note: the idea for this post came the other nightÂ as I was listening to The Who’s Baba O’Riley in the car on the way to the store to buy popsicles for my wife.
This recent article in the NYT (hat tip: T&S sidebar) discusses the research of moral psychologistÂ Jonathan Haidt here at UVA, where he surveys five moral systems that are common to all cultures.
Dr. Haidt (pronounced height) began his research career by probing the emotion of disgust. Testing peopleâ€™s reactions to situations like that of a hungry family that cooked and ate its pet dog after it had become roadkill, he explored the phenomenon of moral dumbfounding â€” when people feel strongly that something is wrong but cannot explain why.
Dumbfounding led him to view morality as driven by two separate mental systems, one ancient and one modern, though the mind is scarcely aware of the difference. The ancient system, which he calls moral intuition, is based on the emotion-laden moral behaviors that evolved before the development of language. The modern system â€” he calls it moral judgment â€” came after language, when people became able to articulate why something was right or wrong.
The emotional responses of moral intuition occur instantaneously â€” they are primitive gut reactions that evolved to generate split-second decisions and enhance survival in a dangerous world. Moral judgment, on the other hand, comes later, as the conscious mind develops a plausible rationalization for the decision already arrived at through moral intuition.
Moral dumbfounding, in Dr. Haidtâ€™s view, occurs when moral judgment fails to come up with a convincing explanation for what moral intuition has decided.
The article continues, describing five components of morality common to all cultures:
1. Preventing harm to others
2. Reciprocity and fairness
3. Loyalty to the in-group
4. Respect for authority and hierarchy, and
5. Sense of purity or sanctity
The first two components concern protection of the individual, and the last three concern the moral ties that bind groups together.
Notions of disgust and purity are widespread outside Western cultures. â€œEducated liberals are the only group to say, â€˜I find that disgusting but that doesnâ€™t make it wrong,â€™ â€ Dr. Haidt said.
Working with a graduate student, Jesse Graham, Dr. Haidt has detected a striking political dimension to morality. He and Mr. Graham asked people to identify their position on a liberal-conservative spectrum and then complete a questionnaire that assessed the importance attached to each of the five moral systems. (The test, called the moral foundations questionnaire, can be taken online, at www.YourMorals.org.)
They found that people who identified themselves as liberals attached great weight to the two moral systems protective of individuals â€” those of not harming others and of doing as you would be done by. But liberals assigned much less importance to the three moral systems that protect the group, those of loyalty, respect for authority and purity.
Conservatives placed value on all five moral systems but they assigned less weight than liberals to the moralities protective of individuals.
Dr. Haidt believes that many political disagreements between liberals and conservatives may reflect the different emphasis each places on the five moral categories.
According to this model, if one has a good grasp of Church history and a good understanding of Church government and doctrine and LDS culture, is it safe to say that person cannot be content in the Church if s/he is consistently liberal or conservative?
I consider myself smack in the middle of the contemporary continuum of liberal/conservative, and I consider this a great place to be as a Mormon because I don’t demand purity from my leaders(a conservative moral component I disagree with), and that helps me handle the minefields ofÂ Church historyÂ fairly well.Â I generally respect authority(a conservative component I agree with); I think many Church policies that people consider harmful to others, such as working against gay marriage, are not actually harmful(a liberal component I disagree with); I think fairness and reciprocity are very important(a liberal component I strongly agree with); and I think that many criticisms of the Church that aim to protect individuals are generally as wrong-headed as knee-jerk support for Church leaders’ indefensible actions in the past(I don’t lean consistently either way here).
In other words, I’m a moderate; I don’tÂ go to batÂ consistently for either the individual or the establishment.Â Am I the only kind of informedÂ person who can be consistently morally content in the Church?