Morality and politics

Jonathan Haidt has some interesting work on morality and politics. He describes it in the TED video below and in his recent paper (Liberals and conservatives rely on different moral foundations). It basically shows that conservatives and liberals give different weights to some moral intuitions.

Based on surveys and self declared political orientation individuals are scored for the intuitions of:lack_of_respect

1: Harm and care

2: Fairness and reciprocity

3: In group loyalty

4: Authority and respect

5: Purity and sanctity.

The surveys consistently show conservatives ranking their intuitions for Purity/sanctity, authority/respect and in group loyalty higher than do liberals. This suggests that liberals and conservatives have different moral perceptions.

Haidt points out the importance of these findings. That we must appreciate this difference in moral perception if we are to find ways of communicating across politicalΒ  and religious divides. As he says:

“Morality, by its very nature, makes it hard to study morality. It binds people together into teams that seek victory, not truth. It closes hearts and minds to opponents even as it makes cooperation and decency possible within groups.

To live virtuously as individuals and as societies, we must understand how our minds are built (see ch. 1 of The Happiness Hypothesis). We must find ways to overcome our natural self-righteousness (see ch. 4). We must respect and even learn from those whose morality differs from our own (see this talk or this essay on politics, or this essay on religion.).”

If you are interested in how you rate on the moral intuitions go to Haidt’s surveys at and fill in the questionnaires. My own results (green bars)Β with the Moral Foundations Survey showed me to be more liberal than most liberals!


Jonathan Haidt on the moral roots of liberals and conservatives


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2 responses to “Morality and politics

  1. Great cartoon πŸ™‚

    Good quote too. I’m not sure that “natural self-righteousness” is quite where it’s at, so much as us “needing” a framework to hang our decisions on (following from the patterning our brain sets up for action/reaction). But then, I haven’t read much about this, so I’m just ruminating… πŸ™‚


  2. Pingback: Calgary church loses charitable status for its “non-partisan political activities” « The Talented Chimp

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