Note from CM: Our Ordinary Time Bible Study in Philippians will be switched to Fridays, to allow three days at the beginning of week to cover other topics.
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Musings on Moral Theology (3)
Moral psychology can help to explain why the Democratic Party has had so much difficulty connecting with voters since 1980. Republicans understand the social intuitionist model better than do Democrats. Republicans speak more directly to the elephant. They also have a better grasp of Moral Foundations Theory; they trigger every single taste receptor.
• Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind
Jonathan Haidt’s second great contribution in his book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, is his work on Moral Foundations Theory. His succinct metaphor for his overall conclusion is:
The righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors.
Unlike some in the history of moral philosophy who tried to boil down morality into a single universal maxim, such as Kant’s categorical imperative, Haidt came to see that such approaches were “oversystematized and underempathized.” He instead concluded that David Hume’s ” pluralist, sentimentalist, and naturalist approach to ethics was more promising,” and he began using the metaphor of our various taste receptors to describe the variety of moralities that make up “the righteous mind.”
He started by recognizing five foundations of moral psychology (Haidt added a sixth later):
- The Care/Harm Foundation: “makes us sensitive to signs of suffering and need; it makes us despise cruelty and want to care for those who are suffering.”
- The Fairness/Cheating Foundation: “makes us sensitive to indications that another person is likely to be a good (or bad) partner for collaboration and reciprocal altruism. It makes us want to shun or punish cheaters.”
- The Loyalty/Betrayal Foundation: “makes us sensitive to signs that another person is (or is not) a team player. It makes us trust and reward such people, and it makes us want to hurt, ostracize, or even kill those who betray us or our group.
- The Authority/Subversion Foundation: “makes us sensitive to signs of rank or status, and to signs that other people are (or are not) behaving properly, given their position.”
- The Sanctity/Degradation Foundation: “includes the behavioral immune system, which can make us wary of a diverse array of symbolic objects and threats. It makes it possible for people to invest objects with irrational and extreme values—both positive and negative—which are important for binding groups together.”
The following chart shows the results when Haidt had listed and was exploring peoples’ responses to the first five of the foundations:
He found that those who consider themselves more “liberal” or “progressive” place high value on the first two foundations and very little on the latter three.
In contrast, those on the “conservative” end of the spectrum valued all five. Haidt concluded that this gave conservatives an advantage in American political discourse, because it allowed them to speak to a broader set of moral values.
We’ll look into these foundations (and a sixth, which Haidt added after further reflection and research) next week. But the main takeaway from this is as follows:
- People who consider themselves on the “liberal” end of the spectrum (I prefer “progressive”) care instinctively most about care and fairness.
- Those on the “conservative” end also care about these values, but they define them somewhat differently. For example, liberals define “care” in terms of those they deem marginalized or victimized whereas conservatives may emphasizing caring for those who have sacrificed for the good of the group (i.e. veterans). Also, whereas liberals define “fairness” in terms of equality, conservatives do so in terms of proportionality — each getting what he/she deserves.
- Liberals are not so concerned about loyalty, authority, and sanctity, but these are hallmarks of conservative instincts.
If you’d like to test this for yourself, go to http://www.yourmorals.org/, where you can take a number of tests to find out how your “moral mind” works and build up your own unique personal “moral profile.”