It’s no secret I was excited by word of Jonathan Haidt’s latest publication. His work with Joshua Greene first caught my attention during a law school course in Health Law, where it made an appearance in my critique of the wisdom of repugnance promoted by Leon Kass. Their research introduced me to moral psychology, neuroethics, and experimental philosophy; thanks to their work, the political and legal ramifications of moral disgust and moral intuition has since become one of my primary research interests.
So today, I dived into Haidt’s new paper expecting something great. I got it. You can too, although it is locked behind a subscription.
- Jonathan Haidt. The New Synthesis in Moral Psychology Science 18 (May 2007) 998-1002.
Rather than covering Haidt’s review in detail, I’ll distill three insights from the paper that make a theoretical foundation for any further work in the fields of moral psychology and moral ideology.
- Moral reasoning is driven by affective responses like moral disgust. Gut reactions are immediate, and bias or distort subsequent processes of reasoning and justification.
- Humans have five classes of moral intuitions, which each have unique evolutionary origins in the behaviour of individuals within gossiping moral communities. These are intuitions about…
- protection from harm – altruism
- fairness – rights, reciprocity, and justice
- loyalty – ingroup and outgroup relationships
- authority – respect and obedience
- purity of body and spirit – sanctified, not carnal
- In Western societies, conservatives make use of all five intuitions, but liberals pay more attention to harm and fairness. (Coincidentally, most research so far also focuses on harm and fairness – is research being driven by liberals, or are these easier to study?)
Moral reasoning is often like the press secretary for a secretive administration—constantly generating the most persuasive arguments it can muster for policies whose true origins and goals are unknown.
This is a rather dense package, so I encourage you to read the paper to unpack it.