Your Morals – Part 1 – Introduction

by Dave on February 1, 2011

in General

I admit that I have a difficult time understanding some people.  Its not that I cannot comprehend of them behaving as they do, but it is difficult for me to understand why they make the choices that they do.  I have been fascinated by this idea for a quite a few years, but I have uncovered a breakthrough (for me at least) that helps me.  This is particularly helpful since I have been dealing with a group of people lately that have come across as having a totally different basis of morality than myself.  This type of thing bothers me, so now this series.

This series of posts is going to be about the research conducted by Jonathan Haidt of the University of Virginia.  He, as well as his collaborators, has been conducting research into Moral Foundations.  This effort has been most illuminating to me as it has given a concrete indication for the basis of the behaviors I have observed in groups that seem to be immoral to me.  I have not contacted Professor Haidt directly yet, but I will shortly.

In a nutshell, Professor Haidt has been spearheading a study aimed at determining the drivers for moral behavior.  He has developed striking results that correlate and help explain liberal, conservative, and recently libertarian behaviors.  These variables are significant and fit well with some of the behaviors that I have seen.

Here they are:

1) Harm/care, related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. This foundation underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/reciprocity, related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. This foundation generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulate the theory in 2010 based on new data, we are likely to include several forms of fairness, and to emphasize proportionality, which is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

3) Ingroup/loyalty, related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. This foundation underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it’s “one for all, and all for one.”

4) Authority/respect, shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. This foundation underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

5) Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. This foundation underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

I hope to get into some of the specific results as well as commentary in the coming posts.

Have a great day.



lionel zidane February 3, 2011 at 11:52 pm

you should watch the third zeitgeist, it just came out and the first part basically takes a look at why people behave the way they do. it is very good. I have been wondering the same thing as well, and a couple years ago i wrote a few articles about humanity and the evolution of our virtues and how it relates to scientific advancement. you might like to read it
and let me know what you think…

“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”

Dave February 4, 2011 at 7:09 am

Good Stuff lionel. Indeed people need to evolve.

Susan N. February 4, 2011 at 9:34 am

DRT, I started taking the Moral Foundations surveys that you linked on JC, and I got through about the first 5 of them. Interesting. I tend to hate being labeled and classified (My favorite Fear/Sanity Rally sign — “I have many ideas, but they are too complex to fit on this…) Nevertheless, it didn’t surprise me that my scores were consistently higher on #1 and #2, and conversely, lower on #3, #4, and #5. At the risk of “outing” myself here, in a few cases, I graphed higher than even the liberal composite! In my defense (ha), I came out somewhere in the middle to slightly less than the liberal composite on most graphs (of the 5 surveys that I took).

DRT–I can SO relate to your opening sentence. It isn’t that I’m angry or determined to be in an adversarial posture with many people; it’s more that I’m so utterly puzzled and, at the heart of it, deeply grieved by their words and behavior. It isn’t the Jesus I know and love that their witness reflects. They say the same thing about me. Go figure?!

Dave February 4, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Susan N., I will end up showing my graphs in the next posts and talk about what I think it means compared with others. I hope you can help me understand, but judging by your scores you are pretty much like me. So maybe we will be able to do this together.

The group with which I had a problem did not present a real problem to me, but I was quite a problem to them. For whatever reason not only did they not agree with me, but they elected to not be willing to even discuss their view. My wife says they are afraid of me and I should just have sympathy on them. Perhaps this study will help me see why I intimidate that as I do.

Dave February 4, 2011 at 8:18 pm

BTW, it may make sense for me to call myself DRT here too….we shall see.

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