

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Post:
 
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>