Moral Foundations Theory

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Moral Foundations Theory

Post by Tailsteak »

I came across something recently that really - to quote the Oracle from the Matrix - baked my noodle. It's a psychological framework proposed by a dude named Jonathan Haidt called Moral Foundations Theory.

Y'see, what Jonny boy claims is that there are six basic foundations of human moral reasoning. In no particular order, they are:

Authority - if a person is in charge or a rule is in place, do what they say.
Proportionality - if you hit me, I hit you back. Fair is fair.
Care - help as many people as possible, hurt as few people as possible.
Loyalty - if you're on my team, I've got your back.
Liberty - bullies shouldn't be able to tell people what to do.
Sanctity - some things (human life, childhood innocence, the truth, etc) are precious and in need of protection.

Haidt proposes that these six foundations - all of which have solid anthropological reasons for existing - are the basic axioms from which humans derive their morality. If two people don't have the same foundations, or value them differently, they won't reach the same conclusions about what's right and what's wrong (in much the same way that you likely won't come to an agreement about geometry if you're talking with someone who thinks parallel lines will eventually intersect).

Now, if you're anything like me, you saw that list of six and thought "Pfft, what are you talking about? There's the one true, objectively correct foundation of all ethical and moral behaviour, right there, surrounded, for some reason, by five things that people who are selfish and evil and wrong think are important." Of course, the problem is, we might be looking at different foundations when we say that.

If you know me at all, you probably know which foundation is mine - Care. I identify with Spock, sacrificing himself, saying "the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one". That altruism, to me, is synonymous with goodness. You can see that ethos all throughout Leftover Soup - consider Max's frustration with her father's appeals to Authority and Sanctity, because standing at her brother's grave doesn't benefit living veterans.

That's why, when my main man Bernie comes on the teevee and says "we're gonna take from those who have and give to those who need so that the maximum number of people will have access to healthcare and education", I find myself jumping up and saying "YES this is GOOD this is VIRTUOUS this is RIGHTEOUS." In contrast, if you value Liberty or Proportionality as your foundations, you're likely saying "No, this is evil! You're forcing people to pay more taxes! You're taking money away from people who earned it fair and square! This is WRONG!" Regardless of the solidity of Sanders' plans, we're not going to agree that they are morally right if we don't have the same foundation for moral rightness.

So now that I have this Moral Foundations Theory in my head, I find it prompts a whole host of other ideas and concepts and questions.

1) Am I, through my work, gathering like-minded people with similar foundations to myself? If I were to poll my fanbase, would we have a disproportionate number of Carers?

2) If political ideologies are linked to these foundations, does that mean that the more popular ideologies and the more popular politicians will be the ones who appeal to as many of the six as possible? Is it possible to craft a movement or an ideology that values all six evenly?

3) Is there some neutral standpoint, outside of these six, from which we can evaluate and weigh the foundations? Without appealing to Care for its own sake, can there be any reason for me to claim that Care is the right moral foundation to have? Conversely, does my lack of concern for the other five foundations indicate a failing on my part, and should I strive to reorient my own priorities to attain balance? If I did somehow value all six foundations equally, wouldn't that just make me inconsistent and incapable of weighing one priority against another?

4) Are your moral foundations immutable, or can they be changed by training or by force of will? Are you simply born or raised with them? People's ideologies tend to shift rightward as they age - is that a result of their foundations shifting?

5) If we could, Divergent-style, identify and separate people into six types, which type should go where? Which group should control the military? The stock market? The arts? Which groups would you think would cause the most trouble in society, be the most likely to disrupt and cause problems?

Anyway, I'm curious. If you guys would be so kind as to post your foundations (order them from 1 to 6, if you like) in this thread, I'd like to see where we're at, as a group.
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Re: Moral Foundations Theory

Post by digitrev »

Starting with my ordering:
1. Liberty
2. Care
2. Sanctity
3. Authority
3. Proportionality
3. Loyalty

Yeah, it's a weird-ass pyramid. I'm sure there are some weak orderings within my priorities, but those are the strongest clear distinctions. As you can see, my main concerns are with minimizing damage done by outside forces. People have the right to make their own mistakes (Liberty), but we should try to provide for them where we can (Care), while holding other things valuable (Sanctity).

As to (some) of the questions:
4) I'd say that your foundations are a reflection of your life, and they naturally drift over time. Consider a "typical" American/Canadian childhood.
  • At a young age (<3), Authority is your driving foundation. What mom/dad say go.
  • As you get older (4-11), you start to value Proportionality much more heavily.
  • Getting into high-school (12-19), Loyalty becomes a big one. Just look at cliques.
  • In young adulthood, a split starts to happen. A lot of young folks go down the Care route, but some start to value Liberty instead.
  • At this point, people tend to branch out more heavily.
5) How to split up the types, 'eh? Well, I think that any answer to this is going to be determined by the way you view the 6 types. As someone who values Authority less than Liberty, I'm going to shunt Authority folks towards the military, and try to get Liberty types in the judiciary, for example.
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Re: Moral Foundations Theory

Post by Sprocketsdance »

1) Care
2) Liberty
3) Sanctity
4,5,6) the rest.

One thing that stuck out to me - your concern(?) over not being able to see the worth of the others. In my mind it's because I put myself into the 'care' category which makes me more able to see the viewpoints of the other five and understand where they are coming from. Helping as many people as possible while hurting as few as possible would include understanding another person's viewpoint even if it doesn't perfectly align with my own - understand that they believe what they do because of everything they have went through in life. This isn't to say that a person is formed only by their environment, but it is a good portion.
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Re: Moral Foundations Theory

Post by DanielH »

First, I want to point out that the original MFT allowed for the possibility that there were other foundations that they had missed.

Now, for me, I think Care is the most important. Liberty is also important, in the service of Care: if you want what is good for people (which Care says you should), part of that is that those people should have meaningful choices.
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Re: Moral Foundations Theory

Post by arthwollipot »

I would redefiine some of the principles - I don't like the given definition of Proportinality, for example. I'd rather define it as "don't overreact to circumstances that affect you", which turns it around somewhat.

As it is, the principle of Proportionality justifies eye-for-an-eye retribution and revenge, and that is not a part of my moral landscape.
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Re: Moral Foundations Theory

Post by DawnPaladin »

1. Care
2. Fairness/proportionality
3. Liberty
4. Loyalty
5. Authority
6. Sanctity

It's interesting for me as a Christian to guess at how my fellow Christians would answer this question. We all treat the same Bible as our authority, but different people emphasize different parts. I see lots of Christians approaching important issues (gay marriage, for example) primarily from the perspective of Authority or Sanctity, when for me it feels quite natural to subordinate those causes to Care. To me, Matthew 22:36-40 reads like a blank check for Care, but love is a big and complicated principle, and there are lots of ways of expressing it.
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Re: Moral Foundations Theory

Post by Eldercat »

1. Care
2. Liberty
3. Sanctity
4. Loyalty
5. Authority
6. Proportionality
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Re: Moral Foundations Theory

Post by luislsacc »

1. Sanctity
2. Liberty
3. Care
4. Loyalty
5. Authority
6. Proportionality
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Re: Moral Foundations Theory

Post by Fake robot »

Tailsteak wrote:People's ideologies tend to shift rightward as they age -
Are you sure about this? The main reason old people are more right wing, is that society are becoming more left wing over time, but people are retaining the same views they had when they were young. Young people seem left wing now, but in fifty years when they have the same opinions as they do now they'll seem right wing.
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Re: Moral Foundations Theory

Post by Tem »

Interestingly, Care makes the most sense to me, and I actually disagree with some things in your comic.

Loyalty is rather intuitive, and if you want to help as many people as possible, it makes sense to prioritize those who help ensure that you continue to exist.

Liberty - well, if people really applied it as you word it, then I might be for it, but most of those people who value their "liberty" above all actually mean: "I want to oppress my fellow people, but there should no BIGGER bullies than me, (who might tell me not to oppress others!)"

Proportionality, likewise, many of the richest people do NOT earn their money FAIR - there's a reason Fair Trade is this extra section in organic food stores, and not a matter of course.

Authority ... well, I am from Germany. If there is one lesson to be learnt from history, it is that you should not obey the person in charge just because they're in charge. In fact, if your own morals are sound, you'd likely be a morally better person by opposing the person in charge wherever your opinions differ. The only kind of person who becomes more righteous by obeying authorities is the kind of person who feels inclined to go on a murder spree otherwise. (Like, if a person only values proportionality and authority, then maybe he will not start a blood feud with the family responsible for his brother's death because his liege lord orders him not to.)
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