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Moral Translucency: Does It Exist?

Lecture by Jeff Frooman organized by the Department of Ethics

In his 1986 book, Morals by Agreement, David Gauthier develops a theory of morality grounded in prisoner’s dilemma. In the course of the argument Gauthier needs to assume that agents in the dilemma are translucent--that is, neither opaque nor transparent.  In other words, one’s disposition to cooperate or compete can be discerned with a fairly high degree of accuracy by other agents. This has always been a controversial assumption--the Achilles’ heel of the theory.  Despite all the debate about the translucency assumption, there have been almost no tests of it.  The aim of this research is to do just that--test the translucency assumption.

We employ the psychological concept of personal familiarity in our test of translucency.  The reason for this is that measures of translucency do not exist; however, measures of familiarity do, and thus we approximate the level of translucency via a measure of familiarity.  Our hypothesis involves this measure:

When there is no familiarity/translucency there will be a high degree of predictive accuracy, at moderate levels of familiarity/translucency there will be a low degree of predictive accuracy, and at high levels of familiarity/translucency there will be a high degree of predictive accuracy.

The test involves the prisoner’s dilemma game. The key question, put to each player was given the payoff matrix below, what would you predict the other person to do--play left or right? (And then, given that prediction, what would you do--play top or bottom?)

Our work also involves the testing of possible mediators and moderators that may prove influential in the main relationship.  These are variables previously cited in the literature and include:  trust, social orientation, certainty (regarding one’s prediction), and years of work experience.  Various models are tested, including a direct effects model, which the data fails to support, and a mediated model involving trust with social orientation as a moderator.  It is this latter model the data supports.


Jeff Frooman is an Associate Professor at the University of New Brunswick in Canada.  He holds a joint appointment between the Faculty of Business Administration and the Philosophy Department of the Faculty of Arts.  Among the business courses he teaches are business ethics and organizational behaviour.  Among the philosophy classes he teaches are Capitalism vs. Communism, ethical classics, and symbolic logic.  He holds two teaching awards:  the Faculty Excellence Award in Teaching, U. of New Brunswick (2006), and the Distinguished Doctoral Instructor Teaching Award, U. of Pittsburgh (1999).

Professor Frooman’s current research interests include the analysis of market imperfections, the link between corporate social performance and corporate financial performance, and the applicability of the theory of Morals by Agreement to the domain of business.  He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Pittsburgh in 2002, writing a dissertation entitled “Stakeholder Influence Strategies,” the theory section of which was published under that title in the scholarly journal, The Academy of Management Review.

Since 2008 he has served as the Executive Director of the Society for Business Ethics.  He has also been active in the Social Responsibility Division of the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada, for which he served as Division Chair in 2010.  He has served as an associate editor of the journal Business and Society, and is on the editorial board of Business Ethics Quarterly.

When & Where?

Wednesday, 13 March 2013
Oude Boteringestraat 52, room Omega

Laatst gewijzigd:07 maart 2013 14:30