All Moral Disagreement Comes Down to These 5 Principles
Why is it so hard to agree with some people? They are literally wired to value different things than you.
The field of moral psychology is the study of how people think through moral decisions. It goes back all the way to Plato and Aristotle, but today, we have modern psychological techniques to utilize. A data set 2,500 years in the making, i.e. recorded human civilization, gives us reason to think that most people make moral decisions in similar ways, based on prebuilt moral dispositions. The concept means that, even across cultures, we would see basic similarities in moral systems.
But, if our brains come with a built in ethical system, why is there such a debate over right and wrong?
Doctors Haidt and Graham, have studied this subject extensively. In their work they argue that there is great debate over the nature of right and wrong, but that the debate is over the meaning of five moral foundations rather than over what morality is — most of the time. Those five foundations are harm/care (preventing it, to be precise), fairness/reciprocity, loyalty, authority, and purity. Each is briefly explained here:
1) Harm/care: This foundation is based on our neurological tendencies to attachment, compassion, and our feelings towards those who cause harm.
2) Fairness/reciprocity: This foundation is all about our innate understanding of when we are not being treated fairly, something many animals have as well. This foundation is used as a basis for a wide range of ideas, including justice, freedom, and autonomy.
3) Loyalty: This foundation relates to our ability to form large, organized, cooperative groups of people who are not related. It is the driving force behind ideas such as shared sacrifice, patriotism, and the manifestation of tribal thinking.
4) Authority: This foundation was shaped by the history of hierarchical social interactions. It includes deference to authority viewed as legitimate and respect for traditions for their own sake.
5) Purity: This foundation is based on the psychology of disgust, a vital element in psychological evolution. It relates to any notion of finding virtue by controlling what you do and don’t do with your mind or body. Not only does this include conservative notions of chastity, but can also include such ideas as how pure your food must be, what bodily activities are morally good and evil, and what drug useage (if any) a person views as morally legitimate.
But, why would our brains have evolved to be predisposed to these notions of proper behaviour?
These five fundamentals cover a great deal of human behaviour and a tremendous range of attitudes. A group that can work together well, by means of sharing moral dispositions, is likely to thrive. It makes some sense then, that a group which was even slightly better able to utilize these ethical tools than another group might be more cohesive, successful, and therefore spread the dispositions by both example and population growth.
But it doesn’t really seem like we all share these five values. Have you seen how ferocious morality debates can get?
We do share the foundations, so say the researchers, but we don’t share them equally. Their studies show that while most everybody places a high value on fairness and harm prevention as cornerstones of morality, not everyone agrees on the significance of the other three values.
While the first two values, harm and fairness, cover how you treat other people, the last three relate to group membership and tradition. Individuals determined to be open to new experiences tend to view the first two foundations — harm/care and fairness/reciprocity — as the most vital, while people who are more disposded to routine and familiarity placed no special value on the first three. It was also found that open individuals placed greater value on the first two precepts, but not nearly as much on the last three; while more routine people tended to view all five elements as being vital to morality.
Can morality be reduced to five fundamental points? These two doctors think it can be. What does that say about us and our moral disagreements? This theory, if correct, could help us understand people we disagree with better, by showing us how they reason through moral problems. Is would only be of use, however, if we remember that there are moral foundations we might not be in tune to, but have every ability to harness.
These five main food groups are important for your brain's health and likely to boost the production of feel-good chemicals.
We all know eating “healthy” food is good for our physical health and can decrease our risk of developing diabetes, cancer, obesity and heart disease. What is not as well known is that eating healthy food is also good for our mental health and can decrease our risk of depression and anxiety.
Infographics show the classes and anxieties in the supposedly classless U.S. economy.
For those of us who follow politics, we’re used to commentators referring to the President’s low approval rating as a surprise given the U.S.'s “booming” economy. This seeming disconnect, however, should really prompt us to reconsider the measurements by which we assess the health of an economy. With a robust U.S. stock market and GDP and low unemployment figures, it’s easy to see why some think all is well. But looking at real U.S. wages, which have remained stagnant—and have, thus, in effect gone down given rising costs from inflation—a very different picture emerges. For the 1%, the economy is booming. For the rest of us, it’s hard to even know where we stand. A recent study by Porch (a home-improvement company) of blue-collar vs. white-collar workers shows how traditional categories are becoming less distinct—the study references "new-collar" workers, who require technical certifications but not college degrees. And a set of recent infographics from CreditLoan capturing the thoughts of America’s middle class as defined by the Pew Research Center shows how confused we are.
SMARTER FASTER trademarks owned by The Big Think, Inc. All rights reserved.