Sunday, September 23, 2007

Who wants $700 dollars from Jonathan Haidt?

If you go to this page: Moral Foundations Theory Homepage, you'll find that Jon Haidt says this:


The "rules" go like this:

Winning the prize will take two steps. First, you must make a good case, in writing, that some other set of concerns is a plausible candidate for foundationhood. Then, you must collect empirical evidence to show that this set of concerns is psychometrically distinct from the existing five foundations, or is otherwise incompatible with the existing five. The prize can be divided in two: whoever proposes a change to the theory will be given $300 if someone else can produce compelling evidence that the challenger was right (thereby earning the remaining $700). We in the consortium will be the judges, and we'll probably want to replicate anyone else's findings before changing our whole theory, but we have stated in print that the five foundations are the best starting points; they do not exhaust all of human morality. So we really are open to additional possibilities.


--John Jost (NYU) believes that the current formulation underestimates the full extent and variation of liberal morality. In particular, he proposes that concerns about equality and oppression are not part of the Fairness/Reciprocity foundation; they are a separate psychological system, perhaps related to the dynamics that Christopher Boehm describes in Hierarchy in the Forest, in which people in egalitarian hunter-gatherer societies developed ways to band together to suppress bullying and limit authoritarianism. We are beginning to test the possiblity that there is a 6th foundation, provisionally labeled "Oppression/liberty." We will examine whether it is psychometrically distinct from Fairness/reciprocity and also from Harm/care.

--Elizabeth Shulman and Andrew Mastronarde at UC Irvine suggest that people may have an emotional response to waste, especially to throwing out food. This does not seem related to any of the 5 foundations (unless it always brings to mind the thought of hungry people, so that wasting food is a callous thing to do, and is primarily a moral issue for people who score high on Harm/care).

I like John Jost's idea that equality and oppression are not part of the Fairness/Reciprocity category and I, like Elizabeth Shulman, feel morally when seeing waste. However, while those might be incorporated into my scheme, the following 5 polar categories don't need them.

I would propose five new categories. I object to the claim that religious conservatives use all five moral foundations, but liberals only two. I think that we liberals have a different, more reasoned, set of moral foundations and my new categories are polar opposites of the ones Jon Haidt uses.

The original 5 are:
-- Secular:
1) Harm/Care
2) Fairness/Reciprocity
-- Theocratic:
3) Ingroup/Loyalty
4) Authority/Respect
5) Purity/Sanctity

The New polar categories are:
1) Punish/Judge (polar opposite of Harm/Care)
2) Privilege/Bully power (opposite of Fairness/Reciprocity)
3) Inclusive/Expansive (opposite of Ingroup/Loyalty)
4) Question authority (opposite of Authority/Respect)
5) Rights/Secular Freedom (opposite of Purity/Sanctity)

When I line them up into liberal/secular versus theocratic/conservative the columns look like this:

2)__Fairness/Reciprocity_____|________Privilege/Bully power
4)__Question authority_______|________Authority/Respect
5)__Rights/Secular Freedom___|________Purity/Sanctity

I think these new polar categories are needed to be fair to liberals. This arrangement isn't the whole story. Both the secular and theocratic polls are about benefiting the group, but we're not always concerned with the larger group, our even our in group, sometimes we're selfish and damn how the group feels. So, think of it this way:

In order for the values of a theocratic ingroup to hold sway, they have to have Bully power -- else even theocrats will be asking for, fighting for, secular values. Also, on many purity values Muslims and Christians might still agree, for example on sexual repression and on abortion were there is overlap and agreement.

If you want to talk about the culture wars in America you have to get beyond just how we feel about a moral question and consider how we act on it. Even though slave owners would claim they believed in fairness and reciprocity they still used the concept of "Privilege" to essentially bully people they deemed slaves and those who thought slaves were treated unfairly (like Thomas Paine). What's interesting is how they "reasoned" and justified the unfairness of slavery.

I think, but it might need revision, that "Privilege" covers the polar opposite of fairness. "Privilege" is the "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others" aspect of Orwell's "Animal Farm."

"Priveledge" is "Authority" and it "Punishes," demands "Loyalty" and defines "Purity." Today we might question the "Priveledge" and "Authority" of inherited wealth, religion, government, law and other things. Priveledge thus incorporates the other polls by using Bully power. Other connections like that come out and start to define each end of the liberal/secular versus theocratic/conservative polls.

For another factor, Jonathan Haidt described a phenomenon he called “moral dumbfounding” and in one interview used a scenario where a brother and sister have sex. They use two different kinds of contraception and keep it a secret. No real harm probably happened. Yet even I, as most people, would "feel" it’s wrong, at least for me (I couldn't have sex with my sister based on a reasoned argument of no harm). I would start out justifying my feelings of wrongness, but what do I do about this knowledge of brother sister sex when that reason is stripped from me? After I've reached for another reason and come up empty-handed and entered that state of “moral dumbfounding” I would do nothing and keep their secret because I have no reason to act. However, I expect a theocrat would want to act, to punish brother and sister for their sex act and they could come up with the ultimate bullshit "reason" -- they know God doesn't like it. They know God's mind and it's made in their own image.

When a subject says: “I don’t know; I can’t explain it; it’s just wrong,” do they mean "it's wrong for me," or "it's wrong for everyone"? Do they think brother and sister should be punished? Is it something they think they should act on?

The variable called “need for cognition” applies to me only when I think I should act on information. If I don’t have a reason for my moral judgments, I'm not going to be particularly bothered when it comes to my own actions, but I would be bothered if some action seemed required.

Reason may not play a big causal role in how I decide to act, I'll go on my arational feelings, I'll let intuitions—fueled by my emotions, guide my actions, but when I arrive at moral judgments of others then reason is the authority, if it's not there, I can not condemn others. I will not tell someone something is wrong if I have no good reason. Thus my reason is a bit more than just the press secretary of my emotions, the ex post facto spin doctor, it's my judgment on others.

Just because there are cases where reason is not playing any causal role in how we arrive at moral judgments doesn't mean reason is not part of the more important process of deciding our laws. Haidt does credit reason, but he doesn't take this far enough to where he separates our inborn intuitions from our legal system and from how we react to others behavior.

What good is a moral judgment on others if you can't convince others to agree with you? Such judgments will have a negative effect. If you can't provide reason, then you are just bullying and claiming the authority of God.

Just because the press secretary’s job is to be a lawyer. To argue for a position, and just because he doesn’t need to consult with the president about what the real reasons were for the instituting the policy, doesn't mean our president can't be questioned and investigated when the press secretary fails to make a reasonable case. It may be irrelevant to our feelings, but it can't be irrelevant to our action within society.

When I “know” that something is morally wrong, but I can’t find reasons to justify my belief then how can I judge anyone but myself?

There are two kinds of moral judgments and while reason may never convince me I am free to sleep with my own sister, it must effect how I judge others who might do that. Judging others I cannot do without reason. I can't judge others according to my subjective feelings. I need reason. I might say “I don’t know, I can’t explain it. I just know it’s wrong,” but I can only say that for myself.

Don't forget that lawyers arguing for positions are also trying to arrive at truth. They lie for selfish reasons, to hold onto bogus "Authority," but are considered honest if they can better the whole group, not just themselves.

In comparing moral and aesthetic judgments in how we don’t deliberate about them I would suggest that artists, who act artistically, do deliberate about aesthetic judgments. If moral judgment is like aesthetic judgment you have to consider how we act on both. It's only very theocratic minds that would outlaw certain forma of art. In our moral lives we only need to justify our judgment of others, and while I don’t generally ask others for justifications of aesthetic judgments I certainly think about it when I paint a picture, when I act on my aesthetic judgments. That doesn't mean that when it comes to judgments I make about other people's tastes I would never say, "no, you can't view that art." I will say, "no, you can't steal candy from that baby."

So, I find the link between moral and aesthetic judgment to be a dangerous half-truth. How I live and what art I view I will allow, must allow, to be guided by my irrational emotions -- but I can't force those views on others. That's what theocrats want to do. They force their moral and aesthetic judgments onto me. In order to justify that, they claim to know the mind of God -- a God made in their own image. This is why our Bibles and Korans are the most abused books, they're supposed to be a peek into God's mind.

Thus, secularists defer to the authority of reason while theocrats defer to the authority of bibles and priests with pretensions toward reason.

Also, on the "Purity and Pollution" spectrum -- that seems to be a bogus and outdated moral sense. Has anything good ever come from it? Hitler used it and believed in an ideology of racial purity. Nazi Germany saw it as the purging away from humanity of racial contamination and the inauguration of an era of racial purity. In discussing racial purity and "race-mixing" Hitler talks of it as a divinely holy mission:

"Historical experience offers countless proofs of this. It shows with terrifying clarity that in every mingling of Aryan blood with that of lower peoples the result was the end of the cultured people.... we can clearly and distinctly recognize the effect of racial mixture. The Germanic inhabitant of the American continent, who has remained racially pure and unmixed, rose to be master of the continent; he will remain the master as long as he does not fall a victim to defilement of the blood. The result of all racial crossing is therefore in brief always the following: To bring about such a development is, then, nothing else but to sin against the will of the Eternal Creator."

Also mixed marriages in America were once seen as impure.

This set up probably needs work, but even if I do that it means little if the second part of the challenge can't be met -- and on my own I can't meet it. So, if there are any researchers out there who like this idea and want $700 then you'll have to provide the second step of collecting empirical evidence to show that this set of concerns is psychometrically "distinct" from the existing five foundations. Is being a polar opposite "distinct"?


path said...

I, too, found Jonathan Haidt's theory hard on liberals.

The expansion of the liberal concerns to include all five categories of moral concern moves the discussion forward very productively.

The polar categories proposed are:
1) Punish/Judge (polar opposite of Harm/Care)
2) Privilege/Bully power (opposite of Fairness/Reciprocity)
3) Inclusive/Expansive (opposite of Ingroup/Loyalty)
4) Question authority (opposite of Authority/Respect)
5) Rights/Secular Freedom (opposite of Purity/Sanctity)

But I would want to add another aspect to #4 for liberals. It is certainly a "liberal thing" to question authority, and to advocate the questioning of authority. But more important, I think, is respect for one's own mind, one's own feeling, intuition, experience and perspective. It is not sufficient merely to question anyone who presumes to substitute their thinking, ideology, theology, superstition, or social prestige for my own feeling/thinking. I must have respect for my own mind. Respect for my own authority must include self-doubt, self-testing against the feeling/thinking of others, and against my own further experience.

In other words, Respect for authority can be very much alive in liberal moral content. What differs are the methods by which one arrives at some (approximation of)"truth" that guides one's actions. I personally find it "immoral" to treat a creative work of art as literally "true" even though I find it emotionally "true".

So I would revise #4 on the liberal side to:
Skepticism/Respect for all minds, including my own.

I would also make some changes to #5. I think Rights/Secular freedom is well-enough taken care of by #2 Fairness/Reciprocity. What I would propose as the liberal version of Purity/Sancitity does not require a different "polar" category, but a closer look at the content of that category. If purity and sanctity are regarded as "rising above mere carnal motivation", then liberals can define what that might entail as they follow that moral intuition. On the physical level, I see liberals doing "liver de-toxification" and eschewing "chemical additives" in their food. I see liberals looking for "organic" produce, drinking "pure" spring water, and wearing "natural" fiber clothing. I see liberal environmentalists trying to get the toxins out of our shared earth, air, and water. Liberals encourage protection from STDs with condoms. Is this too rational to be considered "intuition"? Or is that intuition the affect-impulse that motivates the action, which is guided by rational, scientific facts?

Anonymous said...

It would appear there's some confabulation of dimensions. I don't know of any theocracy that advocates punishing for the sake of punishing. They judge or punish because of violation of their religious standards, which would fall under (religious) loyalty or under (religious) sanctity or under (religious) authority. Depending on the religion, they could even punish someone for being too priveleged and thus unfair (as in the new set of Catholic sins), or for one of their flock harming another, setting up a second level harm/care relationship in which the harmer is harmed (eye for an eye). And path makes the point that there are authorities respected by liberals that are questioned by conservatives, just look at the debates on global warming and teaching evolution, and global warming believers have a sense of how to live purely which its doubters lack, just as there are liberals loyal to scientists on the evolution debate. So while you may be right to make the case that liberals are involved in those morality dramas at the 3rd, 4th, and 5th levels, I don't know that liberals typically think of themselves as listening to authorities or living in a sanctified way. That would seem to be consistent with neurological scans of people asked about candidates they favored, opposed or had no information on. Liberals had the same neurological responses regarding ingroup/outgroup (or arguably threats to their authorities) as those experienced by conservatives, but that wouldn't necessarily measure the same as a self report.

sidfaiwu said...

Fantastic critique of Haidt's moral theory. I know I'm a late-comer to this post, but I wrote about your rebuttal in a post of my own.

sparkawk said...

The idea of polar categorizations is interesting, and I think it captures much to think about. Having done research into various psychological theories, I find some overlap between what is argued to be 10 categories (5 axes) that should potentially be addressed before this conceptual framework can be concretized.

First, there is a category for inclusive/expansive as well as a category for harm/care. In one case, the topic is identity, in the other case the topic is focus on effects. Based on these classifications, the two categories could arguably be facets of the same thing. Aron's Inclusion of Other in the Self (IOS) theory and scale outlines a model of relational self-construal in which one's identity is merged with the other. The mergence of identities allows expansion of one's own identity to capture characteristics of the other's identity, thus creating what Aron terms "the expanded self."

IOS, being an expansion-of-self self-construal theoretical position, should be expected to align with Gilligan's moral orientation of caring, in which relational considerations take a forefront and the focus of morality is preventing psychological harm to intimate others.

Therefore, harm/care and inclusive/expansive appear to represent different facets of the same crystal. I would like to learn the author's position on this.

Second, there is a concept of privilege/bully power, which I will from this point reduce to the label "power." Several relational and attachment studies show power to be partially a product of failed attachments and insecurity within the attachment realm. Attachment realm, however, show clear connections to harm/care focus. This is by no means a conclusive link that the two are related beyond being parallel structures. However, I have long attempted to puzzle out the relationship between the desire for power and the connection to early attachment experiences. Perhaps these would make more accurate contrasting poles.

Christopher Lipp

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