Thursday, April 19, 2012

Where do values come from?

MoralFoundations.Org "proposes that six (or more) innate and universally available psychological systems are the foundations of 'intuitive ethics.' Each culture then constructs virtues, narratives, and institutions on top of these foundations, thereby creating the unique moralities we see around the world, and conflicting within nations too. The foundations are:

1) Care/harm: This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.
2) Fairness/cheating: This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]
3) Liberty/oppression: This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.
4) Loyalty/betrayal: This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."
5) Authority/subversion: This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
6) Sanctity/degradation: This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions)."
This theory is based on considerable recent research from the behavioral sciences, and has been used by the authors of the theory to explain the values based "culture wars" between American liberals and conservatives. It seems that the taxonomy is still in flux, but it seems most interesting.

I would be happier if there was some neurobiology supporting these. Indeed, were there some developmental background. How are liberals supposed to have developed only the first two capabilities while conservatives have developed all five, with both living in the same society.

Still, I have long suspected that tigers would have quite different moral values than people, or more accurately, that ethical argument that denies intuition will be hard to sell. It may be that our intuition comes from our evolution as a species (especially through kin selection and group selection processes), or through the more rapid evolution of social systems (which probably don't last long if their members can not be instilled with a lot of these values), but talk to college kids and they exhibit a lot of these values in conversations about ethics.

As we get more and more evidence for motivated reasoning, the values that underlie the motivations become interesting. Perhaps by understanding the motivation, we can find ways to get people to accept more positions supported by strong evidence, good theory and strong epistemological institutions.

1 comment:

John Daly said...

I wonder whether honor and duty are representative of another value. When Chimp bands are threatened, the males go forward to battle for the band. After Pearl Harbor large numbers of American men volunteered for military service. There seems to be an innate willingness to put oneself in danger to protect the band or tribe. We recognize this virtue in those who display it.