The Moral Foundations Theory

After being reminded of Jonathan Haidt’s 2012 book, “The Righteous Mind”, I’ve been thinking about the Moral Foundations Theory Haidt proposed. He noted that there are 5 (maybe 6) foundations for morality and these things determine the differences between liberals (whom I call progressives because I believe that is a better description) and conservatives (whom I define as classical liberals).
According to Haidt, the 5 foundations are:
  1. Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm.
  2. Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating.
  3. Loyalty or ingroup: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal.
  4. Authority or respect: submitting to tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion.
  5. Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation.
In response to the need to differentiate between proportionality fairness and the objections he had received from conservatives and libertarians, later in the book Haidt acknowledges that there is likely a 6th – Liberty (opposite of oppression).
Haidt has proposed that the left and right cannot get together because while classical liberals place almost equal value on all 5 (or 6) values, progressives focus on caring and fairness to the exclusion of all the rest. In the linked TED talk, Haidt explains the differences this way:
“Liberals [progressives] speak for the weak and oppressed; want change and justice, even at the risk of chaos”.
Speaking of conservatives, he says, “Conservatives [classical liberals] speak for institutions and traditions; want order even at the cost to those at the bottom.”
I don’t disagree with Haidt when he intimates that the common perception within progressivism that they 1) celebrate diversity, 2) question authority and 3) keep your laws off my body and I think most observers would agree these are the Madison Avenue, glossy magazine face of progressivism.
I agree they PERCEIVE this is what they are about – but when these precepts are challenged, how do progressives react? I think we can learn much about what progressives believe by observing how they intend to implement their moral foundations of caring and fairness. It is interesting that tragedies like the school shooting in Parkland reveals that the progressives do believe in moral foundation 3, 4 and 5. They:
  • Close ranks and circle the wagons to protect their ideological position (ingroup)
  • Demand new laws, regulations or authority (control) over people and/or things (authority)
  • Accept no disagreement with their position- zero tolerance (purity)
In a crisis, progressives who default to caring and fairness as the only moral imperative don’t just think the are right, they know it. If you don’t believe me, take a gander at CNN or MSNBC for about 15 minutes on any given day. This is one reason progressives love crisis – and where there isn’t one, they will invent it (Russian “collusion” anyone?).
When pressed the first response of the supposedly free love, free living, do your own thing progressive is to place more restrictions on anyone who disagrees with them – which, in my opinion, is the critical defect of progressivism. Summed up, the belief that more freedom is attained through more centralized control is so completely contradictory as to be an unsolvable non-sequitur.
Haidt claims that a functioning society needs the yin and yang of all 5 (or 6) moral foundations working together and I think he makes a strong case that progressives are simply incapable of doing such (look at the charts Haidt presents around 10:00 in the presentation). In sort of a drive by manner, he makes the case that classical liberals are far more capable of balancing the 5 (or 6) moral foundations than progressives are or ever will be.
Interesting stuff. I need to go back and read his book.

Talk Amongst Yourselves:

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