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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Moral Foundations Theory

Questions to Haidt on his Moral Foundations Theory. (See previous blog.)

1.  If reason comes after intuition and is just a rationalization of what one already believes and how one already behaves, why write your book?

In dealing with Cousin Vinnie (see June 12 blog), I have no doubt that intellectual argument with evidence will play no role in his political stance and choices. But while reason may indeed follow sentiment in morality, I do think that ethics can influence morality and a politics based on morality. I think Haidt also thinks this is so or he would not have carried out his inquiry into his Foundations of Morality.

Ethics in my parlance is the critique of moralities based on an understanding of human existence. I use human existence as a synonym of human nature to stress human nature's dynamism including its drives, intentionality, and tensions. Evolutionary biology and psychology and neuroscience have contributed greatly to our understanding of human existence.

Moralities are diverse, the products of culture, the expressions of human existence in history, location, and association.  While reason, as Haidt and Gazzinaga and others point out, is often, maybe almost always, used as a justification or rationalization of a moral stance, it has the capacity to become thought or what some have called "secondary reflection." Ethics is critical thinking about moralities and is what Haidt is engaging in with the hope of modifying American moralities and their politics. (See more on this in #1 next blog.)

2.  But don't liberals also appeal to loyalty, authority, and purity?

Having grown up politically in the 60s and helping to organize actions to support civil rights and to oppose the Vietnam War and voting for Democrats most (not all) the time, I suppose I qualify as a "liberal" (though I do not like the word and prefer "progressive"). Yet I grew up Catholic in a Republican household and learned to appreciate classical conservatism (from Edmund Burke to Alexander Hamilton, Russell Kirk, John Kekes and, yes, Saul Alinsky).

I contend that loyalty, authority, and the sacred definitely matter to progressives. It is just what group, author, and institution or practice we are talking about.  In community organizing training, I always pointed to three interacting drivers of human behavior: interests, affiliations, values. Each has its realm.  Interests relate to economy (the affairs of household and of biological well-being). Affiliations relate to politics (community and public affairs). Values to culture (symbolic expressions including myth, religion, art, science, education). Each also has its institutions or habits and structures of behavior, such as household and corporation, social agency and government, church and university.

Liberals/progressive and conservatives/libertarians have different referent groups and "moral matrices" as Haidt has pointed out rather than different foundations. That is, it is not whether you care or not, or are loyal or not, or accept authority or not. It is whom do you care about, whom are you loyal to, and whom do you accept as authority. Or in my terms: with whose interests do you identify, with whom do you care to be affiliated, and what values do you want yourself and others to judge you by?  (more on this in #2 next blog).

3.  Does your Foundations of Morality Theory relate to my Ethical Theory of Integrity?

I very much like your six foundations of morality, the connection they have to evolutionary adaptive behaviors, the types of triggers for these behaviors, and the corresponding virtues for these foundations. You do not claim that these are exclusive or deny that they might be categorized differently. I like that you do not try to reduce your theory to one principle--as do some other theories. I think your theory admits of falsification and modification through observation and so is scientific. Thus I think it provides a scientific foundation or critique to other theories--such as virtue theory, deontological ethics, contract theory, and utilitarianism. Most of all I think it is useful for understanding our contemporary political situation and making decisions to change it.

It is precisely because of this that I am challenged to review my own theory of ethics to see how it corresponds. And I will try this in #3 of my next blog (without hopefully just being the unwitting rider of my own elephant).


More thoughts: (Next Blog)

1.  Sources of Morality and Sources of the Study of Morality (Ethics).

2.  Changing ideas and changing structures. Innately prepared ideas, archetypes, and mythical forms.   Politics as organizing institutional change.

3.  Ethical theories. Six foundations for morality and four tensions of human existence.

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