Front Page Titles (by Subject) Measuring Ethical Ideologies - Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1
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Measuring Ethical Ideologies - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Spring 1981, vol. 4, No. 1 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Measuring Ethical Ideologies
“A Taxonomy of Ethical Ideologies.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 39(1980):175–184.
Prof. Forsyth developed a survey instrument, the Ethics Position Questionnaire, designed to assess an individual's perspective on ethical issues. The questionnaire contains two scales tapping the degree of “idealism” and the extent to which universal moral rules are rejected in favor of “relativism.” On the basis of scores on these scales, a person can be characterized as using one of four ethical ideologies.
Persons scoring high on idealism and high on relativism are termed “situationists.” They reject moral rules and use an individualistic analysis of each act in each situation. Those scoring high on idealism and low on relativism are labelled “absolutists.” They assume that the best possible outcome will be achieved by following universal moral laws. Those scoring low on idealism and high on relativism are termed “subjectivists.” They base appraisals on personal values and perspectives rather than universal moral principles. Finally, persons scoring low on idealism and low on relativism are labelled “exceptionists.” They maintain that moral absolutes should guide judgments but are pragmatically open to exceptions to those standards. This taxonomy is discussed in terms of the philosophical concepts of ethical skepticism, ethical egoism, deontology, and utilitarianism.
In a sample of college students, the scales for idealism and relativism were demonstrated to be virtually orthogonal. The test—retest reliability of the scales was acceptable. With increasing age, individuals were found to be both less idealistic and less relativistic. Neither scale correlated with Rest's measure of principled moral reasoning on the Defining Issues Test, but the relativism scale was found to be negatively correlated with scores on Hogan's Survey of Ethical Attitudes.
On questions relating to a number of contemporary moral issues (e.g., abortion, euthanasia), “male absolutists” tended to take more extreme positions, particularly when compared to male situationists. Females in the four categories showed fewer differences. In judging the morality of an actor in a written scenario culminating in either positive outcomes, negative outcomes, or mixed outcomes, “absolutists” only occasionally allowed positive outcomes to sway them from negatively evaluating a liar or a thief. In contrast, “subjectivists” only rarely used information about moral norms to influence their consequences—based moral judgments. “Situationists” were also influenced by the quality of an actions consequences. “Exceptionists” tended to be the most forgiving of the four groups but not when an action ran counter to a moral standard. While the four groups were found to differ in moral judgments, their moral behavior was not found to differ in a cheating situation.