Moral Foundations : Why the Other Side is Crazy

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and wonder how the heck they could say the things they are saying? Recently, I was introduced to what is called "Moral Foundations Theory" which has given me some language to better understand myself and perhaps even some of the motivations of my sisters and brothers. 

The theory argues there are values that lay the foundation for what we count as right or moral. There are at least six major foundations humans use in order to determine what is moral and what is not. The following definitions are taken from Wikipedia: 

  1. Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm.
  2. Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating.
  3. Liberty: the loathing of tyranny; opposite of oppression.
  4. Loyalty or in-group: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal.
  5. Authority or respect: obeying tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion.
  6. Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation.

Perhaps you see these and they make sense to you. Perhaps some of these foundations make more sense to you than others. Moral Foundations Theorists make the case that while most people are sensitive to the fairness foundation, conservatives are also equally sensitive to the other five foundations. However liberals are more sensitive to fairness and care than any other foundation, while libertarians are sensitive to fairness and liberty. 

Why this is important to consider is that conservatives will have more things that they deem as wrong and liberals will have fewer things they will deem as wrong. You can see this divide in the conversation around the ordination of members of the LGBT community. For conservatives the ordination of LGBT individuals may support their sense of fairness but it might also violate their sense of authority and/or sanctity. Liberals cannot understand why conservatives are not supportive of LGBT ordination since to not ordain them would violate their sense of fairness and care. 

Conservatives put more equal weight on each of the foundations while liberals put more weight on two foundations. This may be why the other side is crazy, we each have different and yet, overlapping, moral foundations.