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What is morality and how does it work? Sage Lecture #1 Nov. 10, 2008 Jonathan Haidt University of Virginia.

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Presentation on theme: "What is morality and how does it work? Sage Lecture #1 Nov. 10, 2008 Jonathan Haidt University of Virginia."— Presentation transcript:

1 What is morality and how does it work? Sage Lecture #1 Nov. 10, 2008 Jonathan Haidt University of Virginia

2 6 Lectures on Morality 11/10: What is morality and how does it work? 11/17: The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by politics and religion 11/24: The positive moral emotions: Elevation, awe, admiration, and gratitude 12/1: Hive psychology, group selection, and leadership 12/8: The dark side: Why moral psychology is the greatest source of evil 12/15: The light side: How to pursue happiness using ancient wisdom and modern psychology

3 Morality is the best topic 1. One of oldest topics of inquiry 2. One of the most useful topics --for relationships --for social problems 3. One of the best linking topics The ultimate goal of the center is both highly ambitious and refreshingly simple: when you understand the mind, you understand the human condition.

4 Magic trick #1 Where did the rabbit come from? 1. Put into the hat from outside, during the trick 2. Was in the hat all along 3. Was constructed in the hat, by the hat

5 Magic trick #2 Where did Max’s morality come from? 1. Put into Max from outside (empiricism) 2. Was in Max all along (nativism) 3. Was constructed in Max, by Max (constructivism)

6 1. Empiricism “The human intellect at birth is rather like a tabula rasa, a pure potentiality that is actualized through education...” Avicenna, 11 th C.

7 2. Nativism Nature provides a first draft, which experience then revises… ‘Built-in' does not mean unmalleable; it means organized in advance of experience.“ (Marcus, 2004)

8 3. Constructivism “Even if adults never interfered, the social relations subsisting between children would perhaps be sufficient to create them. The play of sympathy and antipathy is a sufficient cause for practical reason to become conscious of reciprocity“ (Piaget, 1932)

9 Kohlberg’s Rationalist Constructivism Start: no morality; egocentrism (Stages 1 and 2). During childhood: --experience helps cognitive skills unfold (a la Piaget) --Role-taking leads to understanding of fairness --Child constructs own morality Finish: Adult reaches understanding of morality as justice (stage 5)

10 The Rationalist Model “Affective forces are involved in moral decisions, but affect is neither moral nor immoral. When the affective arousal is channeled into moral directions, it is moral; when it is not so channeled, it is not. The moral channeling mechanisms themselves are cognitive.“ (Kohlberg, 1971) Reasoning Judgment Affect Eliciting Situation

11 The Rationalist Model Key points: 1) The action in moral psych is in the study of reasoning/justification 2) Little or no moral content is innate 3) Morality is about justice and rights, discovered by thinking about harm and welfare.

12 Why I don’t believe it David Hume: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” (A Treatise of Human Nature, 1739) Judgment Reasoning Passion/ sentiment

13 “There has been a controversy started of late... concerning the general foundation of Morals; whether they be derived from Reason, or from Sentiment; whether we attain the knowledge of them by a chain of argument and induction, or by an immediate feeling and finer internal sense; whether, like all sound judgments of truth and falsehood, they should be the same to every rational intelligent being; or whether, like the perception of beauty and deformity, they be founded entirely on the particular fabric and constitution of the human species.” (Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, 1960/1777

14 Evidence for Humean Model: Interview Studies A)Harmless taboo violations (Haidt, Koller, & Dias, 1993, JPSP). B)Sexual morality (Haidt & Hersh, 2001, JASP) C)Moral dumbfounding (Haidt, Bjorklund, & Murphy, in prep) 1) Moral reasoning: Heinz dilemma 2) Harmless taboo: Consensual adult sibling incest 3) Harmless taboo: Cannibalism of unclaimed corpse 4) Disgust dumbfounding: Sterile cockroach in juice 5) Superstitious dumbfounding: Selling your soul Key question: Do P’s behave like scientists searching for truth, or like lawyers searching for justifications?

15 I, _____________________, hereby sell my soul, after my death, to ___SCOTT MURPHY______, for the sum of _____. ___________________ (signed) Note: This form is part of a psychology experiment. It is NOT a legal or binding contract, in any way.

16 “I agree [with that counterargument] and I respect that opinion, but I’m afraid I’m not swaying on this topic. I just feel too strongly against it.”

17 Results On Heinz, it looks like people are reasoning: --give reasons before giving judgment --keep most of their arguments --say they are relying on reason more than gut feeling On harmless taboo stories, more dumbfounding: --give judgment first, then reasons --drop most of these reasons under cross-examination --say they relied on “gut feeling” more than reasoning --make more unsupported declarations (“it’s just wrong!”)

18 Results On Heinz, it looks like people are reasoning: --give reasons before giving judgment --keep most of their arguments --say they are relying on reason more than gut feeling On harmless taboo stories, more dumbfounding: --give judgment first, then reasons --drop most of these reasons under cross-examination --say they relied on “gut feeling” more than reasoning --make more unsupported declarations (“it’s just wrong!”) Replication: Cognitive load increases dumbfounding, on taboo stories only, but does not change overall judgments

19 The Social Intuitionist Model (Haidt, 2001, Psych Review) A’s IntuitionA’s Judgment A’s Reasoning B’s IntuitionB’s Judgment B’s Reasoning Four main processes: 1) the intuitive judgment link 2) the post-hoc reasoning link 3) the reasoned persuasion link 4) the social persuasion link Two rare processes: 5) the reasoned judgment link 6) the private reflection link 5 6

20 Evidence for SIM: Inducing Extraneous Disgust (Wheatley & Haidt, 2005, Psych Science) Congressman Arnold Paxton frequently gives speeches condemning corruption and arguing for campaign finance reform. But he is just trying to cover up the fact that he himself [will take bribes from] [is often bribed by] the tobacco lobby to promote their legislation. Bob was at a family gathering when he met Ellen, a second cousin of his that he had never met before. Bob found Ellen very attractive and he asked her out on a date. Ellen accepted and they began to have a romantic and sexual relationship. They [take] [often go on] weekend trips to romantic hotels in the mountains. Rate “how morally wrong is this?” and “How disgusting is this?”

21 Hypnotic disgust makes judgments more severe ** * n=64/45

22 Hypnotic disgust makes judgments more severe ** * * n=64/45n=94/63

23 What if no condemnation is possible? Dan is a student council representative at his school. He is in charge of scheduling discussions about academic issues. He [tries to take] topics that appeal to both professors and students in order to stimulate discussion. “I don’t know, it just seems like he’s up to something.” [Dan is a] “popularity seeking snob” “I’m not sure, it just is.

24 Intuition tilts the table

25 Other means of “tilting the table”: (Schnall, Haidt, Clore, & Jordan, 2008, PSPB) Study 1 Study 2 Study 4 Dramatization

26 The Social Intuitionist Model A’s IntuitionA’s Judgment A’s Reasoning B’s IntuitionB’s Judgment B’s Reasoning “I knew about ‘the word’ but it still disgusted me anyway and affected my ratings. I would wonder why and then make up a reason to be disgusted.”

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28 The Great Expansion 1980s, Affective revolution (Kagan, Frank) 1987, Shweder: “Culture and moral development” 1994, Bargh: vast reach of automaticity, limited influence of controlled processes 1994, Damasio: moral reas. requires gut feelings 1996, de Waal: Chimpanzees have the “building blocks” of human morality Conclusion: Morality is more innate, cultural, affective, and automatic than cog. dev. psych told us. Requires multi-disciplinary approach.

29 The New Synthesis in Moral Psych (Haidt, 2007, Science) 1) Intuitive primacy (but not dictatorship) 2) Moral thinking is for social doing 3) Morality binds and builds 4) Morality is about more than harm and fairness

30 The New Synthesis in Moral Psych 1) Intuitive primacy (but not dictatorship) 2) Moral thinking is for social doing 3) Morality binds and builds 4) Morality is about more than harm and fairness

31 The intuitive brain Emotion areas are crucial for moral judgment (Damasio; Greene) --Neuroecon is largely the study of how emotional reactions predict departures from econ rationality (Sanfey et al., Rilling et al.) --Psychopaths have an emotional deficit, not reasoning or knowledge deficit (Hare; Cleckley; Blair; Kiehl) --Chimps and 2 y.o. children show the emotional building blocks of morality (de Waal; Wynn & Bloom)

32 The New Synthesis in Moral Psych 1) Intuitive primacy (but not dictatorship) 2) Moral thinking is for social doing 3) Morality binds and builds 4) Morality is about more than harm and fairness

33 Functionalisms Moral thinking is done in order to Feel good. (Intrapsychic functionalism: Freud, Cialdini) 2. Find the truth. (Epistemic functionalism: Plato, Kohlberg, rationalists) 3. Succeed socially. (Social-functionalism: Darwin, Tooby, Cosmides, Dunbar) --the “interpreter module” (Gazzaniga, 1985) --the intuitive politician (Tetlock) and the ubiquity of hypocrisy (Batson)

34 The New Synthesis in Moral Psych 1) Intuitive primacy (but not dictatorship) 2) Moral thinking is for social doing 3) Morality binds and builds 4) Morality is about more than harm and fairness

35 3) Morality binds and builds

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37 Darwin: Morality was the Binder A tribe including many members who, from possessing in a high degree the spirit of patriotism, fidelity, obedience, courage, and sympathy, were always ready to aid one another, and to sacrifice themselves for the common good, would be victorious over most other tribes; and this would be natural selection. At all times throughout the world tribes have supplanted other tribes; and … morality is one important element in their success --Descent of Man, Ch. V

38 The New Synthesis in Moral Psych 1) Intuitive primacy (but not dictatorship) 2) Moral thinking is for social doing 3) Morality binds and builds 4) Morality is about more than harm and fairness

39 Morality is..... “prescriptive judgments of justice, rights, and welfare pertaining to how people ought to relate to each other.” (Turiel, 1983)

40 Morality is..... Harm/ Care “prescriptive judgments of justice, rights, and welfare pertaining to how people ought to relate to each other.” (Turiel, 1983)

41 Morality is..... Fairness/ Justice Harm/ Care “prescriptive judgments of justice, rights, and welfare pertaining to how people ought to relate to each other.” (Turiel, 1983)

42 Morality as harm reduction: “Morality is an informal public system applying to all rational persons, governing behavior that affects others, and has the lessening of evil or harm as its goal.” (Gert, Stanford Encycl. of Phil.) “If, as I believe, morality is a system of thinking about (and maximizing) the well being of conscious creatures like ourselves, many people's moral concerns are frankly immoral.” (Harris, 2008)

43 1. Harm/care

44 2. Fairness/reciprocity

45 3. Ingroup/loyalty

46 4. Authority/respect

47 5. Purity/sanctity

48 Liberals 2 channels, Conservatives 5 Endorsement Harm Fairness Ingroup Authority Purity

49 So.... What is morality? “Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible” (Haidt, 2008, Perspectives on Psych Science)

50 And how does it work? Key points: 1) The action in moral psych is in the study of reasoning/justification 2) Little or no moral content is innate 3) Morality is about justice and rights, discovered by thinking about harm and welfare.

51 “There has been a controversy started of late... concerning the general foundation of Morals; whether they be derived from Reason, or from Sentiment; whether we attain the knowledge of them by a chain of argument and induction, or by an immediate feeling and finer internal sense; whether, like all sound judgments of truth and falsehood, they should be the same to every rational intelligent being; or whether, like the perception of beauty and deformity, they be founded entirely on the particular fabric and constitution of the human species.” (Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, 1960/1777

52 Thank You Mentors: Paul Rozin, Alan Fiske, Richard Shweder, Dan Wegner Collaborators: Thalia Wheatley, Fredrik Bjorklund, Simone Schnall, Pete Ditto, Jesse Graham, Ravi Iyer, Sena Koleva Papers available at

53 Definitions of terms: Moral Judgment: Evaluations (good vs. bad) of the actions or character of a person that are made with respect to a set of virtues held by a culture or subculture to be obligatory. Moral Reasoning: Conscious mental activity that consists of transforming given information about people in order to reach a moral judgment. Moral Intuition: The sudden appearance in consciousness, or at the fringe of consciousness, of an evaluative feeling (like-dislike, good-bad) about the character or actions of a person, without any conscious awareness of having gone through steps of search, weighing evidence, or inferring a conclusion.


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