…we propose a framework suggesting that moral (or immoral) behavior can result from an internal balancing of moral self-worth and the cost inherent in altruistic behavior. In Experiment 1, participants were asked to write a self-relevant story containing words referring to either positive or negative traits. Participants who wrote a story referring to the positive traits donated one fifth as much as those who wrote a story referring to the negative traits. In Experiment 2, we showed that this effect was due specifically to a change in the self-concept. In Experiment 3, we replicated these findings and extended them to cooperative behavior in environmental decision making. We suggest that affirming a moral identity leads people to feel licensed to act immorally. However, when moral identity is threatened, moral behavior is a means to regain some lost self-worth.
This doesn’t appear to always hold though. Most people oscillate happily around a normal level of virtue, eating more salad if they shouted at their child and so on, but some seem to throw consistent effort at particular moral issues, or make firm principles and stick to them.
It seems to me that there are two kinds of moral issues; obligatory and virtuous. Obligatory things include not killing people, wearing clothes in the right places, doing whatever specific duties to god/s you will be eternally tortured for neglecting. Virtuous issues make you feel good and affect your reputation. Doing favours, giving to charities, excercising, eating healthy food, buying environmentally friendly, getting up early, being tidy, offering to wash up, cycling to work. Outside of these two categories there are what I will call ‘practical issues’. These don’t feel related to virtue at all: how to transport a new sofa home, what time to have dinner tonight, which brand of internet to get.
‘Moral thermostat’ behaviour only applies to the virtuous moral behaviours. The obligatory ones and the practical ones demand exactly as much effort as they take, or you feel like putting in respectively. The people who pour effort into specific issues are mostly those who are persuaded that the issue is an obligatory one or a practical one. A clear example of those who push a moral issue into the territory of obligation is of vegetarians, for whatever reason.