It is really striking to me, as a moral philosopher, that while many people in our culture place (or claim to place) a very high value on education, there are few formal or informal structures in our society--besides parenting, school rules, etc.--for moral education. This is disturbing to me for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that one good predictor of moral behavior (e.g. concern for the welfare of others, anti-discrimination, etc.)--empathy--has been observed to be on a strong downward trajectory in college-aged students. Here's the study's "money chart":
Anyway, these results and a couple of other recent experiences got me musing a bit about moral education lately.
The first experience was a viewing of the 2009 film, Moon, starring Sam Rockwell. If you haven't seen it, it's a must-see for anyone who likes philosophically-relevant science-fiction. I'll try not to ruin the movie for anyone who hasn't seen it (I don't think it can be ruined!), but its main conceit is clearly telegraphed, so I'll share it. Moon's main character meets another version of himself. Although this is by no means the first work of fiction to explore such ground, one of the most interesting, original, and amusing features of it is that the character is literally marooned with his other self. They are the only two characters in the film. And they can't stand each other. Rockwell's character begins to see, really for the first time, what a jerk he is. Prior to meeting himself second-personally, he was mostly unaware of the negative parts of his personality. He really only begins to see what a jerk he is when he experiences himself second-personally, that is, as others experience him in interacting with him. And it is quite an eye-opener--both for him, and for us, the film's viewers.
I take it that most of us can identify, at least to some extent, with the character's "lack of self-awareness." It is hard to see ourselves as others see us. Things we do that seem utterly innocent to us from the inside may appear very differently to others on the outside. Just this week, for instance, my wife remarked how I've seemed "on edge", or anxious about something. Truth be told, I had no idea I had been behaving any differently than normal--but once she brought it to my attention, I began to see little things I had been doing differently. It occurred to me that I have been anxious about some things (my book manuscript currently under review, the fall academic job market coming up, etc.)...and I hadn't realized that any of it had affected my demeanor.
Anyway, it occurred to me that second-personal self-viewing--quite literally watching videos of one's behavior from the perspective of other people, or even engaging with simulations of oneself--might be worth investigating (if it hasn't already) as a method of moral education. Similar methods work wonders in many other areas. For instance, I was a baseball player in high school and university--and one of the most effective ways to spot troublesome playing habits is viewing videos of oneself. I distinctly remember going though a "batting slump" where I just couldn't hit the ball. I felt sure (on the basis of introspection) that I wasn't doing anything unusual, and that I was swinging the bat just like I always had...until I saw a video of my swing. What I saw shocked me. I immediately saw several flaws in my swing that weren't usually there. Once I concentrated on eliminating them, I began to hit better almost immediately.
Given that (1) lack of self-awareness, and (2) motivation to improve our behavior are intuitively--from everyday experience--two serious impediments to improving our moral behavior, and are also intuitively related to one another (we often seem to fail to improve our behavior because we fail to appreciate how others experience our actions), it occurred to me that second- (and third?) personal viewings of ourselves might be a particularly effective method of moral education. For again, while it is all-too-easy to justify one's behavior to oneself from the inside (viz. "I don't think I'm a jerk, I think I treat people fairly"), I suspect many of us might have experiences similar to Rockwell's character in moon if we were regularly presented with our behavior from the outside (viz. "Wow, I though I behaved really well. Now that I see myself, I'm really embarassed. I need to work on being more kind.")
Anyway, is anyone aware of empirical research on this? I've searched around in the moral education literature a bit, and while I could have missed it, I haven't come across anything. Alternatively, if such research doesn't exist, it might be a prime research program just waiting for an enterprising experimental philosopher to try out!