Moral Differences Between Liberals and Conservative

I have been fascinated by the work of Jonathan Haidt on the difference in the moral viewpoints of liberals and conservatives worldwide. Haidt’s work can be found in many online videos and in his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

There are at least 2 areas where this information is extremely helpful:

  • Winning Elections
  • Effectively communicating with liberals.

Moral Foundations Theory

Moral foundations theory is a social psychological theory intended to explain the origins of and variation in human moral reasoning on the basis of innate, modular foundations. wikipedia

The 1st premise of the theory is we are all born with a draft version of morality that is modified by experience. The 2nd is that we react morally, not logically. Let’s take a simple example like brussels sprouts or any food you really dislike.  If someone was to offer you some, you would first have an almost instantaneous feeling of disgust and then you would start coming up with justification for your disgust.  Now imagine that we are all going through life being driven by our moral instinctive behavior, followed by our attempt at justification.

Haidt determined there were 5 pairs of morals that are found in all cultures, to a more or lesser degree:

  • Harm/Care
  • Fairness/Reciprocity
  • Ingroup/Loyalty (Tribes)
  • Authority/Respect
  • Purity/Sanctity

I’m going to include a Ted Talk video where Haidt explains this, but I wanted to first explain a slide he uses in the presentation.

5 Moral Channels
5 Moral Channels

Haidt conducted hundreds of interviews asking people several questions to determine where they fell on the Liberal – Conservative spectrum, the x-axis of the graph, and had them evaluate several stories based on their moral views, the y-axis of the graph.  Notice that Liberals were extremely high on the Harm and Fairness moral channels, but extremely low on the Authority, Ingroup, and Purity channels. Conservatives were almost perfectly balanced among the 5 channels.

One thing not obvious from the graph is that even though both liberals and conservatives react to Harm and Fairness, they view them differently. For example, Liberals view Fairness as it relates to a disadvantaged group, while Conservatives think of Fairness as being proportional.

The first 4 minutes of the video are setting the stage, so keep going.  I think he did it that way because he was talking to a mostly liberal audience.

This is Part 1. I will be adding Part 2 soon.