Jonathan Haidt: The moral roots of liberals and conservatives

#1

"Psychologist Jonathan Haidt studies the five moral values that form the basis of our political choices, whether we're left, right or center. In this eye-opening talk, he pinpoints the moral values that liberals and conservatives tend to honor most."


"OK. This is a bit of a problem. Because if our goal is to understand the world, to seek a deeper understanding of the world, our general lack of moral diversity here is going to make it harder. Because when people all share values, when people all share morals, they become a team, and once you engage the psychology of teams, it shuts down open-minded thinking. When the liberal team loses, as it did in 2004, and as it almost did in 2000, we comfort ourselves. (Laughter) We try to explain why half of America voted for the other team. We think they must be blinded by religion, or by simple stupidity. (Laughter) (Applause) So, if you think that half of America votes Republican because they are blinded in this way, then my message to you is that you're trapped in a moral matrix, in a particular moral matrix. And by the matrix, I mean literally the matrix, like the movie "The Matrix.""
 
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#2

(not direct quotes)
21:00
A person who is emotionally inclined to believe something will ask "Can I believe it?" He is satisfied with any reason why it might be true.
The same person who is emotionally opposed to something else will ask "Must I believe it?" He will look for as many criticisms as he can find.

23:57
People are gullible about claims that support their prejudices, but use all their powers of reasoning to reject disconfirming information.

30:08
You don't find ancient civilizations without temples.

44:25
... Academia is overwhelmingly liberal... 7 or 8 to one (liberal to conservative) is quite good.
44:51
When institions become monoculture the other sides doesn't trust it ... the left is always asking why doesn't the right trust science ... especially in the social sciences everybody is liberal ...

[look at the first two items and you see that this mistrust is reasonable]
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#3
Here's the paper, gleaned from the comment section of the first video:

http://evolution.binghamton.edu/evos/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/Haidt2.pdf

Morality is one of the few topics in academe endowed with its own protective spell. A biologist is not blinded by her biological nature to the workings of biology. An economist is not confused by his own economic activity when he tries to understand the workings of markets1 . But students of morality are often biased by their own moral commitments. Morality is so contested and so important to people that it is often difficult to set aside one’s humanity and study morality in a clinically detached way. One problem is that the psychological study of morality, like psychology itself (Redding, 2001), has been dominated by politically liberal researchers (which includes us). The lack of moral and political diversity among researchers has led to an inappropriate narrowing of the moral domain to issues of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity/justice (Haidt & Graham, 2007). Morality in most cultures (and for social conservatives in Western cultures), is in fact much broader, including issues of ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity (Haidt & Graham, 2007; in press).

This article is about how morality might be partially innate, by which we simply mean organized, to some extent, in advance of experience (Marcus, 2004). We begin by arguing for a broader conception of morality and suggesting that most of the discussion of innateness to date has not been about morality per se; it has been about whether the psychology of harm and fairness is innate. Once we have made our case that morality involves five domains, not two, we turn our attention to the ways in which this diverse collection of motives and concepts might be innate. We consider five hypotheses about the origins of moral knowledge and value, and we endorse one of them (a form of flexible and generative modularity) as being the best candidate. Next, we develop this version of modular morality by describing how the innately specified “first draft” of the moral mind gets modified during development.

Specifically, we link our view of moral innateness with virtue theory, an ancient approach that is consistent with the insights of many modern perspectives. In doing so, we are extending our exploration of the possibilities of virtue theory, which we began in a previous article (Haidt & Joseph, 2004). We are not proposing that virtue ethics is the best normative moral theory. We speak only descriptively, and we note that there is a growing consilience between philosophical writings on virtue and emotions, empirical research on moral functioning, and cognitive science, a consilience that suggests that virtue theory may yield deep insights into the architecture of human social and moral cognition. In the final section, we discuss the importance of narrativity in moral functioning. In some respects, this is another corrective to what we see as an over-emphasis on deductive and calculative conceptions of value and rationality, among both philosophers and psychologists. We attempt to show, in this last section, that a narrative approach to morality fits well with the nativist “five foundations” view we developed in the first part of the paper, and also helps to explain how the intuitive, evolved foundations of morality are elaborated by cultural activity into the complex, diverse moral functioning that mature human beings display.
 
#4
Here's the paper, gleaned from the comment section of the first video:
"A biologist is not blinded by her biological nature to the workings of biology."
Can that be verfied?

Even if correct, the comparison seems awry. As he acknowledges, there is no definitive morality. It's at root just a code and different groups (and individuals) have drastically different codes.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#5
Actually both the comparisons seem faulty. Why wouldn't biological limitations at least possibly lead to flawed understanding of biology? And it seems entirely conceivable one's own economic status (measured by purchasing power, ability to raise probability of prosperity for progeny, etc) might influence their feelings and understanding of economics.

Additionally it seems the comparisons don't necessarily work as the subjects under discussion are too radically different from each other.

The abstract also doesn't necessarily make it clear why political balance would improve the study of morality if - as he seems to argue there - morality is to at least some degree influenced by circumstances beyond the individuals control. If anything he seems to be suggesting that a detached way to study morality is to be an eliminativist or at the least a hard determinist about the nature of reality.

Ah well, ideally this stuff gets cleared up as the paper goes along but figured it might be worth mentioning some initial concerns.
 
#6
Actually both the comparisons seem faulty. Why wouldn't biological limitations at least possibly lead to flawed understanding of biology? And it seems entirely conceivable one's own economic status (measured by purchasing power, ability to raise probability of prosperity for progeny, etc) might influence their feelings and understanding of economics.

Additionally it seems the comparisons don't necessarily work as the subjects under discussion are too radically different from each other.
I sort of agree with you because, for example, belief in materialism restricts what you can believe about the origin and evolution of life, consciousness, healing. etc. But beliefs about biology are not inherently part of our nature, and his research shows that beliefs about morality are inherent, inborn, in us. He describes morality at birth as a sort of first draft that gets edited as we develop and learn from our experiences (slide at 5:17 in the first video).
The abstract also doesn't necessarily make it clear why political balance would improve the study of morality ...
His research shows that conservatives and liberals have different ideas about what issues constitute morality. That is the essence of what differentiates conservatives and liberals. He identifies five factors that conservatives care about while liberals care mostly about just two of them (slide at 8:40 in the first video). Each of the moral factors is beneficial in certain situations. If only liberals study morality, and academia is unbalanced politically, then certain aspects of morality for humanity as a whole will not be addressed.

He likens the relationship between conservatives and liberals as like yin/yang. Both are a necessary part of the whole of humanity. Which I think is a much more accurate and healthy way of viewing the relationship than the antagonistic approach many people (particularly journalists and politicians) take to the differences. He explains political differences not in terms of smart/stupid or good/evil but in terms of inborn traits and that neither outlook is better or worse in its consequences. A society with both liberals and conservatives will be better than a society of only liberals or conservatives. He disposes of the idea that political leanings are a result of intellect by rejecting the ancient Greek view that the intellect should control the passions and agreeing with Hume (slide at 20:13 of the second video) that in reality intellect is used to support one's preexisting inclinations.

He seems to be a liberal who has come to appreciate some of the good qualities in conservatism, but I've looked at other videos of him and I don't think he entirely understands conservatives. For example one moral factor he identifies as "authority" (which connotes oppression) but I think conservatives would call it "rule of law" which connotes protection for the weak. He uses labels that have positive connotations for the two factors of morality that liberals are concerned and he uses labels with negative connotations for the factors that only conservatives are concerned with.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#7
I'm still making my way through the paper, though I can't help but wonder what results Haidt would have found if he'd lived in a country that was dominated by one party that was socially "conservative" but environmentally & economically "liberal" (Socialist Catholic?) & another that was essentially against regulation of markets which extends from being generally against government infringement on individual rights (think pro-gay, pro-choice, pro-gun).

If anything my first guess would be America's political parties are a hodge-podge of historical alliances between groups made out of convenience rather than unifying priniciples.
 
#8
I'm still making my way through the paper, though I can't help but wonder what results Haidt would have found if he'd lived in a country that was dominated by one party that was socially "conservative" but environmentally & economically "liberal" (Socialist Catholic?) & another that was essentially against regulation of markets which extends from being generally against government infringement on individual rights (think pro-gay, pro-choice, pro-gun).

If anything my first guess would be America's political parties are a hodge-podge of historical alliances between groups made out of convenience rather than unifying priniciples.

According to the first video (at 5:20) the five aspects of morality are cross cultural. The conservative/liberal differences come from an internet survey of 23,000 American citizens (8:16 in the first video).

His larger interest is the political deadlock/polarization in the US government so it makes sense for him to study differences in US citizens. The implications of his research are that in the legislative assemblies in the US, the two parties should understand the different outlooks and the positive contributions each makes to society and they should work together using this knowledge rather than taking an adversarial approach that the other side is stupid and/or evil.

Electoral politics and commercial journalism seem to me to be a huge obstacle to this vision. Haidt thinks holding open primaries is a good way to improve the situation, but I don't see how it can help. I think it would be more effective if the political candidates and journalists would understand this research and talk about it so that it becomes part of our culture.
 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#10
According to the first video (at 5:20) the five aspects of morality are cross cultural. The conservative/liberal differences come from an internet survey of 23,000 American citizens (8:16 in the first video).

His larger interest is the political deadlock/polarization in the US government so it makes sense for him to study differences in US citizens. The implications of his research are that in the legislative assemblies in the US, the two parties should understand the different outlooks and the positive contributions each makes to society and they should work together using this knowledge rather than taking an adversarial approach that the other side is stupid and/or evil.

Electoral politics and commercial journalism seem to me to be a huge obstacle to this vision. Haidt thinks holding open primaries is a good way to improve the situation, but I don't see how it can help. I think it would be more effective if the political candidates and journalists would understand this research and talk about it so that it becomes part of our culture.
Yet what exactly is this research meant to show? That we have predispositions toward certain ideas we consider moral? The times I felt wronged by my parents as a teenager, or the times I was surely wronged by an ex, I can now reflect on and see I was being silly and narcissistic. That we have inclinations toward certain attitudes doesn't necessitate each of these attitudes is correct.

Additional it's not clear how Haidt is separating ingrained morality from other ingrained attitudes. For example the notion of purity can easily be a conflation of gustatory attitudes (X is gross, or was historically seen as unclean) and moral attitudes (X is wrong). In fact I don't think Haidt ever really manages to explain how to define a clear moral notion of purity that is free from gustatory attitudes. So it seems to me some of the things he notes as being moral questions have grey areas.

Also, it seems to me gun rights, empowering the individual to make & keep their money, bodily autonomy, and a general wariness against government interference are all stemming from the same moral intuitions. Similarly submission to institutional structures/traditions for the good of the community, ensuring the environment is protected even at the cost of jobs, and the responsibility of citizens toward each other are all drawn from the same moral fiber. Yet these issues are in fact some of the most contentious in terms of what separates American liberals and conservatives. (I recall that among some of my European colleagues Obama is actually a conservative.)

Beyond all that I'm wary of evo-psych "just so" stories like the ones Haidt uses in the paper. I suspect Haidt's inclined to think his stories are good because he is convinced moral dispositions and to some degree (possibly 100%?) even moral character can be explained by brain states and moral "modules". Now I think this is just fatally flawed, as IMO mechanisms - whether Jungian Archetypes in the Mind@Large or physical neuronal structures - can't do what he wants...but that's a debate for another thread...though I suspect you'd agree with me on this last point. :)
 
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#11
I just took the moral foundations questionnaire ( http://www.yourmorals.org/explore.php) and came out ultra liberal (beyond liberal on 4 out of five traits) ... except I usually don't vote that way??? And I think the explanation is that in interpreting what Haidt says about liberals and conservatives the differences are statistical and not 100% true for every conservative or every liberal. For example, on average liberals care more strongly about fairness than conservatives, but plenty of conservatives care more about fairness than many liberals. But I always have problems with these types of questionnaires because they always leave too many things implicit, eg. when they ask how strongly I care if I hurt someone's feelings, they don't say if I am sending out Christmas cards or saving the planet from nuclear annihilation.
 
#12
I just took the moral foundations questionnaire ( http://www.yourmorals.org/explore.php) and came out ultra liberal (beyond liberal on 4 out of five traits) ... except I usually don't vote that way??? And I think the explanation is that in interpreting what Haidt says about liberals and conservatives the differences are statistical and not 100% true for every conservative or every liberal. For example, on average liberals care more strongly about fairness than conservatives, but plenty of conservatives care more about fairness than many liberals. But I always have problems with these types of questionnaires because they always leave too many things implicit, eg. when they ask how strongly I care if I hurt someone's feelings, they don't say if I am sending out Christmas cards or saving the planet from nuclear annihilation.
Stefan Molyneux is currently my favorite philosopher/podcaster, so I end up posting a lot of his stuff. That said, I think he does an excellent job here of breaking down the moral aspects of political philosophy through a critique of socialism-- we shouldn't have arbitrary moral categories in society, etc...

 
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Sciborg_S_Patel

#13
I just took the moral foundations questionnaire ( http://www.yourmorals.org/explore.php) and came out ultra liberal (beyond liberal on 4 out of five traits) ... except I usually don't vote that way??? And I think the explanation is that in interpreting what Haidt says about liberals and conservatives the differences are statistical and not 100% true for every conservative or every liberal. For example, on average liberals care more strongly about fairness than conservatives, but plenty of conservatives care more about fairness than many liberals. But I always have problems with these types of questionnaires because they always leave too many things implicit, eg. when they ask how strongly I care if I hurt someone's feelings, they don't say if I am sending out Christmas cards or saving the planet from nuclear annihilation.
Isn't this further proof the moral matrix Haidt proposes cannot capture people's genuine attitudes toward politics?

It seems to me the way people vote might have to do with their alignment over some core issue or set of issues that overrides their misgivings about whatever party they are voting for rather than their alignment with a particular, supposedly ingrained matrix. I can easily see accidents of history shifting what the political litmus tests that define "liberal" and "conservative" are.

Why couldn't there be a religiously traditional party interested in preserving nature & providing various entitlements in the name of God's mercy, versus a secularist party interested in bodily autonomy and keeping one's earnings in opposition to wealth redistribution?

I'm guessing Haidt could come up with a new moral matrix for such a case? The first being interested in the communal welfare over the rights of the individual, and the latter the opposite? In fact while they don't get much press at the moment there are advocates of the former (Orson Scott Card & to an extent Huckabee come to mind) while some of the younger Libertarian crowed fills out the latter.
 
#14
Stefan Molyneux is currently my favorite philosopher/podcaster, so I end up posting a lot of his stuff. That said, I think he does an excellent job here of breaking down the moral aspects of political philosophy through a critique of socialism-- we shouldn't have arbitrary moral categories in society, etc...
'It is what it is' seems to be a convenient way for him to justify anything, especially the excesses of capitalism. One person owning three tooth brushes isn't that big a deal on the face of it, but one tooth brush is plenty, why do you need three? An individual may be responsible for their actions but who should be held accountable for 'getting them there'? I think it's collectively all of us that can and should be held accountable.
 
#15
Isn't this further proof the moral matrix Haidt proposes cannot capture people's genuine attitudes toward politics?
I am looking for some way to take the smart/stupid, good/evil, axes out of the equation. If people would understand when certain values are helpful they would have a rational basis for discussing politics with mutual respect and understanding. For example one of Haidt's "intuitions" is authority. In a crisis, respect for authority can be a matter of life and death, but at other times it can be arbitrary and oppressive. You can find examples for purity, care, etc. Understanding the values of people who disagree with you, and understanding when those values are helpful or harmful gives you a framework to discuss compromise.

What distinguishes liberals from conservatives is not as important to me as having a framework to discuss the moral foundation of policy. When you remove the smart/stupid good/evil criterion, you take the rug out from under the antagonism, hatred, and anger we have today in politics. There is a movement to identify the constitutional basis in legislation. I think that is a good idea. I'd also like to see a moral justification for legislation too. Each side can identify the aspects of morality they think need to be considered or are being violated. The question of relative vs absolute morlaity is not as important as making things explicit: why you think a law is good or why it is bad. "Because my contributers asked for it" is the real unspoken answer most of the time and it would be better to have an explicit moral justification that can be defended against other moral arguments during debate.

Politicians and journalists will probably want to stick with the good/evil smart/stupid perspective because it is in their own personal financial interest to do so. But if the rest of society can recognize these are false dichotomies, the demogogues will have less power to mislead the public.
 
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#16
His research shows that conservatives and liberals have different ideas about what issues constitute morality. That is the essence of what differentiates conservatives and liberals. He identifies five factors that conservatives care about while liberals care mostly about just two of them (slide at 8:40 in the first video). Each of the moral factors is beneficial in certain situations. If only liberals study morality, and academia is unbalanced politically, then certain aspects of morality for humanity as a whole will not be addressed.
It might be better to say that all people have the same five intuitions about morality. Haidt's research shows that liberals tend, on average, to care about two of them somewhat more than the other three while conservatives care, on average, about all five to the same extent. But all people do care about the same five. So liberals and conservatives have much more in common then the politicians and journalists want us to believe and we are brainwashed to some extent into believing the lie that people in the other party are stupid and or evil.

I think Haidt's writing can be an important tool to help people see through the brainwashing.

@Alex has said something to the effect that the left / right divide is a scam by the elite to keep us divided. I think he is getting at an imprtant point. I would describe it somewhat differently: that the left / right differences are real but beneficial to a society because diversity is good when it offers a wider menu of solutions to problems. The problem is that we are branwashed by politicians and journalists to think that the other party is stupid or evil rather than understanding that we all share the same basic values and we need to understand and appreciate each other's concerns rather than demoninzing each other over what are really minor differences.
 
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#17
@Alex has said something to the effect that the left / right divide is a scam by the elite to keep us divided. I think he is getting at an imprtant point. I would describe it somewhat differently: that the left / right differences are real but beneficial to a society because diversity is good when it offers a wider menu of solutions to problems. The problem is that we are branwashed by politicians and journalists to think that the other party is stupid or evil rather than understanding that we all share the same basic values and we need to understand and appreciate each others concerns rather than demoninzing each other over what are really minor differences.
That we're all more alike than we think is something I've been pushing for a long time here on Skeptiko. But the political reinforcement of this kind of bias is a symptom, not a cause. Us vs. Them biases are hardwired into all of us, stemming no doubt from our history where Us kept us alive and Them was a real threat.

These kind of divisions pervade all social groups, not just political ones.
 
#18
@Alex has said something to the effect that the left / right divide is a scam by the elite to keep us divided. I think he is getting at an imprtant point. I would describe it somewhat differently: that the left / right differences are real but beneficial to a society because diversity is good when it offers a wider menu of solutions to problems. The problem is that we are branwashed by politicians and journalists to think that the other party is stupid or evil rather than understanding that we all share the same basic values and we need to understand and appreciate each others concerns rather than demoninzing each other over what are really minor differences.
thx for including me Jim.

to clarify... I don't think the left/right thing is a scam... moreover, I think almost everyone is a mash-up of "right/left" when it comes to issues that we really care about.

the "scam" is the phony Republican/Democrat dichotomy. I mean, for sure some of it is real, but at the end of the day Obama completely betrayed his "hope and change" bullshit and gave us more phony war on terror, extension of the Patriot Act, continued torture, and on and on. It's impossible for me to understand how anyone can see him as anything other than an extension of Bush/Cheney. hence, Rep/Dem is a total joke.
 
#20
'It is what it is' seems to be a convenient way for him to justify anything, especially the excesses of capitalism. One person owning three tooth brushes isn't that big a deal on the face of it, but one tooth brush is plenty, why do you need three? An individual may be responsible for their actions but who should be held accountable for 'getting them there'? I think it's collectively all of us that can and should be held accountable.
Excuse me for not responding to this earlier. I began projectile vomiting, then spent a few hours dry heaving in the kitchen while running a cheese grater over my body. I finally remembered why I had gone to the kitchen, so I started stabbing myself in the head with a dirty steak knife. I came back here to attempt a reply but blacked out. Next thing I remember I was back in the kitchen doing the stabbing thing again.
 
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