Moral Foundations Theory

Moral Foundations Theory is pioneered by psychologists Jonathan Haidt and Craig Joseph.  At its core is the idea that there are a set of distinct and fundamental building blocks that can be used to describe moral behaviour.

There are 6 distinct moral foundations that influence moral behaviour :

  1. Care/harm for others (think – parental care)
  2. Fairness/cheating (think – mating strategy -> Maynard-Smith’s ‘sneaky fuckers’)
  3. Liberty/oppression (along the lines of appetite for change, for the new)
  4. Loyalty/betrayal (along the lines of group altruism)
  5. Authority/subversion (think – eusocial tendencies)
  6. Sanctity/degradation (think – cleanliness as a virtue)

Contrary to expectations, weightings for each of these 6 building blocks across large groups of people are not randomly distributed. When the presence of these moral building blocks is tested through questionnaires people tend to fall into a small number of distinct groups.  The major liberal & conservative political groups show distinct differences in the weightings they attribute to each moral foundation.  People with strongly liberal views heavily weight the 1st three of Care, Fairness & Liberty while those with conservative views tend to weight all equally.

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