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[liberationtech] [cpsr-activists] CPSR Curriculum?

Yosem Companys ycompanys at
Mon Feb 4 15:30:43 PST 2019

I wonder if the study had been conducted in the following radically
different way instead whether it had resulted in a different outcome.
Studying the effect of a class that implicitly (if not explicitly)
inculcates self-interest is, if Nobel Prize-winning economist Oliver
Williamson to be believed, one form of studying the effects of teaching
ethics on human behavior:

The specific question addressed by Frank et al. (1993) was this: Does
> exposing college students to the precepts and findings of rational choice
> theory influence the power they perceive self-interest has, or at least
> should have, over their own lives and that of the average other? The
> researchers examined this question by assessing students' responses at both
> the beginning and end of the semester to two ethical dilemmas ("Would you
> return a lost envelope with $100 in it?" and "Would you report a billing
> error that benefited you?"). Students were members of one of two different
> microeconomics classes or of a class unrelated to economics (astronomy). Of
> the economics classes, one was taught by an instructor who specialized in
> game theory (a field in which self-interest is axiomatic), the other, by an
> instructor who specialized in economic development in Maoist China. The
> results supported the hypothesis that studying economics can foster
> self-interest. Over the course of the semester, the responses of students
> in the game theorist's class increased in self-interest more than did those
> of students in the other economist's class; these latter students'
> responses, in turn, increased more in self-interest than did those of
> students in the control (astronomy) professor's class. Similar changes
> emerged on measures assessing students' expectations of the actions of the
> average person.

The most significant finding of Frank et al. (1993) for the present
> analysis is that the experience of taking a course in microeconomics
> actually altered students' conceptions of the appropriateness of acting in
> a self-interested manner, not merely their definition of self-interest.
> Instruction in economics, it would appear, does not make cynics out of
> students by persuading them that the motivation behind people's actions,
> whatever it appears to be, is inevitably self-interest. Frank et al.'s
> (1993) participants did not emerge from Economics 101 believing that it
> actually is in one's self-interest to report a favorable billing error
> because, for example, it preempts guilt or fosters a reputation for
> honesty. Rather, they emerged apparently believing that not reporting a
> favorable billing error, in addition to being self-interested, is also the
> rational and appropriate action to take, however guilty one feels doing so.

By the way, the rest of the paper is worth reading for all of you who care
about teaching ethics to engineers. According to Miller, who reviews the
literature above, the economics discipline has inculcated an ethics of
self-interest in the U.S. that permeates a number of fields. See also:

Yosem E. Companys
*(Pronouns: He/Him/His)*
Co-Founder and Executive Director, Liberation Technology
PhD, Stanford University
MPA, Harvard University
BA, Yale University
ycompanys at
(650) 796-1205

On Mon, Feb 4, 2019 at 3:15 PM Aaron Massey <akmassey at> wrote:

> Re: seeking empirical evidence about ethics instruction
> A recent publication at FSE attempted to evaluate the impact of the new
> ACM code of ethics on decision-making and found no evidence of an effect
> according to their methodology.  You can read the paper here:
> It’s worth asking whether this is the sort of structure a study of this
> nature should have.  For example, this study doesn’t really address many
> (or any?) of the points Charles made earlier.
> Best, Aaron
> On Mon  04 Feb 2019  07:40 AM, Charles M. Ess wrote:
> >And thanks on both fronts!
> >
> >My acknowledging that it was a critical, spot-on point was not
> >gratuitous or merely courteous: behind it is a larger point - one that
> >we don't always point out to our undergraduate students.  But
> >Aristotle warned at the outset of his Nichomachean Ethics that no one
> >under 30 should attempt it - precisely because of their comparative
> >lack of experience as enculturated ethical beings.  (Part of this
> >enculturation includes precisely our learning from our mistakes -
> >phronesis as self-correcting ethical judgment.)
> >FWIW: while I loved teaching undergraduate philosophy courses, such as
> >ethics and logic, for example - and still think that there's value and
> >some measure of good effect from them - having so-called
> >"non-traditional" was always a great pleasure, precisely because they
> >could bring their greater experience into play.  FWIW: the past couple
> >of decades have been even better on this front as I've been privileged
> >to work with a number of groups and communities who meet Aristotle's
> >age requirement - and it shows up in insights, discussion, debates,
> >dialogue, etc. that are that much richer for it.
> >
> >In all events - yes, kudos and great thanks, Paul!
> >- c.
> >
> >On 04/02/2019 05:32, Paul wrote:
> >>Charles,
> >>    I would like to claim partial credit for spurring your excellent
> >>response. ;)
> >>   Paul
> >
> >--
> >Professor in Media Studies
> >Department of Media and Communication
> >University of Oslo
> ><>
> >
> >Postboks 1093
> >Blindern 0317
> >Oslo, Norway
> >c.m.ess at
> >--
> >Liberationtech is public & archives are searchable from any major
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> --
> Aaron Massey, PhD -
> Assistant Professor, University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC)
> Co-Director, The Privacy Place,
> --
> Liberationtech is public & archives are searchable from any major
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