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How Moral Foundations Theory Succeeded in Building on Sand: A Response to Suhler and Churchland Jonathan Haidt & Craig Joseph Presented by Emily & Alexandra.

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Presentation on theme: "How Moral Foundations Theory Succeeded in Building on Sand: A Response to Suhler and Churchland Jonathan Haidt & Craig Joseph Presented by Emily & Alexandra."— Presentation transcript:

1 How Moral Foundations Theory Succeeded in Building on Sand: A Response to Suhler and Churchland Jonathan Haidt & Craig Joseph Presented by Emily & Alexandra

2 Complaint #2: “…Both the theory’s proposed number of moral foundations and its taxonomy of the moral domain appear contrived, ignoring equally good candidate foundations and the possibility of substantial intergroup differences in the foundations contents” There is no garage.

3 Haidt and Joseph Rebuttal MFT was NOT supposed to be an exhaustive list Create list of best candidates It was a starting point – takes a stab at bridging the gap between evolutionary psychologists and anthropologists.

4 There is no garage…WHICH IS TRUE “…but the strength of your design is that future owners can easily add whatever rooms or structure are needed”

5 In fact, we are revising!! Challenge posted on website – dex.php?t=challenges dex.php?t=challenges Offered to pay $1000 to anyone who could prove that another foundation should be included Received 15 challenges Collecting data some challenges

6 Possible Revisions Add a foundation related to liberty or domination Investigating a foundation related to wastefulness Considering revising the fairness – These revisions would address Suhler and Churchland’s concerns about boasting, slackers/freeloaders, and industry

7 “It simply cannot be a complaint against MFT that we did not start with the final list of foundations. If all scientist took Suhler and Churchland’s approach to theory construction, there would be few new theories”

8 A Larger Scientific Issue Suhler and Churchland: accusation of “ad hoc” reasoning – Suggest that it is better to take a more “principled” approach Haidt and Joseph: taking a “principled” approach is what has doomed other theories Constructing a theory starting with a principle and then moving outward will give you an elegant theory that will not survive Complaint #2.2

9 An Example “Imagine if taste scientists had been told that it was “ad hoc” to create a theory of taste by looking at the tongue and trying to figure out how many different taste receptors it has. Shouldn’t taste scientists proceed in a more principled way, such as by analyzing the nutritional needs of human beings and then positing a set of receptors that would guide people to the right foods? And doesn’t the recent discovery of a fifth taste receptor show that the initially ad hoc list of four taste receptors was a failure? No.”

10 An Example The best way to figure out how taste works is, “…look at the tongue, pick the best candidates, and let your fellow scientist show you what you missed” Haidt and Joseph reject the idea that one should take a principled approach rather than a descriptive, naturalistic, explanatory approach

11 Liberals and Purity Suhler and Churchland: liberals rely on the purity foundation especially regarding the environment Haidt and Joseph: WE AGREE – Never stated that a certain group is unable to use a foundation – Claims have always been about how groups rely on different foundations Social Conservatives use purity foundation more than liberals Complaint # 2.3

12 Liberals and Purity Suhler and Churchland: if Haidt was to measure a larger range of content that certain gaps between conservatives and liberals would disappear Haidt and Joseph: disagree…and have the data/new methods to back it up

13 Libertarians and the Left-Right Axis Suhler and Churchland: MFT cannot handle people who do not fit on the left-right axis Haidt and Joseph: This claim is easily disproved MFT has five dimensions which characterize ideology. This is far more precise than a simple left-right axis – Libertarians score relatively low on all five dimensions – Communitarians sore relatively high on all five Complaint # 2.4

14 In Summary “Suhler and Churchland are correct that we did not build a garage on the initial house, but our modular design allows us to add one. We have add one and are getting a lot of use out of it. We are looking forward to further expansions too.”

15 Discussion Questions Have Haidt and Joseph convinced you?

16 Complaint #3 “…the mechanisms and categorical distinctions proposed by the theory are not consilient with discoveries in contemporary neuroscience concerning the organization, functioning, and development of the brain”. Analogy: You failed to extend your steel rods down into the center of the earth

17 Complaint Shuler and Churchland feel that innateness hypotheses need to be supported or consilient with evidence from developmental psychology, neurobiology, and genetics – This includes the identification of candidate genes and neural systems Haidt and Joseph surprised that this level of evidence is a common expectation Agree that innateness hypotheses should not be incompatible with establish finding from the aforementioned fields

18 Developmental Psychology Positive linkage with developmental psychology reasonable – One of main goals to explain different development of children in different cultures

19 Genetics? Recent discoveries have found that although a majority of traits are heritable there do not seem to be genes “for” these traits Even height which has a.9 heritability does not have a specific gene How can MFT then be expected to find genes “for” reciprocity, loyalty, or authority

20 Genetics? Suhler and Churchland claim that nativist theories must be supported by genetics Equivalent to demanding all new building dig foundations to center of the earth – It cannot be done! – It might be impossible!

21 Neuroscience? Similar problem to genetics Always presented moral modules as functional, not physical, anatomical or neurobiological modules

22 Neuroscience? Suhler and Churchland assume that neurobiological modules are presented in this theory – AKA specific neural circuits that correspond to moral foundations This is not the case! “…we do not see how the phenomenon…can be negated (or declared not consilient) with any finding about neurons and circuits. It is just too low a level of analysis…”

23 Conclusion Complaint is that no effort has been made to provide genetic or neurologic evidence for theory Haidt and Joseph agree with this claim “…but cannot see how this counts as a mark against MFT.”

24 Discussion Questions Does the lack of genetic or neurological evidence makes MFT a weaker theory? – Should Haidt have to provide or strive to find evidence of this sort? – What implications does your answer have regarding the production of knowledge in psychology? Do you think it is possible to find genetic or neurologic evidence for MFT? Do you think Suhler and Curchland put forth such a high standard to quash nativist theories?

25 Complaint #1 Our concepts of innateness and modularity are defective and cannot support the theory (Moral Foundations Theory). Analogy: Your steel rods are not strong enough to support the house (when in fact the house is already standing).

26 “East Pole” vs. “West Pole” East Pole: Northeast, Harvard & MIT -Haidt & colleages -Supports nativist perspective on mind and behavior -Nativist view: certain things are innate at birth West Pole: West coast, UC Berkeley & UCSD -Suhler & Churchland -Prefers more empiricist explanations -Empiricist view: brain is capable of learning from environment, but is largely a “blank slate”

27 Suhler & Churchland Haidt, Joseph say that this pair of West Polers have set an impossibly high bar for all nativist theories, and then go on to say that MFT does not meet that bar. They conclude that this is not a criticism of MFT specifically, but a declaration of their thoughts about nativist theories in general.

28 They’re asking for the impossible Suhler and Churchland dismiss MFT for not having enough evidence, but the evidence they ask for is impossible to get. They ask for evidence that the traits they target are “insensitive to environmental influences” AND that these traits were selected for during the human evolutionary process.

29 They’re asking for the impossible Few to no psychological traits are truly hard- wired, or “insensitive to environmental influences” It is very difficult, if not impossible, to prove that a trait was selected for

30 Suhler & Churchland criticize that their “weak” nativism may apply to too many cognitive and behavioral traits. BUT Haidt & Joseph are not bothered by this, given that they’ve said from the start that one quality of innate moral functioning is that it is shared by a vast number of people. …Not to mention, most cognitive/behavioral traits are heritable, and thus draw from innate traits.

31 Suhler & Churchland call their use of modularity “murky” and lacking in computational and neurobiological details Haidt & Joseph acknowledge that they are not neuroscientists & have not gone into great detail about each module (yet). They agree that MFT is not a complete theory covered by all levels of analysis yet, but argue that rather than dismiss an incomplete theory, one should consider developing it.

32 Modularity  functional specialization Functional specialization  a basic feature of systems designed by natural selection Different kinds of information are processed by different cognitive systems

33 Applying this definition to MFT The moral mind includes at least five sets of modules that are functionally specialized to handle informational inputs related to social events involving versus harm 2.fairness versus cheating 3.loyalty versus betrayal 4.authority versus subversion 5.sanctity versus degradation


35 COOTIES! Cooties is an example of highly structured practices that are wide spread throughout cultures and that emerge without encouragement from adults. These practices likely did not emerge from generalized social learning. Rather, they reflect the existence of specialized modules which make it easy to learn these practices.

36 Conclusion MFT assumes that nothing is “hard-wired” or insensitive to influence. We have domain specific functionalized cognitive mechanisms (like the purity foundation) that make learning rules about these areas easy.

37 Conclusion As for Suhler & Churchland, Haidt & Joseph believe their 3 complaints about MFT to be invalid: 2 of them are more like complaints by West Polers about nativist theories in general. MFT is really an attempt to bridge the nativism of evolutionary psych with the constructivism of cultural psych.

38 Discussion Questions Even if the foundations for playing cooties are innate in children, don’t they have to learn the term “cooties” from someone? Can anyone think of possible ways to “prove” that a trait/behavior is “insensitive to influence”? Can Haidt & Joseph and Suhler & Churchland both be somewhat right?

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