The moral roots of liberals and conservatives | Jonathan Haidt

What if all human beings share the same foundational moral values, and most of our ideological differences are essentially reflections of our moral diversity? In his 2008 TED talk, Jonathan Haidt describes five moral foundations, how the importance assigned to each moral foundation varies among individuals, and how distinct patterns among people’s moral profiles can help us understand political, cultural, and religious differences in new and challenging ways.

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… So, if you think that half of America votes Republican because they are blinded [they must be blinded by religion, or by simple stupidity], 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.”

We found five — five best matches, which we call the five foundations of morality… To think about culture variation, let’s try a different metaphor. If there really are five systems at work in the mind — five sources of intuitions and emotions — then we can think of the moral mind as being like one of those audio equalizers that has five channels, where you can set it to a different setting on every channel… We can say that liberals have a kind of a two-channel, or two-foundation morality. Conservatives have more of a five-foundation, or five-channel morality…

[L]iberals speak for the weak and oppressed. They want change and justice, even at the risk of chaos… Conservatives, on the other hand, speak for institutions and traditions. They want order, even at some cost to those at the bottom. The great conservative insight is that order is really hard to achieve. It’s really precious, and it’s really easy to lose. So once you see this — once you see that liberals and conservatives both have something to contribute, that they form a balance on change versus stability — then I think the way is open to step outside the moral matrix.


The moral roots of liberals and conservatives | Jonathan Haidt


Moral Foundations

Moral Foundations Theory was created by a group of social and cultural psychologists to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. In brief, the theory proposes that several innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of “intuitive ethics.” Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too.


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