YourMorals.org

22 09 2008

YourMorals.org is a website produced by a group of social psychologists researching the interplay between morality and politics. In their own words:

Our goal was to create a site that would be useful and interesting to users, particularly ethics classes and seminars, and that would also allow us to test a variety of theories about moral psychology. One of our main goals is to foster understanding across the political spectrum. Almost everyone cares about morality, and we want to understand –and to help others understand — the many different ways that people care.

This is a laudable project, although all it tells us essentially is that which we should already know: that conservatives and progressives not only can have different ideas about right and wrong on at least some moral questions, but will also differ on what morality itself is all about. (Progressives emphasise the harm principle; for conservatives, emotion and disgust are also important.) Still, the culture wars can only benefit by the promotion of a more widespread understanding of where the opposition is coming from.

YourMorals.org is not a single test but rather a series of tests, with more tests being added to and subtracted from the list in accordance with the needs of the researchers. You have to register with an email address in order to take the tests, but I think this kind of research is worth supporting.

Also worth a read is an Edge article by one of the researchers, Jonathan Haidt. In “What Makes People Vote Republican?” Haidt argues that Republicans have been successful because they have a better grasp of the “full specrum of American moral concerns,” and if the Democrats wish to replicate that success they should look for ways to appeal to those concerns—ingroup/loyalty, purity/sanctity and authority/respect (the three Durkheimian foundations, as Haidt puts it).

HT: The Barefoot Bum.

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3 responses

24 09 2008
Steve

I found it rather disturbing that Haidt’s conclusions did not seem to be warranted by his data, and that his tests did not appear to measure what he claimed they did. In discussing it with others, I’ve found it even more disturbing: American conservative things seems to be both amoral and fascist.

Example: one of Haidt’s questions was “Are you proud of the history of your country?”

Which of the moral values is that supposed to measure? It seems to me that it is designed to measure “loyalty” in terms of “my country, right or wrong”. But if you say “right OR wrong” then it is quite clearly amoral.

More at: Notes from underground: The moral high ground — or is it?

24 09 2008
Bruce

Which of the moral values is that supposed to measure? It seems to me that it is designed to measure “loyalty” in terms of “my country, right or wrong”. But if you say “right OR wrong” then it is quite clearly amoral.

Reminds me of some friends of mine, who had somewhat of a siege mentality (I lived in a violent social circle at the time and some of us were ex-army.) Loyalty to your mates was considered the foremost moral principal, even if your mates were racist or sexist. Indeed, when mates turned on mates, and you picked a side (based on what you thought was moral) the side you turned against invariably called you immoral for your disloyalty.

It was fraught with self-contradiction and I could never get over that. Glad I don’t live in those kinds of circumstances anymore.

24 09 2008
AV

Thanks, Steve. I have to admit I haven’t looked at Haidt’s work all that thoroughly, but I take him and his colleagues to be drawing descriptive rather than prescriptive conclusions about morality. That is, I read them as saying that American liberals believe that morality is about x, American conservatives believe that morality is about y, and Republicans have been successful because they have a better grasp of that than Democrats do.

If the contention is that American conservative beliefs about morality are the right beliefs, then I would have to take issue with that. As Bruce shows, and we needn’t invoke Godwin to provide further evidence, you can’t posit loyalty as a virtue in itself and at the same time acknowledge the harm principle or fairness as valid dimensions of morality without being in contradiction. Insofar as the conservative model does that, conservative morality is stupid.

But I’m not sure that Haidt is contending that conservative beliefs about morality are the right beliefs. I could be wrong. And I realise, having glanced at your post, that I haven’t really addressed your point. I’ll give your post a more thorough look ASAP.

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