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Discursive or intuitive moral differences? Liberals predict right-wing responses on Haidt’s Moral Foundations Questionnaire

Cook, Neil (2012) Discursive or intuitive moral differences? Liberals predict right-wing responses on Haidt’s Moral Foundations Questionnaire. Liverpool Hope University.


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Psychological studies of morality have traditionally focused on harm/care and justice/fairness as the product of developed, epistemic reasoning processes by which people arrive at a consensual code of behavioural conduct. In contrast to this, the Social Intuitionist Model (SIM) emphasises the role of intuition and post-hoc justification to explain moral choices. Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory is a development of the SIM which suggests that alongside the individualising moral foundations of care and justice there are three binding foundations of purity, respect for authority and loyalty to the ingroup. Haidt suggests that individuals who consider themselves to be right-wing (conservatives) value all five foundations and are therefore fully virtuous while those who consider themselves to be left-wing (liberals) place much greater value on the individualising foundations. He devised the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ) to test this, finding strong evidence to support his theory. He suggests that liberals misunderstand conservative views on social justice because they dismiss the conservative stance as immoral and unreasonable instead of recognising that conservatives, along with most societies and cultures, value the binding foundations as morally significant. To explore this idea, liberal participants completed the MFQ and then completed it again from the perspective of a far-right political candidate. The results of these two tests were analysed for significant differences using a repeated-measures MANOVA and a significant multivariate difference was found (F(5, 71) = 89.1, P = <0.05). It was also found that the liberal participants correctly predicted that conservatives would rate the binding foundations highly (in comparison to liberals) for moral relevance. This suggests that liberals do understand the importance of the binding foundations to conservative opinions on social justice and brings in to question the assertion of the SIM that unconscious intuition has primacy in determining moral perspectives.

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