Foundations of Morality

Morality has always fascinated me. Why do people think what they are doing is right or wrong. Heck, half the time I wonder if people have ever given it a thought. The most moral actions of some people seem completely immoral to other people. But if there's one thing that seems constant, it is the everybody seems to think they're moral.

I've had a lot of thoughts in this area and also how to best organize society, but I recently watched a video that really organizes these thoughts.
1/7 Jonathan Haidt lecture about morality

Foundations of Morality

Essentially he argues that we have 5 centers of morality that we are born with. They were gained via evolution and are present in all people and cultures. They have been essential to our development. These pillars are then built upon by our experience growing up.

The centers are listed below.

This is basically the morality of helping the victim and caring for people. Seeing a child hungry for food or a homeless man sleeping in the cold. It is 'moral' to help them out of their suffering.

Are people putting in as much as they take out? Are they cheating to gain an unfair advantage?

Are you willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the group?

This including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

This is about respect and purity. For example, trying to keep the body pure through sanctity of the body and sexuality.

This foundation is about the feelings of resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their individual choices.

Now, what is very interesting is how these themes apply to political groups.

Morality and Politics

What is shows is that Liberals tend to only see morality in terms of Harm/Fairness.
Authority, Ingroup, and Purity are much lower.

Conservatives, while they value Harm and Fairness, they also value Authority, Ingroup, and Purity to an EQUAL extent.

Where Do I Fit In?

I guess that makes me a Liberal. Anything I consider moral is normally viewed from the lens of Harm or Fairness. I really don't view anything moral about Purity, In group, or Authority.

You can also take the test at:

I'm pretty much a Liberal in that I tend to reject moral arguments to Authority, Loyalty, and Purity.

While I can certainly see how someone can make a moral claim to those, I just don't agree they are moral positions.
However, I can definitely agree that having a framework of Loyalty, Authority, and Purity is necessary for humanity. I view them as practical concerns for society, but not sources of morality themselves.

For example, I think authority is needed in society to make sure people act accordingly in ways that are not too destructive to society. Is it moral to obey the authority or to disobey it? I don't see it as a moral question. It is simply a choice to manage society.

Similarly, Loyalty is good for the benefit of the group. Yet, it is not really moral per se. Rebelling against a group that you don't agree with or is causing harm is a moral thing to do. About the only aspect of Loyalty that appeals to me is a very personal loyalty to close friends and family. Anything beyond that is just one group against another. One's gain is anothers loss.

However, where I think I do disagree with most Liberals is that while I do not think Authority, Loyalty, or Purity are foundations of morality, I do believe they need to always be thought of. You cannot simply approach public policy in terms of caring and fairness when people do have built in functions of authority, loyalty, and purity. You cannot ignore that side of humanity and pretend it doesn't exist.

You cannot pretend that humans won't be loyal to their group and hurt other groups. You cannot pretend we are all independent rational thinkers and people do not simply submit to authority or their group values. You cannot pretend issues of purity do not exist. We are all 'grossed out' by something. Be it sexuality, the food chain, violence, hurtful words...

While I would consider loyalty, authority, and purity to be part of the human psyche, I don't consider them moral positions, yet we must acknowledge they are a part of us as much as a sex drive or desire to live is a part of us.

And as Liberals, we must consider such parts of our human psyche when thinking about moral issues and especially when it comes to support for policy.

One of the basic human elements is the desire to be part of a group. This naturally means we create groups at the exclusion of others.  As our group stengthens, another loses. Hardly any kind of moral position. So why do Liberal government seek to create groups in government? Do they not think of the harm caused by groups? Public sector unions, lawyers, ethnic and racial groups, bankers and they doll out privilege and punishment at their whim? Do Liberals not realize that humans, when in a group will act in their own group self-interest, and this is contrary to the Liberal ideology of social justice and equality?

Even notions of purity and authority have their uses. The better behaved a population is, the less problems that will have to be corrected by government. You cannot deny the empirical and scientific evidence that different cultures produce different results. In the Asian culture, shame and social bonds are very strong is emphasizing 'good' behavior. Having a child out of wedlock would bring about great same and social problems for most Asian groups. The same cannot be said for say the African American community or various other parts of the world. You cannot pretend these have no impact on people.  Yet, due to multiculturalism and a secular public sector, it has been taboo to teach 'values' in school. So unless 'values' are gained outside of school, it is unlikely that a person attending school will attain the benefits of such values. This is actually a fairly recent phenomenon. In older times, even in the Western world, children were taught how to behave and act in schools.  Today, we have cases where a private school enforcing a dress code becomes a national outrage as students have a 'right' to be what they want.

Even in-group loyalty has its benefits. It has been shown that multiculturalism DECREASES social trust, social capital, civic life.

In any case, I am getting off track. I do not wish to place to much emphasis on the non-liberal values of authority, purity, and group loyalty. I of course wish for a world where these are not part of the human psyche. But they are and we must deal with them as both realities. They are capable of producing great harm, but also good results.


I find the topic of foundations of morality to be very interesting.
I think like most Liberals, I value harm/care and fairness to be the prime components of morality.
Yet, I think purity, authority, and group loyalty to be core components of humanity that we cannot ignore and these are the ones we deal with on a personal level and are extremely powerful.

To deny their existence is to deny the truth about humanity.
It is to deny the working systems that have produced humanity over thousands of years.
Sure, we can dream of a world of social justice and universal equality and we can work towards it.
Yet, our policies and visions must always take into account the other foundations of morality.


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