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A Little Good is Good Enough: Ethical Consumption, Cheap Excuses, and Moral Self-Licensing

A Little Good is Good Enough: Ethical Consumption, Cheap Excuses, and Moral Self-Licensing
Author:

Jannis Engel and Nora Szech 

links:
Date: October 2018

This paper explores the role of cheap excuses in product choice. If agents feel that they fulfill one ethical aspect, they may care less about other independent ethical facets within product choice. Choosing a product that fulfills one ethical aspect may then suffice for keeping a high moral self-image in agents, and render it easier to ignore other ethically relevant aspects they would otherwise care about more. The use of such cheap excuses could thus lead to a ‘static moral self-licensing’ effect. This would extend the logic of the well-known dynamic moral self-licensing. Our experimental study provides empirical evidence that the static counterpart of moral self-licensing exists.

Furthermore, effects spill over to unrelated, ethically relevant contexts later in time. Thus, static moral self-licensing and dynamic moral self-licensing can exist next to each other. Yet it is important that agents do not feel that they fulfilled an ethical criterion out of sheer luck, i.e., agents need some room so that they can attribute the ethical improvement at least partly to themselves. Outsiders, though monetarily incentivized for correct estimates, are completely oblivious to the effects of moral self-licensing, both, static and dynamic.

 

The corresponding data is available here.