There is also plenty of evidence that folk intuitions vary among cultures. Such effects show up for intuitions about moral issues, knowledge, norms of assertation, intentions and intentionality, as well as about causation, and there are different ways of explaining them.
In this research project, initiated by Albert Newen (Ruhr-University Bochum), we investigate one very specific factor of which we know that is varies across cultures, namely social roles and the hierarchical differences created by them. We are convinced that the social context in which a morally relevant action occurs is of crucual importance for how much blame is ascribed for this action. The aim of this research project is to investigate whether this effect is best explained by social roles and hierarchies themselves, so whether they should be considered an independent, irreducible factor that influences moral judgments. Alternatively, one might think that the effect occurs because social roles and hierarchies affect the interpretation of other, more basic factors.
Based on the research in social psychology, we know that cultures can differ in how collectivistic or individualistic they are, so whether they emphasize the interests of groups or individuals. Also, cultures differ in how strong social hierarchies interpreted; they might be rather vertical or horizontal.
However, it has been pointed out that these constructs are polythetic rather than distinct (Triandis, 1995); that is, they embrace individuals having many but not all properties in common. Therefore, it has been argued that additional distinguishing features are necessary. As a suitable extension of the model, it has been proposed that individualism and collectivism may be horizontal or vertical (Singelis et al., 1995; Triandis and Gelfand, 1998), wherein horizontality emphasizes equality and verticality stresses hierarchy. Accordingly, Triandis and Gelfand (1998) proposed that in vertical individualism (VI), people are in individual competition with others as they want to be distinguished and strive toward a high status. Individuals see each other as different and expect inequality across individuals of a group. By contrast, in horizontal individualism (HI), people also want to be unique and autonomous in order to be distinct from groups, but they do not strive toward a higher status. In vertical collectivism (VC), the integrity of the in-group and interdependencies within it are emphasized, and people support competitions between their in-group and out-groups. However, Triandis and Gelfand (1998) point out that inequality and differences in status are accepted. High VC means that members of the in-group show a tendency to submit to the will of the authorities of the in-group if they want members to act in a way that is beneficial for the in-group overall but extremely disadvantageous for the members themselves. In contrast, in horizontal collectivism (HC), people also emphasize common goals with others, interdependence, equality, and sociability; yet, they see themselves as being similar to others and do not easily submit to the authorities’ will.
The aim of this research project is to systematically collect data on people’s moral intuitions in cultures that differ quite strongly in their interpretation of social roles and hierarchies. So far, we conducted experiments in the US, Germany, Poland, the United Arab Emirates, and China.
For research on the relevance of social hierarchies and the role of causal responsibility, please see our paper A new look at the attribution of moral responsibility: The underestimated relevance of social roles.
There was also an article about this project: http://news.rub.de/english/press-releases/2018-02-20-philosophy-why-boss-always-gets-blame
or further information on the intercultural dimension, please send me an email or contact Albert Newen.