Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Learn the five moral foundations

There is a very enlightened theory circulating that morality has several central themes that cross all cultures and explain the differences worldwide in how liberal and conservative thinking individuals interpret morals in society. But what is extremely interesting is that understanding conservative interpretations of morality will help you identify the reason why a person believes the way they do which is a very powerful thing to know.

Does that then make their belief acceptable? Not at all, but it will make more sense in the context of the moral foundation why someone takes a particular stance.

Five Moral Foundations

Moral Foundations Theory was created to understand why morality varies so much across cultures yet still shows so many similarities and recurrent themes. In brief, the theory proposes that five 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. The foundations are:

1)Harm/care, related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. This foundation underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/reciprocity, related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. This foundation generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy.

3) Ingroup/loyalty, related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. This foundation underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."

4) Authority/respect, shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. This foundation underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

5) Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. This foundation underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

Liberal and conservatives usually support number 1 and 2 alike, and that is where liberals tend to focus their attentions in modern society. Conservatives go on to incorporate numbers 3-5 in their regular belief systems and. it could be argued, that they do so to the detriment of logic, science and basic reason.

Liberal thinkers can utilize 3-5 also, but chances are they consider proof to the contrary before blindly following along...which is what trips up conservative thinkers. Perhaps having a religious mindset means that you can't go against the ingrained priniciples of "group think" that is necessary to these tenets.

And then there's sex! Number 5 seems to be a huge issue for many religions and uptight pious people. In fact, some of them seem to abandon 1 and 2 altogether as long as they are controlling the sexual behaviors of society. But that's another blog for another day.

But think about it and see if this theory helps you to better understand why a conservative thinker you know has a certain opinion. It just might make you better able to argue to their concern and point out contradictions in terms they can grasp. At least it's worth a shot.

Happy Human Light, Winter Solstice and Holidays!

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