In a previeous post, I promised to write about a rebuttal to Jonathan Haidt’s model of human morality. The one I found most interesting was from Norm Doering.

Haidt is trying to demonstrate that liberal morality is more contracted than conservatives. In particular, he describes five foundations of morality of which, liberals only concern themselves with two. Doering argues that Haidt’s five foundations are incomplete. In fact, he thinks that the five are only half the story – that each represent only one polar end of continuity. Thus according to Doering, Haidt did not discover three moral foundations exclusive to conservatives, but the conservative end of three continua. Here is Doering’s expanded moral foundations:

1) Harm/Care____________|________Punish/Judge
2) Fairness/Reciprocity___|________Privilege/Bully power
3) Inclusive/Expansive______|________Ingroup/Loyalty
4) Question authority_______|________Authority/Respect
5) Rights/Secular Freedom___|________Purity/Sanctity

The ones in bold represent Haidt’s original five. The left side represent the foundations of liberal morality and the right represents conservative foundations. Note, however, that Doering relabels the sides as ‘secular’ and ‘theocratic’ respectively, assuming that all conservative morality is religiously based.

Here is, perhaps, Doering’s most forceful point:

…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…

I’m not sure I agree with all of Doering’s polar opposites. For instance, liberals are inclusive and expansive based on their sense of fairness, so I don’t see that as a distinct category. Also, ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ are too ambiguous and aren’t really the opposite of purity/sanctity. After all, rights can be based on just about anything, such as the right of one group over another based on privilege. But I think he has a point with ‘privilege’ and ‘question authority’ (which I would rename ‘free thought’).

As Doering’s slave example points out, privilege can be a moral foundation. Another example is the caste system in India, in which violations of the privilege moral, such as a cross-caste marriage – often provoked disgust. This disgust is strikingly similar to the disgust Haidt describes in people’s reactions to the violations of the purity/sanctity moral.

Also, free thought is considered a separate moral foundation for liberals. It is distinct because thinking freely (without deferance to authority) does not arise out of a sense of fairness or a desire to care for another. It is also moral action. Think of the importance placed on academic freedom. We feel it’s wrong to limit research based solely on authority. Also, we place high importance on teaching children to think for themselves.

You can read Doering’s entire post on the subject here.