Conservatives VS. Liberals

One of the criteria that Jonathan Haidt uses to identify Liberal vs. Conservative thinking is an openness to new experiences.  This basic and seemingly innocuous indicator tracks well with certain political affiliations as they related to the five foundations of morality.  Liberals as you may suspect are more open to new ideas and are therefore more willing to change.  They are more likely to focus on the good things in change, hoping for the best.  Conservatives tend to be reluctant to change, fearing that change may ruin the good things and bring more problems; unintended consequences.  Such an outlook tends to track with age; younger people tend to be more liberal and older people tend to be more conservative.

While researching morality Haidt wondered if there existed a difference in how conservatives and liberals view morality.  He created an interesting experiment to determine if there were moral differences between the two groups.  He posted a questionnaire online which asked various questions relating to these five foundations of moral values (  Questions are first asked to determine your “openness to new experiences”, which determines your liberal or conservative slant.  Then questions on five foundations of morality are asked.

The results of thousands of respondents in several countries provides clear evidence for a divergence of importance placed on these five foundations of morality.  Liberals’ value – Harm/Care high, then Fairness/Reciprocity, then a big drop to Authority/Respect and In-group/Loyalty, then least Purity/Sanctity.  Conservatives’ value – Harm/Care lower than liberals but place it at the top of their lists as well.  Authority is a close second followed closely by In-group/Loyalty, and Purity/Sanctity, with Fairness/Reciprocity at the bottom.

Graph results for 23,684 participants within the USA; more studies at


I find the fact that Fairness/Reciprocity is ranked lowest by conservatives to be a very disturbing finding.  It seems somewhat intuitive but this study helps to quantify the correlation.  Conservatives, valuing authority much higher than liberals would suggest that they would be far more susceptible to authoritarian behavior; which does prove historically accurate and can be clearly seen in today’s politics.  That means a greater focus on “the mission“.

It therefore makes sense that Fairness/Reciprocity would be ranked lowest because Fairness/Reciprocity tends to get in the way of the mission.  As noted earlier, authority does not have to take the form of a human authority figure.  A meme that a person or group holds near and dear, a sacred value, can have authority.  This authority can be used to make good people do bad things.  That is an imbalance that should be of concern to everyone.

If one was feeling a bit less generous, they may conclude that given the closeness of the conservative responses, it could be conservatives in general have a poor understanding of ethics all together.  If one took all of the culturally prescribed “rights” and “wrongs” as being morally equivalent, it would be hard to distinguish between any of the five categories.  If what you understood of right and wrong was what your authority figures told you (God, Country, Family, etc), distinction between different categories would not matter much and a cultural understanding of morality would be all you would be able to understand.  Ethics, would seem a foreign concept.  Liberals on the other hand seem to have a better understanding of ethics, and therefore can prioritize the five foundations of morality better.

Liberals tend to comment that Ingroup/loyalty, Authority/respect, and Purity/Sanctity (items 3,4,&5) can and tend to lead to xenophobia, authoritarianism, and puritanism.  In his TED talk Jonathan Haidt points out that one thing in common with every successful civilization through history is that all five tenants of morality as he defines them have been present.  These successful civilizations seem “to use every tool in the tool box”.  That is an astute observation and accurate.

Haidt makes the argument that both liberal and conservative views are important and provide a balance.  This conceptual balance is seen in the Eastern cultures of Zen in the form of Ying and Yang, in Hinduism with Vishnu the preserver and Shiva the Destroyer, and elsewhere.  Haidt notes that liberals tend to favor change and conservatives stability.  He further notes, “The great conservative insight is that Order is really hard to achieve, it’s really precocious, and it is really easy to lose.”  I would agree with this analysis.

In his TED talk he references a good quote, “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.

So in response to the question Haidt asks regarding, “Is it possible to not be for or against things?”, I would say yes to some extent.  I think you can stand beside an issues for long enough to properly evaluate it with the clearest possible lens and use language suitable to prevent your lens or analysis from becoming too highly contrasted to provide proper analysis to finally achieve that lofty goal of ethical Truth.

Ethics is circumstantial, so in the analysis of an ethical dilemma – one that likely exists in the grey of the world – use of the terms better or worse instead of right/wrong or good/evil helps to allows people to not stand for or against per se but beside an issue long enough to fully evaluate it without too much bias.  Inevitably if you are going to make an ethical judgement, you have to weigh the circumstances presented and make a decision.  Inaction or ineptitude does not further justice.

As Haidt goes on to state:  Our Righteous Minds were designed to…

– Unite us into teams

– Divide us against other teams, and

– Blind us to the truth

…So his advice is to use moral humility to provide a passionate commitment to the truth.

I am not sure what he means by the term “moral humility”.  That phrase is ambiguous; kind of like “religious moderate”.  With regards to the statement, “Our righteous minds were designed to…”  I would say that righteousness is the logical conclusion of a moral foundation and necessary to its cause; and as noted likely an innate condition of the human mind.  Righteousness usually results from the perceived or real violation of an individual’s or group’s sacred values.  Unfortunately every great human atrocity has had elements of the last three elements of Haidt’s prescribed elements of morality.  While the correlation does not lead to a causal association it does offer some pause and some further investigation.

Sacred values induce inner fear scenarios – taboo decisions carry negative emotions.  This is the reason fear is such an important and effective means of control.  Negative emotions make people fearful, and visa versa; the two are closely linked and almost synonymous.  Seeing as three of the five foundations of morality are valued by conservatives far more than liberals; and that these three foundations have little if anything to do with ethics – rather are heavily based in religious memes evolved more as a means of control than of empathetic introspection; it makes sense that conservatives tend to favor hypothetical fear scenarios and other scare tactics to motivate their base where as liberals tend to try to energize their base with hope.  If a meme is sticky it will repeat itself.  Fear controls.  A meme that induces fear is one that controls thoughts and behaviors and likely repeats well.

So am I arguing against conservative thought in general?…or the tenants of morality as defined by the five pillars that Haidt discovered?….not exactly.  What I am primarily trying to do is to provide distinction between an Ethical foundation and a Moral one.


Until I read about Haidts distinctions of morality and how it related to liberals and conservatives I had not given a correlation much thought.  I do not think all conservative and morally based thought is wrong, but I have always been very concerned by the foundations of said thought as it relates to politics.  Many of the arguments used to defend some of the more extreme conclusions the fundamental elements of both groups arrive at have seemed ethically corrupt; and now I have a better understanding of why.

Conservative thought as it relates to a reluctance to change is good to a degree; likewise with liberal thought being a willingness to change-to a degree.  The problem is the political reality.  Extreme liberals tend to be anarchist; extreme conservatives tend to be authoritarians.  Extreme liberals are those who’s good intentions pave the way to hell on earth.  Extreme conservatives are those who’s mission focus leads them to actively create hell on earth; all while thinking they are doing the right thing.

By the nature of motivating forces (fear vs hope) and the fact that 66% of the worlds population is highly susceptible to the demands of authority, I find that political conservatives are better able to organize their troops and far more likely to engage in unethical behavior.  It is that realization that is what I fear and which is partly a motivation for writing this blog.  I believe that better educating people on ethics will lead to better social institutions with a focus and foundation on ethics, which will lead to greater stability with less need for authority, in-group loyalty, and concepts of purity/sanctity.


As a note of interest, I did take Haidt’s online test.  I rated (harm/care) equal to the conservative average (slightly below most liberals), I rated (fairness/reciprocity) slightly higher than the average liberal, and I rated (In-group/Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity) lower than most liberals.  So my bias is clearly liberal leaning, if you did not already guess that.  From an American political perspective I am fiscally conservative and socially liberal; and after reading, “The Wrecking Crew” by Thomas Frank, and “The Death of the Liberalism” by Chris Hedges, I  am left with no political affiliation at this moment in American history.  The context of conservative and liberal for the discussions above and throughout most of this blog are not American political centric, rather general in the global sense; just like Haidt’s study.  That being said, I may use some current and past American political ideas to illustrate a few points.

After taking Haidt’s online test and using a bit of introspection, I realize my notions of fairness have been a strong driver for me my entire life; it likely lead me to think long and hard on the subject of ethics and write this blog.

Almost any emotion can be useful.  Anger is typically considered a negative emotion and for good reason, it can eat away at people like acid.  But acid is not always bad, it is made useful in many processes, including batteries or your stomach.  It can be used to neutralize chemical bases.  I have used my anger caused by the worlds incidences of unfairness to fuel me.  In many ways, my inner sense of fairness fuels many of my passions to seek a better world.

As people climb the social ladder, many seek the pursuit of happiness, thinking it is a goal.  This search for many follows a somewhat logical path of eliminating the bad.  Happiness in not a destination, it is the residue of doing good.  It can not be found, it has to be produced.  The more you try to seek it, the less happy you will likely become.  If however you focus on making the world around you a bit better today than it was yesterday, happiness is almost guaranteed.


36 thoughts on Conservatives VS. Liberals

  1. Hello,

    I have been doing some work with Jonathan Haidt’s ideas over the past year, so as I’ve read your interpretation of some of his work I thought maybe I could help to direct you to some information that would clarify his thought on ethics versus morality. You seem to have hit upon the distinction either independently or by some other influence, but the distinction does not seem quite as naturalized as someone who had really wrestled with the primary literature would have arrived at. Though he has given some good talks on the subject which are online, as in most cases, his most in depth analyses are in print. Fortunately, he makes most of his stuff available for free on his homepage here: The work entitled “Morality” is where I want to direct your attention. In it he performs a review of psychology research relevant to the study of morality which led him to postulate the five pillars. In the introduction he reviews the traditional problems in ethics (Hume’s guillotine, Deontology vs consequentialism, virtue ethics, etc.). I’m sure you’re familiar. The struggle of philosophers who formulate(d) ethics is that they’re trying to put something which is not accessible to the reflective, conscious mind into words (the conduit of our shared consciousness). Therefor, most ethical theories are post hoc rationalizations of moral intuitions. Morality has served an evolutionary function in our development as a species, and as you observe, these ancient predispositions do not suit us for modern reality. I do not wish to be exhausting, however, and you seem the type of person who is honestly curious and to whom I do not need to sell ideas to. I merely wanted to share with a fellow ethical theorist what I feel to be a great resource.



    • Eric,

      I appreciate the comment. The distinctions I make between ethics and morality are independent. I have read much of Haidt’s work and I agree with Haidt’s analysis of past philosopher’s attempts at “cracking the code”. Logic alone is not sufficient. The thing you call a “moral intuition” I call “innate knowledge” of ethics. My distinction is approachable and easily understood; if you can feel physical and emotional pain, then you possess knowledge of ethics. Using even a shallow amount of introspection, you can ask basic questions to derive the correct ethical answer. This base knowledge only requires a six word proof, “I feel, therefore I know ethics”. This proof is undeniable; both scientifically and philosophically.

      All answers in science are derived by asking good questions; ethics is no different. We don’t need the abstract ideas of property rights that form the foundation of Libertarianism or Kant’s equally abstract ideas of duty, we just need to put ourselves in the other’s shoes and ask ourselves if we would like it if “that” was done to us? It’s best to frame the question with regards to the two pillars of ethics – harm/care and fairness/reciprocity.

      I think Haidt did a good job determining the 5-moral pillars via scientific method. I agree with his analysis of these moral pillars. I agree with calling it morality. I think these pillars are part genetic imprint, part cultural memes. I feel the distinctions made here are valid and well supported. Given your comments, I’m not sure if you read through the entire blog, but I would encourage you to do so.

      I would also encourage you to challenge items that you read… and be specific. This book was published as a blog for free specifically to engage people in this type of discussion. I wanted the book to be a living document that could be challenged. If an idea cannot withstand criticism, its not a good idea.

      In reading your main challenge, it appears you prefer the idea of morality being unconscious and intuitive to the point of being beyond words…. if so, that does not seem very useful. While many intuitive things are “elusive obvious” concepts (hard to put into words but somehow “obvious” at the same time), once someone cracks the code on the elusive part by eloquently describing the condition, it becomes obvious to everyone once stated. I feel ethical understanding is much the same. Once you understand the basic building blocks, you can argue from an ethical perspective with relative easy.

      Can you better define what you mean by “moral intuition” and how one makes a moral argument from said intuition? Do you think authority/respect, In-group/Loyalty, and Purity/Sanctity are ethical concepts? If so, can you defend them in terms of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity? I see these three aspects of morality as tools for enforcing or subverting compliance to ethics. Like any tool, it can be used as a weapon if held the right way. This fact does not make them bad; we need tools to build things… it just means we need to respect their power and use them wisely.

      • Hello again,
        I began to write down some of my ideas and realized it would be far too long, so please forgive me for giving my response as bullets. Also, I know some of this doesn’t specifically address some of your points which may be valid in their own right, please do not think I’m talking past you. I merely want to build up a thesis on an alternative view of ethics.

        -All biological systems have evolved to overcome constraints placed on them by existence in the physical universe.
        -Humans and other great apes (as well as some other species) have in part solved the problems of physical existence by distributing survival tasks across members of groups composed of individuals.
        -Any group composed of individuals will have a competition between members of the same species since they occupy the same ecological niche and therefore require the resources.
        -Either the individuals have to exist relatively isolated from one another, or they have to have some means to manage resources as a collective.
        -This problem has been solved in mammals by the “pack mentality” which is a set of neural developmental predispositions that give rise to individuals which effectively work together.
        -There must be some way of identifying who belongs to the pack and who does not, otherwise, transient members can stop by for a meal without participating in the hunt or territorial disputes. Groups which allow this behavior are at a disadvantage which is why do not see much benevolence in nature.
        -Morality is the set of ideas and practices which serve as the scaffold for social interactions. Since proto-society is a development of the pack mentality, this pack mentality (and associated neural dispositions) is the basis for modern human morality.
        -Humans are not mere dogs, however, and I do not wish to suggest this, but the pack mentality intuitions which largely contribute to in group/loyalty and authority/respect are important foundations on which our moral psychology is built.
        -Human moral intuitions are, unsurprisingly, heavily directed towards perception of group membership and group commitments. Even a liberal (such as myself) who in his ethics states that group membership is not a basis for assigning resources in a society still assesses the “liberalness” of people with whom he cooperates. Though this not necessarily to the same degree.
        -Even within a hierarchy with established authorities, there is still some latitude for asserting individual ideas and beliefs. Our capacity for language has amplified the usefulness of this trait. Hierarchies depend on feedback for effective maneuvering towards some goal (“the mission” as you’ve identified it.
        -In the historical context where our moral intuitions evolved “the mission” was successful maintenance of resources which without agriculture was hunting, gathering, and defending gains from those who found it easier to steal than to work with the group. Sometimes these “cheaters” were members of the group itself in which case punishing the member (for minor infractions) or removing the member via execution or exile (for major infractions)has been the typical solution. These social pressures drove the early self-domestication of man and/or his ancestors.
        -Sometimes the cheaters were members of an outside group which cannot be punished lightly since they are of similar physical size and ability and therefore can co-opt the groups efforts by killing its members. Benevolence to outsiders is costly, and therefore has not been selected for. A tendency to disproportionately respond to encroachments from outsiders creates a safe territory by making it expensive for outsiders to cheat the territory’s inhabitants.
        -Agriculture meant the territories became static locations which depended on geographical features like water and fertile soil which are not easily defended in an extended campaign, therefore a pressure for groups to become larger and larger in order to defend territory emerged. Proto-humans were already cooperating in groups which consisted of non-kin members, so the development from isolated groups to interdependent groups of groups merely required commonalities between heads of group hierarchies.
        -Because agriculture allowed many people to be freed from being directly involved in food collection, and the management of groups is a complex affair, you see the emergence of a group of people who almost exclusively manage the affairs of others –the ruling class.
        -I alluded to members of a hierarchy providing feedback in order to enhance the effectiveness of the hierarchy. Feeling abused and cheated is an important aspect of how individual members of a group become motivated to enforce group norms. It is a feeling that most wish to avoid, and when we feel we wish to act on. Because a society’s groups of groups have a variety of concerns, the ruling class requires a system of navigating disputes between groups and members of groups which essentially motivates ethics. Within a group, morality and its associated intuitions allow members to regulate the behaviors of its individuals. Between groups, some sort of mutually beneficial, but mutually self-sacrificial deal has to be made. Because our commitment is primarily to our group and the negotiation is a necessary evil, we still try to exact conditions on our own terms.
        -The agricultural society gave rise to the commercial society where some individuals frequently interact across group lines and where intuitive notions about who is useful to cooperate with is have to depend on something besides group membership. Since we cannot expect members not sharing in our parochial morality to necessarily treat us in a manner satisfying to our particular moral concerns, a customary system of exchange became important– currency. A person’s usefulness to the massive hierarchies of thousands upon thousands of people in which they participated in was rewarded indirectly. The individual was no longer protected by the group, and his personal survival depended largely on getting a good price for his services. In a pluralistic, commercial society the fairness of transactions and the harm done by unfair aspects of the society occupy the largest portion of a person’s moral processing time.
        -Since more traditional groups (with their in group perks) exist concurrently with commercially dependent individuals, we see a historical process (almost resembling Hegelian dialectic materialism) where large numbers of people saw unfairness and effectively cooperated to attempt and rectify it. We see this phenomenon in the rise of Athenian democracy, the events leading up to the signing of the magna carta, the establishment of liberal democracy in the united states, and many many other times. We see reflection on the attitudes and beliefs underlying the various moral systems in philosophy of ethics. However, for the propositions of ethics to have any effect they have to be enforced. Traditional moral systems have little use for ethics (since they self organize and operate on survival principles). Therefore, ethics is actually a process of opposing many features of traditional morality, hence the complaint that liberals are evil, immoral, yada yada. We have the same moral intuitions as conservative individuals, but since we are outsiders and recognize that others feel the same way that in and of itself is enough of an in group signifier to motivate group formation and effective cooperation.
        -A person’s liberalness is not a function of their birth but instead is a function of the social circumstances under which they were brought up. Hence the cyclic nature of conservatism/liberalism. As liberals are successful, and the unfairness is rectified to their satisfaction, they can rely on more intuitive means to assess each other. This is also why everyone is liberal about some things and conservative about others.
        -In conclusion (for now, I suppose) ethics is not nearly as important in traditional moral schemes (i.e. tribes, religious groups, sports teams) as it is in more modern, liberal schemes. Since the expression of our moral intuitions about harm and fairness do not have the same emotional salience to everyone (since moral intuitions gain or lose in proportion to one’s life experiences and the traditional moral scheme emphasizes group cohesion over individual concerns about harm/fairness). This defeats the notion of a universal ethics, since as soon as a perceived unfairness is remediated, ethics are forgotten anyway. Since the population is constantly being resupplied by individuals with DNA that encodes for tribal morality, we have to either change man’s nature (A clockwork orange style) or have to do as Haidt suggested and understand the seemingly opposed intuitions as resulting in a very important process. Ethics seeks to remediate unfairness in societies while morality seeks to ensure continued group survival. In the modern era, we will constantly live with both, let’s just hope that a consolidated group does not emerge with the intent and strength to end the debate.

        • Eric,

          Jonathan Haidt would be very proud; you appear to understand his work well. The thing is, I agree with everything you wrote, for the most part at least. Let me try to clarify a few things.

          I think Jonathan Haidt’s analysis of how our nature evolved and the nature of our current state is quite accurate. I also agree that moral concepts are required for the enforcement of ethics; and for the smooth functioning of ethics. In a very real sense, ethics relies on morality.

          My point is that Morality is a tool that ethical understanding should be wielding; not the other way around. In order to understand ethics, you have to unlearn morality. Unlearning morality is mostly a liberal pursuit, as it requires introspection, a liberation of the mind, and questioning of memes surrounding authority/respect, in-group/loyalty, and purity/sanctity. When you complete your introspective process of unlearning morality, you are typically left with much of what you formally believed intact – provided you were raised with moral thought based on sound ethical principles.

          Human nature is everything good and bad. One of the best ways to have good people do bad things is to have an authority figure (which could be a meme) “tell” them to do the wrong things. If your framework is pure moral thought, then obedience to authority will have just as much salience as “do no harm”. If you look at the conservative spectrum, the grouping of the five pillars is so close that it’s easy to conclude that highly conservative people understand ethics as obedience to authority. Haidt does not make this conclusion but I do. I suspect Haidt looks past this because he sees himself as conservative, so he prefers the more benign, “Conservatives look to all five pillars, while liberals focus on harm/care and fairness/reciprocity”.

          While harm/care is the top ranking for conservatives, authority/respect is right behind it, followed closely by in-group/loyalty, purity/sanctity, with fairness/reciprocity scarily as the bottom of the list. Given the close proximity of each ranking, you could conclude there is no real distinction between these items. Is it not surprising that the ultra conservatives in society are almost always on the wrong side of history when it comes to matters of human rights. It is also not surprising the religious fundamentalist look to their books as sources of moral authority and morality itself. “Extremism in any ideology isn’t a distortion of that ideology. It is an informed, steadfast adherence to its fundamentals” – Ali A. Rizvi

          When it comes to the promotion of human rights it’s almost always the progressive or liberals that are pushing for increased care and fairness, and expansion of who is in-group. My conclusions on ethical understanding are validated by Haidt’s research. Liberals prioritize harm/care and fairness/reciprocity at the top of their lists, with authority/respect down quite a ways, in-group/loyalty close behind and purity/sanctity at the bottom of the list… where it rightly belongs.

          It is not surprising to me that most LGBT people are liberal. When everyone their age is trying to be just like the next person, they are discovering their is something very different with themselves. The thing that is different about them has no ethical bearing but society tells them that their nature is wrong. Think about that. These people have to unlearn these cultural memes and chart their own course. The act of doing this requires a liberation of the mind… and once you expand your mind, it does not contract.

          So am I against moral thinking? Yes and no. Moral thinking is necessary but it often impedes ethical understanding. Most of our ideas around purity/sanctity are at best very outdated and at worse very harmful (see the “Power of Poop” podcast for a great test of your concepts of purity/sanctity). Our ideas of in-group/loyalty while still necessary to some extent are paradoxically one of the largest impediments to our future survival; especially when paired with fundamentalist moral thinking. Respect of authority is fine, so long as your authority figure deserves respect. In order to figure that out, you have to reference ethics… any be willing to challenge authority when required. Authority is not a right, it’s a privilege provided by the willing support of the group.

          So in summary, ethics is the foundation that morality is based on. It is innate and it transcends time and culture. The fact that moral thinking is the tool that makes it possible for societies to enforce it, does not mean that it does not exist. Simply knowing the right path is no guarantee that people will follow it. But not understanding ethics is like trying to find your way without a compass & map… you are almost guaranteed to get lost. Will ethics be adhered to under all circumstances; certainly not, but that doesn’t mean it ceases to exist.

          Thanks again for the thoughtful comments. Hopefully these distinctions help to clarify my views on the matter.

        • Hi Eric. Great post. You clearly know and understand “the facts” of this topic better than others. What is missing here is the Liberal cultural bias. Asian cultures are vastly more “authority and mission” oriented and less “fairness and Reciprocity” oriented than American Conservatives. Would a Liberal judge Asian cultures to be morally/ethically inferior? Of course not. Yet that is the exact basis on which they judge American Conservatives. The bigger question then is “on what evidence or authority do you base your values?” A religion? Your own feelings and judgment? Relativism (each person decides his own right and wrong) is admired by most liberals, but abhored in practice. Some cultures believe FGM is righteous. What say the relativists? Either seek what is most successful (proven to be conservative values, for very solid economic security reasons) or seek a higher authority. The other path is bankrupt, self-important, hypocritical, and logically indefensible. “My values are superior because I do not believe my values are superior.”

          • Alan,

            I have several questions for you.
            – Define “the facts” you are referencing.
            – Define “Liberal cultural bias.”
            – Define Asian cultures. There are lots of countries in Asia with tremendous diversity in government, religion, rules of law, etc.
            – Why would a focus on “the mission” and a deference to authority be preferential to treating people fairly. How can one have a system of justice without a commitment to reciprocity and fairness?

            Each culture does things well and does things poorly. If a fundamental and universally knowable foundation for ethics exists, and it does, then it is perfectly valid for any individual or nation to use that standard to evaluate their own behavior, that of their country, and of other countries.

            The evidence for ethical knowledge is, “I feel, therefore I know ethics.” If you can feel harm (physical or emotional), then you know-how harm works. If you ask yourself a basic question, “How would I like it if someone did that to me?” then you can know-why an action is ethically right or wrong. Deriving ethical truths is quite basic and easy. As a being with the ability to feel harm, and understand harm can be done to others (empathy), you have all of the authority and evidence you need to derive ethical truth.

            Religions are ethically relativist, so religion is a poor foundation for ethical truth. That said, a given religion likely has some moral codes and some of it may be ethically valid. That said, you would need ethical understanding to validate what aspects are good and bad.

            Individual feelings and judgements are critical to determining ethical truths. Emotions can help or hurt our ability to derive ethical truth, which the paradox inherent to ethical judgement. It is not enough to be introspective, you have to ask the right questions of yourself to derive the right answers.

            Relativism is an ethical framework where cultures determine what is right and wrong. I suppose you could reduce it down to an individual level, but at the individual level, Nihilism (no ethics), Relativism (culture is kin), and Objectivism (ethics are real and transcend culture) all have the individual as the common denominator. The thing that leads to a culture that supports one of these three views is a critical mass that decides on which path they want to pursue and collectively enforce rules to make is so.

            Relativist do not think ethics exists outside of a cultural context. Most liberals realized ethics are universal which is why they find political liberalism appealing. Liberals are less cautious of “others” (less xenophobic) because they realized the universal human ties that bind us all together. They are more comfortable questioning authority because they have an ethical framework that does not rely on an authority figure to tell them what is right or wrong (like Religion, the State, their parents, etc.); they are comfortable deriving right/wrong distinctions themselves based on universal ethical principles.

            Some cultures practice female genital mutilation, which is wrong. It is wrong, because it is harmful and unfair to the women. The authority figures and the cultural memes (ideas with authority) are so powerful in cultures that practice FGM that mothers of daughters who have experiences this horror visit it upon their daughter’s, that’s the power of cultural memes, it can pervert or subvert your core knowledge of right and wrong.

            Ironically, you are unwittingly arguing for ethical relativism. An appeal to authority and religion is an appeal to relativism. Your assessment of Liberals as conceded relativist is wrong. The act of liberal thought is literally to question authority, and that starts with questing your own thoughts. Questioning yourself is the very opposite of being conceded because it acknowledges the fact that you can be wrong. The fact that you define conservative values as “the most successful” “proven” ideas is conceded, especially when you offer no foundation for this statement and the main thrust of your argument contradicts itself (relativism is bad, religion/cultural authority is right).

            Do you equate economic theory with moral theory? Please elaborate. And when you do, please research Adam Smith a bit. He was actually a liberal thinker of the Enlightenment whose ideas on Capitalism were founded on an ethical utilitarian basis of providing for the greatest good. The economies of his time where shedding feudalism. The current “free market fundamentalism” which I’d guessing you subscribe to have created conditions not to dissimilar to the feudalism of Adam Smiths time. I’m sure he’d be quite appalled by the FMF crowd that use his name in vain and perverts his ideas (i.e. work against the common good).

            Read the rest of this blog, or buy the book (visit the landing page of this website for the link). I’d like you to specifically indicate what ideas noted are bankrupt, self-important, hypocritical, and logically indefensible.

            The idea that ethical knowledge is universal and transcendent of culture and time means that nobody can claim to have knowledge of ethical truth that supersedes another persons access to the same knowledge. The foundation is sensory capability, which is pretty universal and pre-wired at birth. A person’s understanding of ethics can be better or worse than others; just like a person’s understanding of anything can be better or worse than others. It is through demonstration of your know-how that others can judge your mastery of the concepts inherent to the subject matter.

  2. Pingback UrRepublic – Why Do Liberals Think The Way They Do?
    • I am reluctant to allow this UR Republic link primarily because it is quite misguided and it is founded in an almost religious fear of a “liberal boogie man” meme. The idea that there is an all powerful liberal elite that is trying to subvert the conservative youth is somewhat comical to me but I understand where it comes from.

      If your frame is ultra-conservative, and this is the frame of the UR Republic article, than any attempt to question authority is seen as subversive. The definition of subversive is: seeking or intended to subvert an established system or institution. The definition of subvert is: To undermine the character, morals, or allegiance of; corrupt.

      Anyone liberal enough to question authority is thought of a subversive by definition. So if you have an authoritarian frame, anything that undermine’s your authority is put in the bad category. I don’t think liberals think in terms of subversion because questioning authority is part of any critical thinkers repertoire. Being called a subversive would likely be a badge of honor. I think the most subversive thing to a liberal is religion, because it request blind faith, belief without reason, which is a scary concept for a critical thinker.

      The idea that liberals don’t appreciate current institutions, or that they don’t appreciate stability, or share things in common with conservatives is misguided. As my post indicates, liberals tend to frame things in ethical terms, conservatives tend to frame things in moral terms.

      There is a long winded article on “fixed” mindsets verse “growth” mindsets. Wisdom is only achievable with a growth mindset. If you fear change or are unable to question the statue quo the world would be a scary place.

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  7. I’m not so sure saying that Conservatives fear change is accurate. Conservatives want a lot of change, just not in the same way. They want all of the government agencies to go away, they want the government to stop taxing and spending so much, and they want the military to establish a secure defense strategy in a fiscally responsible manner.

    If you think about the world in terms of human history, having a government that controls all of the wealth and has all of the power is an ancient idea that always has disastrous consequences. Liberals tend to want to go back to this ancient idea of government owning the people.

    Conservatives want to go back to the US experiment where capitalism is let loose. In the grand scheme of human history, this is the real change.

    • Well said. Perhaps we do tend to look back and want to repeat what has worked in the past rather than than look forward and try something that has never been tried before… But that does not equate to abhoring change.

      • Alan,

        There is a common quip that whatever someone says before the word “but” can be disregarded because what they mean to say is post “but.” Based on your last two posts, you appear be comfortable counteracting yourself.

        I think the most ethically sound foundation for following the rules is, “Obey the rules that make sense.” This may sound ethically relativist but it’s the exact opposite. If you obey the rules that make sense, you are individually responsible for evaluating all rules on an ethical basis. If you find them to be ethically valid, then comply. If you feel an authority figure, or meme (idea with authority), or law (culturally agreed upon rule) is invalid, then the correct ethical course of action is to disobey or resist the rule. Compliance to authority or apathy to malicious behavior is how evil takes hold.

        “All that is needed for the forces of evil to triumph is for enough good men to do nothing.” – Edmund Burke

        I agree that the past can provide useful insight into mental models that are time tested and proven useful. That said, tradition by itself is a horrible excuse for continuing a bad practice. Outside of traditional considerations, mental models that may have been accurate in the past can become obsolete and holding on to them can accelerate a cultures demise when the environment changes.

        Before electricity humans worked animals and slaves to the bone. Before petroleum oil was discovered, humans hunted whales for oil and nearly made them extinct. Before coal was discovered, humans cut down every tree they could (hence the grassy mountains of England, Ireland, etc.). Human progress occurs technologically when we shed the past and embrace the future. Holding onto fossil fuels that pollute our earth (CO2, methane, mercury from burning coal, acid rain, etc.) when clean fuels are present (solar, wind, hydro, wave, nuclear… yes nuclear) is the height of folly. It’s akin to cutting down all of the trees, killing all of the whales, instead this time we are killing the entire earth’s ecosystem, not just one corner of it, very much at our own peril.

        Mental models of the world can be thought of as conceptual technology. For 200,000 years humans were hunter/gathers. Then farming (a new mental model) was figured out (last 10,000 years), and then science (a key technology in itself) was figured out (last 200 years). Science requires us to constantly question things, it is an inherently liberal pursuit. Scientific inquiry respects truth, and while it may pay some deference to past ideas, no past idea is beyond reproach. Being able to accept you are wrong, is the only way to be right more often in the future.

        Religion is the exact opposite of science; it is also conservative by nature. It respects the authority of a figment of one’s imagination over that of “other” humans and living creatures. It shields itself in a blanket of purity/sanctity, ideas so sacred they are beyond question. It binds people into groups and demands the loyalty of its members. Fair treatment of “others” is not a concern of religion, it’s main concern is growing its influence, money, and power. An it requires indoctrination from birth, because otherwise virtually nobody would buy into it’s stupid shit (hence the reason everyone else’s religion is dumb, except yours).

        I’ll take science and liberal thought any day over religious dogma and appeals to authority, in-group homogeny, and purity of cultural conventions.

  8. I could elaborate but will simply offer;
    How dare you steal my thoughts and publish them 🙂

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    • The science behind is valid. The philosophical extrapolations are opinions backed up with rational argument.

      Vaguely referencing “studies” would be intellectually lazy; that’s not what is being done here. However discounting valid science without doing the work to learn about the science is intellectually lazy.

      Conservatives and Liberals are both susceptible to authoritarian behavior and both are creative. That said, many stereo-types exist because there is a correlation to certain groups and behaviors (the correlations may be very small). In psychology, a correlation of scatter plots that get a 0.6 correlation gets people excited. In the engineering world that means your correlation don’t work 40% of the time; Engineers look for 99.99% accuracy… a very different standard. If you are in a casino, 60% odds are certainly better than 40%.

      If you are more open to change, you are likely going to be more creative. If you are reluctant to change, the statue quo will likely be comfortable… and yes, conservatives tend to be more susceptible to authoritarian behavior. Why? Several reasons but one is they are very uncomfortable questioning authority. Questioning authority is a liberal act, regardless of your politics, you have to “free your mind”, opening it up to the idea that your authority figure (parents, church, state, peer group, etc.) may be wrong.

      • Hey Lawrence,
        I appreciate your passion on this subject matter. Ethics and morality are foundational in most human endeavors, so finding the truth in these areas is supremely important, in my opinion.
        I’m interested to know what liberals really think regarding fairness/reciprocity, since you say it ranks higher with them than it does with conservatives.
        I believe conservatives think very highly of fairness, but it is misconstrued by our media as self service.
        As a conservative, I believe that we have choices to make that lead us toward or away from our destiny, and when we make a poor choice we deserve to suffer the consequences of our decision. Only by God’s grace are we spared from such consequence.
        The liberal-minded, it seems, believe that our choices, or decisions, should have no impact on our destiny, but that it should be determined by rules agreed upon by a larger, governing body whose job is to fiscally and socially make us all equal.
        If that is true, regarding what liberals believe, how is it fair?
        In other words, please help me reconcile with the able-bodied, drug- addicted man collecting welfare.


        • Casey,

          Thank you for contributing.

          I think our human ability to perceive harm and fairness is relatively evenly distributed by nature, but I think our cultural conditioning gets us to frame things differently and that can have significant real-world consequences. Our choices certainly have consequences and accepting them is the foundation of personal responsibility.

          Destiny is defined as a pre-determined state, it’s a deterministic worldview that assumes you will end up in a pre-determined state regardless of your actions (i.e. no free will). Given your premise is that people do have free will and ought to be responsible for where they end up, I’m going to assume you are using destiny to mean the end state of your actions. I’m OK with using words to mean different things, but it’s good to define what the words mean to you.

          I don’t believe in God, so I’ll chalk up “Only by God’s grace are we spared from such consequence” as either luck or the kindness of others to assist us. So OK conceptually so far.

          I’m familiar with the typical conservative political trope that liberals are “takers” and want everyone equal. It is false. It would be unfair for a 3rd party to take 100% of everyone’s stuff and redistribute it evenly to everyone. In a pure philosophical form, that is what communism is, which one of the reasons it does not work, it works against our innate sense of fairness.

          You mentioned God, so I’ll start with the biblical idea of the good Samaritan. What responsibility do healthy, able-bodied people to have to help someone in need? If someone is in need, and you could help them, do you have a moral responsibility to do so? Let’s say your neighbor is walking on a frozen lake and he falls in. You happen to have a raft handy and you are nearby. Do you help your neighbor? He should have realized the ice was thin, he should have taken precautions when walking on the ice like carrying a long pole, etc., but he did not. Attempting to save your neighbor could put your life at risk. What do you do?
          You likely frame your neighbor differently than an able-bodied, drug-addicted stranger, but what if that college kid was your son? Someone in need is someone special to someone.

          On an individual basis, your level of empathy for another and the resources you have to bear will determine the level you are willing to assist them. On a societal level, our ability to help those in need is a measure of our values and our resources.

          Someone who is drug addicted may have an able-body but they do not have an able-mind. If treatment can make them sober, it’s in societies best interest to interview and make this person able-minded as soon as possible. If there is no social safety net, or social group, or individual willing to help that person, then they will likely be a drag on themselves and society. It may not seem fair to help this person get out of a self-inflicted mess, but it may still be in societies best interest to do so. Outside of ethics, weighing social costs is a gray area as this example illustrates.

          The role of government is not the narrowly defined one of the Libertarian. The role of government is to collect taxes from its citizens, which citizens theoretically agree to, to do all of the things a society requires to function properly, that individuals alone can’t afford to do themselves. Infrastructure, utilities, courts, police, schools, welfare programs, defense, etc. The more capable the government, the more problems it can solve.

          Many rich people deserve to be rich, many poor people deserve to be poor. Kids of rich parents don’t deserve their wealth and kids of poor parents don’t deserve their poverty, but they unfairly benefit or suffer regardless. Even the most hardworking rich person benefits from a functioning society, with good roads, reliable power, educated employees, safe streets, and functioning legal system, etc. If you are disproportionally wealthy, chances are there are societal factors outside of your own ingenuity that you have benefited from, so it is fair for society to ask a bit more from you to assist in solving problems that may not affect you but affect society at large.

          We can debate what the best allocation of resources is, but when we have a government that will spare no expense to blow up people in foreign lands but can’t see it fit to make sure its citizens are healthy, we have an out of whack ethical climate.

          I’d encourage you to read this site from beginning to end and see if you start to see some of the benefits of liberal thought. Liberal thought is broadly defined as a willingness to try new things, explore new thoughts. Empathy requires you walk in another’s shoes. You can’t do that unless you first acknowledge they are not “other” in any fundamental sense, they are people, with different circumstances and different life experiences that have formed their thinking and actions.



  10. This fact that you make judgments that certain conservative ways of thinking are “disturbing” or are cause for “concern” reveals your liberal viewpoint. The opposite cause for concern or disturbance can easily be argued from a conservative viewpoint.

    • Bill, Yes, I ‘outed’ myself as liberal leaning at the end of the post you commented on.

      I’m not concerned about some aspects of conservative thinking because I lean liberal, rather I find the close grouping of the five pillars of morality to be an indicator conservatives put too much weight on cultural factors to determine ethical matters, at the expense of deeper ethical understanding. This close grouping of moral pillars indicates a shallow understanding of ethics; and that’s a cause for concern. The distinctions made between morality and ethics matter.

      Philosophy dictates action. I’m less concerned about liberals from an ethical perspective because the data shows they appear to have a better understanding of ethical principles. Politically and historically, Liberal progressive movements have pushed the world in more ethically sound directions. UltraConservative political movements have done the opposite.

      All this said, these are averages and therefore generalizations. I’m sure there are plenty of Liberals who think and act unethically. The majority of Conservatives likely think and act in ethically sound manners normally. The question is, “Why do you think something is right or wrong?” Further, “How can you determine right and wrong without appealing to your culture as a reference point?” “How can you challenge authority figures on ethical matters?” “Can your group do something that causes you to loose loyalty for it?” I think Liberals have an easier time answering these questions and I think they get the answers right more often.

      I don’t think Liberals have a better understanding of ethics because they are liberal, I think they are liberal because they understand ethics, and that informs their politics.

      I am interested in your arguments for concern about Liberals as it relates to ethical matters. Please elaborate on your claims regarding disturbing liberal positions as it relates to ethics from a Conservative viewpoint.

      • ” I think they are liberal because they understand ethics, and that informs their politics.”

        Disclosure: I lean liberal. But I find your explanation rather self-serving. In general, liberals are liberal for the same reason that conservatives are conservative: geography. Look at any red vs blue map. What is it about living in the heartland that would make one understand ethics less than a coast-dweller? It’s all about the upbringing of the elephants we ride.

        • Take away the political reality of Haidt’s data that shows how liberals and conservatives differ on moral matters and simply look at the philosophical arguments made in favor of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity being innate and fundamentally essential for moral intuition. Feeling pain or unfair treatment is all the knowledge that is required to know something is ethically wrong. Just authority, one’s choice to belong to a group, deciding what ought to be sacred, these are questions that require ethical understanding, these are not fundamental truths, rather they are means of social control which are subject to ethical evaluation. That distinction is critically important, and Haidt’s data indicated liberals are better at making these distinctions; at least that’s how I read the data. The history of progressive political movements and authoritarian political moments supports my interpretation of the data as well.

          Few points of clarity on what that means theoretically and in reality for individuals. Being able to better dissect and communicate ethical issues does not make one more ethical per se in theory or in action. Lacking the words to express sound ethical judgement does not make someone any less ethical. I am not making the claim that liberals in general are better people from an ethical stand point than conservatives. I am saying they are likely better at differentiating conventional rules from ethical ones; which is important if you want to derive ethical truth. They are more likely to question authority, and consequentially likely to be submissive to authority. These traits are natural anti-bodies to failing prey to the banality of evil. That said, liberals can be as consumed with a given meme as a conservatives. They can be just as dogmatic and mission focused (well…statistically less so but individually yes) . Good and evil does not have a political framework; the banality of evil may.

          With regards to rural verse urban, the political maps are a perversion of reality. The ratios that separate the the red and blue portions of the country are not all that great. The memes that motivate them are becoming ever more polarized, so are the politicians, so these majority red/blue maps do have real consequences.

          As a side note, I grew up in a rural environment, I can build a one match fire, I know my way around chainsaws and guns, and I enjoy manual labor. I was a republican till my mid-twenties. Most of my friends are conservative. I don’t dislike conservatives. Haidt’s data and my distinctions on proper ethical analysis ought to lead to some introspection on the conservative side of the aisle. That said, I know from the data and personal experience that introspection and questioning authority can be sinful thought to many conservatives so I’m not terribly optimistic reason will win the day.

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  13. Hello there,

    I am a conservative and believe that purely hedonistic concerns about avoiding suffering have their place but are overblown by leftists. Personal and social development can come from suffering. Without suffering, it is doubtful that we would be empathetic in our innate selfishness. We can more easily reach out to a person who touches our heart as we see them suffer in a manner similar to what we have gone through ourselves. Shared hardship also bonds people together as they see their need for each other. Additionally, suffering can be just desserts for willfully causing harm to others as well as acting as a deterrent.

    Eliminating or diminishing the sacred is a disaster. Without the sanctity of human life, then we see the mass murder of the “hopeful” egalitarian, statist left as they try to change human nature the hard way in their futile attempt to make humans more accepting and willing to share with those they naturally prefer not to.

    We cannot care about everyone. We are limited in our knowledge to become aware of people on the other side of the world. We are also limited in who can care about. As Aristotle commented on Plato’s rather limited communism, collectivism waters down our ability to care for people. David Hume correctly observed that there is no universal concern for humanity at large. Hume also insightfully argued that reason is a slave to our passions, and I would add that this is as it should be. We can gain greater insight through the broader reach of intuition and emotions than we can through the narrower, more sterile faculty of explicit, linear reasoning.

  14. Great write-up and research!

    Very interesting how conservatives value “group loyalty” and “adherence to authority” when those are often barriers to moral action.

    Really helps me to understand the hate-fueled mindset they promote.

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  16. Why is it that many great muscians create classics so prolifically when they are young but generally only play their hits from the past when they get older. Is there a link between liberalism and creativity? If it is true as you note that; “Such an outlook tends to track with age; younger people tend to be more liberal and older people tend to be more conservative”. I would go further that younger people tend to be more creative and older people tend to be stagnant. Creativity leads to liberalism, conservatism leads to stagnation.

  17. I’m intrigued by your essay here, but I can’t agree with all of it.

    It seems as if you’re saying that, when cultural constraints are stripped away, ethics is simple. You say:

    “Feeling pain or unfair treatment is all the knowledge that is required to know something is ethically wrong. “

    It sounds as if you think that this rule is simple to apply, and independent, in its application, of any cultural background (setting aside, for now, the cultural background that leads to developing this rule in the first place).

    But is it?

    1. I like this technique: it’s very “veil-of-ignorance.” In considering whether some action is moral, consider how you would feel if it were done to you. But of course, in that thought experiment, there’s a question of scope. Who is “the other” to whom we should apply this theory? For example, we might conclude that it’s wrong to cut some other human being to pieces with a knife, on the basis that we wouldn’t much like it if it were done to us. But we could use the same argument to suggest that we shouldn’t do that to cows –
    or carrots – or marble. It doesn’t seem at all simple, let alone culturally independent.

    2. How do we determine what action is really being considered? For example, suppose I like having public trails. I enjoy exercise. Therefore I have no problem with being taxed to pay for trails in national parks, or along the sides of roads. On the other hand, some other person really doesn’t like those trails (perhaps they prefer to stay inside and watch television) and vehemently opposes taxes for that purpose. In considering whether it’s ethical to require taxes for public trails, should I consider how I would feel if I were taxed for trails? How I would feel if I were taxed for something I thought was useless? How I would feel if someone made me as angry and hurt as the other person is when they consider paying for trails? Again, it doesn’t seem clear…. There are certainly ways to resolve this in a utilitarian or harm-based philosophy, but it doesn’t seem nearly as simple as considering how I’d feel in the other person’s shoes, because it’s not clear what their shoes *are*.

    • Robert,

      Thank you for the thoughtful comments. The “veil-of-ignorance” approach is basically the golden rule, which is the fundamental question of ethics. As noted in Understanding Ethics post, there are many questions that can and should be asked when evaluating an ethical issue.

      Your question of who “the other” is is a good one. Defining the other is a good deal of what keeps politicians busy and demagogues in business. Social progress can be broadly defined as decreasing the scope of “the other,” allowing for more people and other entities to be considered part of “our group.” That said, I’m not sure one needs to be in “our group” to have ethical deference given to them.

      Vegetarians likely deserve a bit of moral superiority as their diet certainly reduces the amount of maltreatment done to animals. Beyond animal welfare, factory farming is awful for the environment, so there are many arguments for the benefits of vegetarian.

      Animals can feel pain, most exist in social networks, and we do not know what goes through their minds. If we can avoid killing them for food, likely best to do so. As our understanding of the animal mind improves, we may at some point feel quite regretful of our treatment of animals. That said, I think it’s possible to raise and slaughter farm animals in an ethical manner. Animals kill other animals as part of the natural order. We are animals, evolved to eat meat and plants. If we assume nature is “right” (and that can be a very grey area), than eating meat is OK ethically. That said, we could argue the impulse to rape and kill are natural; yet we condemn both on sound ethical basis, so when harming others is involved “nature” is not a sufficient justification alone.

      With regards to inanimate living things like plants, our understanding of their sensory inputs is such that we do not believe they experience pain, at least in the animal sense of the term. In addition, they do not appear to be conscious, aware entities. If there is no element of physical or emotional pain, then there is no ethical condition explicit to ending an individual tree’s life. The same would apply to insects and all non-living things like rocks, etc.

      Ethics is culturally independent. The reason we can read a story from 2,000-years ago and emotionally connect with it is matters of ethics transcend time and culture. The reason a child can disagree with their parents, or an adult with their group, or a group with a nation state, or states against states is that ethics is innate and culturally independent. Culture can and does have the ability to warp an individuals or groups moral compass. The tools available to a given culture are powerful. Understanding how to deconstruct the powerful memes intrinsic to cultures control over people is part of developing ethical wisdom.

  18. The more fundamental point is that morality truly is relative. That doesn’t mean it’s unimportant – I have some definite opinions on right and wrong. But there are different opinions on morality, and there’s no way to decide, on the basis of objective things like electron spin or neutron mass, which one is “right.”

    It doesn’t make much sense to me to describe any of the values on Haidt’s list as obstacles to moral action, and I think Haidt probably wouldn’t view them that way. They’re all obstacles to each other under the right circumstances – for example, equity can be the enemy of avoiding harm, such as if one can choose to save only one individual from dying, or allow everyone to die. And while it’s probably true to say that some of the worst atrocities have occurred because people placed too much reliance on “obedience to authority,” say, what that’s really saying is that some of the worse violations of “avoidance of harm” have come from “obedience to authority.”

    The point is that “loyalty,” “obeying authority,” and “purity” are *in themselves* moral values for some (most?) people. Just like “bacon” and “necktie” (look it up ;)). And I think viewing these values as limited to only “conservative” people, while capturing the essence of what Haidt was saying, misses the broader point – that there’s a continuum here, and that most people value these things to some extent or another. For example, some left-leaning people are very irritated with Trump’s potential collusion with Russia, not because (say) it endangers lives (harm-based reasoning) or gave him an unfair advantage in the election (equity-based reasoning), but because it’s treason (group loyalty reasoning) or even because it’s against the law (obedience to authority). Or environmentalist ideas, generally considered left-of-center, while they definitely place a heavy emphasis on harm, also often are strongly about purity. Or, when Obama was still president of the United States, and it was conservatives who were saying “not my president,” it wasn’t terribly uncommon to hear fairly liberal people arguing that he was owed respect as the president of the United States (obedience to authority). If authority were truly meaningless to left-leaning people, I’d have expected the argument to go more like “Not accepting Obama as your president will harm the ability of the US to help people in need” or “Why hurt Obama’s feelings, and the feelings of his supporters, for no gain?” But I didn’t hear those arguments very much, probably because respect for authority is a value that liberals, as well as conservatives, hold in at least some regard.

    • Robert,

      Good points and I agree with most of what you are saying. Moral reasoning is relative to culture. Ethical understanding transcends culture. The elements of morality that do not overlap core elements of ethics are important; they are the tools that enable society to enforce ethical rules. The State requires authority over people to enforce justice, parents require authority over kids to enforce discipline, teachers require authority to maintain order in a classroom, etc. Authority is essential. In-group/loyalty is essential for social cohesion, defense, etc. There are things that ought to be sacred. I’m not arguing against these things, rather I’m arguing that blind obedience to authority, blind adherence to group think, and support of purity claims without question, are not virtues in themselves; though moral adherence would make that claim.

      One’s culture tends to define what is good and bad (the cultural memes have moral authority) and people are not encouraged to question that. While it is true that individuals look at these items on a continuum, and liberals and conservatives as groups exist on a continuum, it is also true that liberals and conservatives do look at moral matters differently and Haidt’s research demonstrates that.

      Ethical understanding does not make elements of morality irrelevant, rather it provides justification of one’s authority, it provides a value assessment to group affiliation, and it provides a means to question purity claims. If one lacks ethical understanding, they are only left with ethical relativism as a moral framework.

  19. And another thing….

    “Haidt’s data and my distinctions on proper ethical analysis ought to lead to some introspection on the conservative side of the aisle.”

    Well, Haidt’s data and your distinctions don’t seem to be the same to me. It seems, in fact, that you only think two of the five moral principles that Haidt studied are worthwhile, which would make you a fair outlier in his data set. Not that I’m complaining – I actually agree with you on that to a fair extent.

    But why would *Haidt* conclusions lead to introspection from conservatives? Why should they? Haidt identified several moral principles, and examined the extent to which the correlated with political affiliation. A conservative individual could just as easily argue, from the same data set, that liberals need to be introspective about how little they value in-group loyalty or respect for authority. Well, that’s the nature of morality, in the end – science can tell you what you believe, but it doesn’t tell you what to believe. Psychological research can show that the “dark triad” traits are bad for the workplace, but that doesn’t mean – probably won’t mean – that people with those traits will care.

    • Correct. The insight I’ve had while evaluating Haidt’s data and definitions of mortally and ethics in general is that a distinction between the two terms is needed; which I’ve illustrated with the Moral and Ethical Sphere of Influence. Further distinctions noted here.

      I’m an outliner in the sense that I’m liberal. I’m liberal because I conceptualize the world through an ethical lens, and I suspect most people who come to liberalism out of a conservative environment due so for the same reason. The reason I view authority/respect, in-group/loyalty, and purity/sanctity lower than fairness/reciprocity and harm/care is because they are less important ethically. To say they are less important is not to say they are irrelevant. That said, they are dependent on value judgements of harm/care and fairness/reciprocity.

      Moral judgement is dependent on ethical understanding. Societal adherence to ethics is dependent on the tools of morality to enforce justice.

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