Haidt on moral foundations: libs vs. conservatives

Speaking at the 2007 New Yorker Conference, University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that liberal morality, which is “atomic” and oriented toward the individual, is characterized by two foundational principles — do no harm and don’t cheat people — while conservative morality, involving a “lattice” framework and oriented toward society on the whole, includes five foundatonal principles — the two already mentioned as well as in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity. He believes that this helps explain why liberals and conservatives are so far apart on issues such as gay marriage (liberals favor it since no one is cheated or harmed, while conservatives carry concerns about purity and the institution of marriage at large).
Haidt hastens to add that the added number of foundational principles among conservatives does not imply that liberals are any less concerned with morality — only that morality at a group level is simply not as relevant.
The upshot, interestingly, is that conservatives would favor a system that limits freedom to a nominal extent, since too much of it is morally risky. This is in opposition to the traditional view that conservatism is all about limiting restrictions on people and corporations while liberalism favors regulation and lawmaking.
It’s an interesting talk, anyway.

7 thoughts on “Haidt on moral foundations: libs vs. conservatives”

  1. “This is in opposition to the traditional view that conservatism is all about limiting restrictions on people and corporations while liberalism favors regulation and lawmaking.”
    Which, interestingly, is something I got out from reading Lakoff. I think that the whole anti-Big Government stuff, fiscal responsibility, personal responsibility, etc, are not conservative views but were liberal planks of an otherwise conservative platform of the ‘conservative’ party – the GOP – during the 1960-1980 period. And those were the most popular planks at the time as well. Thus, those ideas are now thought to be ‘conservative’ due to their association with the GOP of the time, not because they are inherently conservative.

  2. Here’s something I sent Prof. Haidt after a similar talk he gave in Charlottesville a while back. I still tend to think that the three “conservative” moral emotions are present in liberals, only in more abstracted forms.

    As I thought about the three moral emotions that you identify as stronger underpinnings of conservative morality than of liberal–in-group, hierarchy [or ‘authority’], and purity–it struck me that the hallmark of successful progressive inviduals and movements has been not to abandon them but to redirect them. Gandhi, for example, is very much associated with “purity”, only he defined it in an entirely different framework than traditional caste taboos relating to cleanness vs. uncleanness. Likewise, he appealed to strong in-group emotions with a notion of an Indian character unified in its moral superiority to colonialism. The genius of the American civil rights movement was to redefine the general American in-group to include African Americans, so attacks on Southern blacks became, for the rest of us, attacks on *our* family. The genius of the American revolutionaries was to replace loyalty to a traditional hierarchy of birth with loyalty to a meritocracy. And so on.

  3. Has Haidt written any books on this subject? I watched the video, and I kept getting the vibe that his head is full of good ideas, but he has a hard time communicating them. I would love to see this thesis fleshed out with more details and examples.

  4. Haidt has some interesting ideas about different moral perspectives, but using tags like ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ as he does is less than enlightening. Liberalsim, as the name suggests, has some quaint ideas about freedom at its core — freedom of conscience, freedom of inquiry, freedom of expression, freedom of association, to name just a few.

  5. “Has Haidt written any books on this subject?”
    Not that I am aware of. But his website (just google it) has a heap of free papers, which explain his theory, and the experiments he has done in connection to it.

  6. “Has Haidt written any books on this subject?”
    Not that I am aware of. But his website (just google it) has a heap of free papers, which explain his theory, and the experiments he has done in connection to it.

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Haidt on moral foundations: libs vs. conservatives

Speaking at the 2007 New Yorker Conference, University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt argues that liberal morality, which is “atomic” and oriented toward the individual, is characterized by two foundational principles — do no harm and don’t cheat people — while conservative morality, involving a “lattice” framework and oriented toward society on the whole, includes five foundatonal principles — the two already mentioned as well as in-group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity. He believes that this helps explain why liberals and conservatives are so far apart on issues such as gay marriage (liberals favor it since no one is cheated or harmed, while conservatives carry concerns about purity and the institution of marriage at large).
Haidt hastens to add that the added number of foundational principles among conservatives does not imply that liberals are any less concerned with morality — only that morality at a group level is simply not as relevant.
The upshot, interestingly, is that conservatives would favor a system that limits freedom to a nominal extent, since too much of it is morally risky. This is in opposition to the traditional view that conservatism is all about limiting restrictions on people and corporations while liberalism favors regulation and lawmaking.
It’s an interesting talk, anyway.

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