Jonathan Haidt 06This blog is all about “morality”. To seek Good is to aspire for the attainment of some standard of thought and behavior defined as positive in some manner. As such, a construction such as Moral Foundations Theory represents a paramount interest of this blog (and, presumably those who read it). Likewise, the trustworthiness of such a construction becomes crucial regarding its usefulness. So how useful is this theory—Jonathan Haidt’s MFT, a theoretical, research-based notion about rubrics of our moral perspective?

Most often, the actual usefulness of anything resides in both its nature and our interpretation of it. Here is a 10 minutes audio clip of Jonathan Haidt reading from his book The Righteous Mind.  You might need to listen to the clip more than once to truly understand it. Do the assumptions embedded in the interpretation of the MFT data Mr. Haidt himself presents actually follow from the research data itself? While the categories (see below) are certainly useful as a means of structuring our thinking about our moral perspectives, the manner in which we interpret these categories is crucial. (The YouTuber who posted this clip appears to express a clear bias against “liberals”, so perhaps it is best to ignore the wrap around YouTube presentation—i.e., just listen to the clip and make your own determination as to what it means).

morality decisionsRegarding interpretation, if you listen closely to the assumptions presented by Mr. Haidt regarding his understanding of his own research, you might begin to grasp the subtlety embedded in the Moral Foundation categories. Having previously posted references to this MFT idea, we maintain a degree of skepticism regarding Mr. Haidt’s agenda. (In the future we will do a much more in-depth analysis of MFT relative to the counter notions of Kohlberg, Hoffman and Gibbs.)

Morality is ever present in EveryDayLife. Many of us “moralize” unconsciously. Some even deny the validity of morality in general (yet betray their participation in it with statement like “that’s not fair” and “I don’t care!” or, more generally “that’s not right”–meaning “morally unsound” or in some manner, against some hidden standard “inappropriate”. With this level of “moral” ubiquity, some form of classification can help us gain an understanding of our own perspectives and the perspective of others. As such, if you are interested, listen to the clip, take a look at the MFT site, read through our previous posts regarding MFT. How do you relate to these moral categories? How do they play out in your EveryDayLife?

Moral Foundations Theory Categories

(the following descriptions are taken verbatim from the MFT site).

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

2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It 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 reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

3) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It 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/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

5) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It 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).
We think there are several other very good candidates for “foundationhood,” especially:

6) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor. We report some preliminary work on this potential foundation in this paper, on the psychology of libertarianism and liberty.