Why Do People Do Bad (and Good) Things? That’s the fall focus of the Sinai and Synapses Discussion Forum. Each week, we’ll gather some of the most interesting articles on the topic from across the online world. We hope they make you think—and share your thoughts with us in the comment section below.Thi

Tech Titans’ Latest Project: Defy Death

Once, two-thirds of scientific and medical research was funded by the federal government, beholden to the public good. Now, two-thirds is funded by private industry, a growing share by billionaires accountable to no one and impatient with the pace of innovation. … Laurie Zoloth, a bioethicist at Northwestern University, worries that some of the billionaires’ obsession with longevity may be driven as much by hubris as by a desire to do public good. (Ariana Eunjung Cha, The Washington Post)

Understanding Moral Character Through Context

Erik Helzer: To study moral character as my colleagues and I (http://www.thecharacterproject.com/about.php) have done is to unify the undeniable power of the situation with the often large degree of consistency that can be seen in people’s moral behaviors over days, weeks, months, and years. Our view is that the study of character is not opposed to the study of situations. On the contrary, situations, and individual differences in the social cognitive processing of those situations, may in fact be the very scaffolding upon which moral character is built. (Character & Context, Society for Personality and Social Psychology)

Peter Singer: Maximizing Morality with Reason

This week on Point of Inquiry, Peter Singer discusses how opinion and fact are not mutually exclusive, and how effective altruism uses science-based evidence and critical thinking to uncover moral facts and open a dialogue about what values are objectively going to benefit us the most. (Josh Zepps, Point of Inquiry)

Goodness and Power

David Brooks: Can you be a bad person but a strong leader? The case for that proposition is reasonably straightforward. Politics is a tough, brutal arena. People play by the rules of the jungle. Sometimes to get anything done, a leader has to push, bully, intimidate, elide the truth. The qualities that make you a good person in private life—kindness, humility and a capacity for introspection—can be drawbacks on the public stage. Electing a president is different than finding a friend or lover. It’s better to hire a ruthless person to do a hard job. I get that argument, but outside the make-believe world of “House of Cards,” it’s usually wrong. (The New York Times)

What Comes After Religion

Large parts of the world are becoming vastly more secular. Do we know how to replace the benefits offered by religion? Instead of throwing religion away, we should be looking for clues from religion about how to bring meaning into the secular world. (Jonathan Hodgson, Aeon)

 

Scientists and Religious Leaders Discuss Climate Change at Vatican

For a 2,000-year-old institution hardly known for its mutability, there was a sense of urgency at the Vatican on Tuesday when scientists, diplomats and religious and political leaders discussed climate change and its impact on the world’s poor. … Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations conceded Tuesday that “faith leaders should not be scientists,” but what is important, he added, “is their moral commitment.” (Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times)