Jonathan Haidt 5 Moral Foundations Theory and Politics

I am not sure who linked Jonathan Haidt’s "The real difference between liberals and conservatives" TED talk to me on twitter. But wow, the talk is awesome. After watching the talk several times I felt the need to take notes so here is a summary, probably more for me than anyone else.

Haidt’s "Moral Foundations Theory" holds that there are five fundamental moral values that extend across cultures and even to some primates. From the TED talk they are: (and AGAIN – these are just my notes – watch the video for more)

Haidt’s Five Moral Values

  1. Harm/Care – agreed on by both liberal and conservative
  2. Fairness/reciprocity – agreed on by both liberal and conservative
  3. Ingroup loyalty
    1. liberals are more independent
    2. only among humans do you find large groups
  4. Authority/respect
    1. liberals reject authority, conservatives embrace it
  5. Purity/sanctity
    1. political right moralizes sex
    2. left moralizes food as examples

Other notes are:

  • Free rider problem (Common Goods, etc…)
  • cooperation deteriorates without punishment – to solve cooperative problems you need some sort of punishment (my own take here)
  • "If you want the truth to stand clear before you, never be for
    or against. The struggle between "for" and "against" is the mind’s
    worst disease." – Sent-Ts’an, c. 700 C.E.
  • "liberals speak for the weak and oppressed; want change and justice, even at risk of chaos"
  • "conservatives speak for institutions and traditions; want order even at the cost to those at the bottom"
  • "they need each other like yin/yang"
  • "And now we get to the crux of the disagreement between
    liberals and conservatives. Because liberals reject three of these
    foundations. They say let’s celebrate diversity, not common and ingroup
    loyalty. They say lets question athority. And they say keep your hands off my body."
  • "to create coperative groups you need every tool in the toolbox (5 moral values)"

"The crux of the dissagreement – liberals reject three of these values. "ingroup loyalty, authority/respect and purity/sanctity"

That last one is a whopper.  I think if you asked a liberal are
they more accepting of morality versus rejecting, the answer would be
more-accepting. By definition a liberal is more open minded at things that
go against authority, and are therefore typically considered a
"conservative value".

It is specifically the "liberal" *rejection* of  three
of the five moral values that leads to dissagreement.

Haidt articulates in the talk that it isn’t either/or. That it is
yin/yang and BOTH sides need each other.
He doesn’t use the words
"creative tension" but that is my take away. You can’t have complete
chaos. You can’t defend the downtrodden without having some "haves"
creating the jobs! Yet similarly you can’t legislate complete authority
into a police state where we are effectively no longer free, but fed.

These are very real issues as I type this on September 18th, 2008.
Hurricane Ike just devastated Galveston and most of Houston is still
without power. Meanwhile the financial markets are in chaos from
economic deregulation and the government just bailed out AIG on our
. And nobody (still) is talking about business ethics, just regulation.