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Neuroethics

, Volume 8, Issue 2, pp 153–169 | Cite as

Can’t We All Disagree More Constructively? Moral Foundations, Moral Reasoning, and Political Disagreement

  • Hanno Sauer
Original Paper

Abstract

Can’t we all disagree more constructively? Recent years have seen a dramatic increase in political partisanship: the 2013 shutdown of the US government as well as an ever more divided political landscape in Europe illustrate that citizens and representatives of developed nations fundamentally disagree over virtually every significant issue of public policy, from immigration to health care, from the regulation of financial markets to climate change, from drug policies to medical procedures (Koleva et al. Journal of Research in Personality 46:184–194, 2012). The emerging field of political psychology brings the tools of moral psychology to bear on this issue. It suggests that the main conflict shaping politics today can be explained in terms of people’s moral foundations (Graham et al. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 96(5):1029–1046, 2009; Haidt 2012; Graham et al. PLOS One 7(12):1–13, (2012); cf. also Rai and Fiske Psychological Review 118:57–75, 2011): progressive liberals, it is argued, view society as consisting of separate individuals with differing values and life plans, whereas conservatives rely on a thicker notion of political morality that includes traditions, communities, and values of purity (Haidt and Graham Social Justice Research 20:98–116, 2007). In this paper, I explore the normative implications of this theory. In particular, I will argue that its proponents take it to support an asymmetry of understanding: if deep political disagreements reflect differences in people’s moral foundations, and these disagreements cannot be rationally resolved, then overcoming them makes it necessary to acknowledge the moral foundations of the other side’s political outlook. But conservatives, the theory suggests, already do acknowledge all of the liberal moral foundations, and not vice versa. To overcome partisanship and the resulting political deadlock, then, it seems to be up to liberals to move closer towards the conservative side, and not vice versa. I wish to analyze what the argument for this asymmetry is and whether it holds up. In the end, I shall argue that the available evidence does support an asymmetry, but that it is the opposite of what Moral Foundations theorists think it is. There is such an asymmetry - but its burden falls on the conservative side.

Keywords

Moral cognition Moral foundations Political disagreement 

Notes

Acknowledgments

I would like to thank audiences in Groningen, Tilburg, and Rotterdam for helpful feedback on this paper. Special thanks go to Tom Bates, Daan Evers, Joshua Greene, Frank Hindriks, Dominik Klein, Pauline Kleingeld, Bert Musschenga, Jan Sprenger, Bruno Verbeek and two anonymous referees for Neuroethics.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Philosophy PhilosophyUniversität Duisburg-EssenEssenGermany

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