A recent article by Vox looked into the philosophy of morality, based on Reddit’s “Am I The Asshole” forum. This internet corner, where users share their personal conflicts and seek judgment from strangers, has been gaining popularity for quite a while. It was only a matter of time before modern-day philosophers came after real moral problems people had, and finally, that hour had come.

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Key Takeaways:

  • The study found that most moral conflicts on Reddit’s “Am I the Asshole?” involved relational obligations, proving the importance of considering personal relationships in moral decision-making.
  • Researchers identified different types of moral dilemmas that depend on specific relationships, challenging traditional philosophical approaches that often ignore these contexts.
  • The findings suggest that understanding personal relationships provides a more well-rounded view of morality that reflects human nature.

Vox closely worked with Daniel Yudkin to discover the morality behind AITA stories. During his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania, Daniel noticed a gap in traditional moral psychology and philosophy. These fields often rely on hypothetical scenarios, like the classic “trolley problem,” which are removed from the complexities of real-life relationships and contexts. Therefore, Yudkin hypothesized that this approach might miss vital elements of how people navigate moral decisions in their real daily lives.

Real Moral Dilemmas of Today

Following the proposed hypothesis, Yudkin and his co-authors turned to AITA. This subreddit is used for asking whether their actions in various conflicts—ranging from disputes with family members to workplace issues—make them the “asshole” (no offense, that’s how Redditors phrase it).

Over four years, the researchers went through roughly 369,000 posts and 11 million comments from AITA, using AI to categorize the moral dilemmas presented. This allowed them to separate several key areas:

  • procedural fairness
  • honesty
  • relational obligations
  • and more (see in the picture provided below)
Reddit's "AITA" Catches Philosophers' Attention: Revealing How Ordinary People View Morality
Categorization of posts on Reddit’s “Am I the Asshole?” according to their moral themes
Image: vox.com, Courtesy of Daniel Yudkin

To illustrate how the characterization was made: the researchers ruled that questions about fairness included scenarios like “AITA for skipping the line?” while relational obligations could involve dilemmas such as “AITA for expecting my girlfriend to lint roll my jacket?”

The study revealed that the most common moral conflicts on AITA involved relational obligations—questions about what we owe to others in our personal relationships. This finding underscores the importance of considering the relational context in moral decision-making, a factor often overlooked in traditional philosophical approaches.

Relational Context Matters

Further analysis showed that the type of moral dilemma often depended on the relationship involved. For example, issues of procedural fairness were more likely to happen in professional contexts, such as interactions with a manager, whereas relational obligations were more prevalent in family contexts, like disputes with siblings (or spouses, which happened even more often).

Hence, this only supports the assumption that relational context in moral judgments makes a difference. People tend to have various moral expectations and obligations based on their relationships with others. This finding challenges the utilitarian perspective, which advocates for equal consideration of all individuals’ happiness, regardless of personal connections.

What Does All of This Mean for Modern Philosophy

The study’s findings suggest that moral philosophy needs to account more for relational contexts to remain relevant to real-life decision-making. Philosophers like Yudkin argue that understanding the nuances of personal relationships can lead to a more comprehensive view of morality that better reflects human nature.

Moral psychologists, including Princeton’s Molly Crockett and Yale’s Margaret Clark, support this view, emphasizing that moral obligations often depend on specific relationships. For instance, the moral duty to care for one’s child differs significantly from obligations to strangers, a reality that traditional utilitarianism struggles to accommodate.

Reddit's "AITA" Catches Philosophers' Attention: Revealing How Ordinary People View Morality

The Bigger Picture

Examining everyday moral dilemmas on AITA, we can gain a deeper understanding of how people manage and solve ethical challenges in their daily lives. This research only underlines the importance of looking at philosophical theories through a prism of practical moral reasoning. Only in such a case, we can offer valuable insights into the complexities of human morality.

As we can now see, Reddit’s AITA forum is not just a hub for internet drama (as well as basically any other subreddit for that matter). In the age of the Internet, such discussion places become valuable resources for understanding the nuances of moral decision-making. They can help uncover the relational dynamics that shape our ethical judgments today and look into ways that our relationships are build in general.

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