Gallup did a poll on American positions on various moral issues, finding that Americans are now more accepting than ever on a range of issues.
Most of these I don’t find particularly surprising. Of course, it turns out that Democrats and Republicans have differences of opinion on many of them. HuffPost, in their write up of this, did a nice infographic:
Well, we agree that birth control is good and that things like affairs, cloning humans, and polygamy are bad. But other than that, agreement is limited. One thing I would be interested to know is how people would feel about unmarried or teen sex if proper birth control is exercised.
Anyway, as an interesting exercise, I decided to try to map these issues into Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations theory.
A quick refresher: these moral foundations are thought to be the primal biological urges or instincts from which morality arises. From cross cultural studies, they appear to be universal across humanity, although individual humans feel them in differing combinations of magnitude, and cultural learning has a big effect on how they eventually map to a society’s values.
(By the way, fellow blogger Steve Morris has been doing a series of posts on these foundations which are well worth checking out.)
The foundations, listed in virtue / vice format are:
- care / harm
- fairness / cheating
- loyalty / betrayal
- authority / subversion
- purity / degradation
- freedom / oppression
These are the foundations that psychologists such as Haidt have been able to identify to date. As more studies are conducted, others may be found, or one or more of the currently identified ones could eventually be broken up into multiple foundations.
It’s important to understand that the contentious issues above are tensions between these various foundations, with how you fall on an issue being determined by which foundations you are more motivated by, at least for that particular issue.
Here is my mapping, formatted as issue:foundation motivating acceptance vs foundation motivating disapproval.
- Birth control: freedom vs purity
- Divorce: care vs purity
- Unmarried sex: freedom vs purity
- Stem cell research: care vs purity
- Gambling: freedom vs purity
- Death penalty: fairness vs purity & care
- Wearing fur: freedom vs care
- Baby outside of marriage: freedom vs purity
- Gay / lesbian relations: care vs purity
- Medical testing on animals: care (of humans) vs care (of animals)
- Doctor assisted suicide: care vs purity
- Abortion: care (of the woman) vs purity & care (of the fetus)
- Cloning animals: care (of humans) vs purity & care (of animals)
- Pornography: freedom vs purity
- Teenage sex: freedom vs purity
- Suicide: care vs purity
- Polygamy: freedom vs purity
- Cloning humans: freedom vs purity & care
- Marital Affair: freedom vs loyalty
I’m a little nervous about how often I invoked “freedom”, when it might be more accurate to simply say “non-moral” motivation for some of them. But I think “freedom” is relevant to a third party’s attitude toward that activity. A woman may be motivated to wear animal fur for comfort and appearance, but a third party’s attitude toward allowing her to wear it seems motivated by the freedom impulse.
For many of the ones I labeled “purity”, the people opposed to it might say they oppose it for “care” reasons. I tried to throw care in on these cases, but someone can always claim their motivation comes from care. For example, many pro-life advocates claim their desire to restrict the mother’s actions is based on their care of her well-being.
Doing this, it became obvious to me that many of these positions are motivated by multiple foundations in combination. I picked the ones I thought were most relevant, but you may well disagree.
- Politics and Loyalty (blogbloggerbloggest.com)
- Survey finds moral acceptance growing for gay relations, extramarital sex, but not extramarital affairs (al.com)
- The Psychology of Liberals and Conservatives (wired.com)
- The Moral Stereotypes of Liberals and Conservatives: Exaggeration of Differences across the Political Spectrum (plosone.org)