When Morality Opposes Justice: Conservatives Have Moral Intuitions that Liberals may not Recognize

Researchers in moral psychology and social justice have agreed that morality is about matters of harm, rights, and justice. On this definition of morality, conservative opposition to social justice programs appears to be immoral, and has been explained as a product of various non-moral processes such as system justification or social dominance orientation. In this article we argue that, from an anthropological perspective, the moral domain is usually much broader, encompassing many more aspects of social life and valuing institutions as much or more than individuals. We present theoretical and empirical reasons for believing that there are five psychological systems that provide the foundations for the world’s many moralities. The five foundations are psychological preparations for detecting and reacting emotionally to issues related to harm/care, fairness/reciprocity, ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity. Political liberals have moral intuitions primarily based upon the first two foundations, and therefore misunderstand the moral motivations of political conservatives, who generally rely upon all five foundations.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Kohlberg (1969) and Turiel (Hollos et al., 1986) both conducted cross-cultural research, but they went to other cultures only to measure age trends on the constructs of their theories, not to examine local moral concerns.

  2. 2.

    People sometimes think that Gilligan’s ethic of care falls into Shweder’s ethic of community, because both involve interdependence; it does not. The ethic of community is about protecting non-voluntary groups and institutions. The ethic of care is about relationships between pairs of individuals to enhance their welfare, and as such it is a part of the ethics of autonomy. See Jensen, 1997, for further discussion.

  3. 3.

    Haidt and Joseph (2004) focused on four foundations, but suggested in a footnote that ingroup concerns are likely to be a separate foundation, rather than a part of the authority foundation. Haidt and Bjorklund (in press) discussed all five foundations.

  4. 4.

    At least, conceptually speaking. Of course, there is no reason to think that each of the five foundations underlies exactly 20% of the judgments conservatives make. Justice/fairness may even be the most important concept for understanding everyday judgments of conservatives. Our claim is simply that justice-related concerns occupy a smaller part of the conceptual and experiential domain of morality for conservatives than they do for liberals.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Brian Nosek, Stacey Sinclair, and Kees van den Bos for helpful comments on earlier drafts.

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Correspondence to Jonathan Haidt.

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Haidt, J., Graham, J. When Morality Opposes Justice: Conservatives Have Moral Intuitions that Liberals may not Recognize. Soc Just Res 20, 98–116 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11211-007-0034-z

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Keywords

  • Social Justice
  • Moral Judgment
  • Foundation Theory
  • Moral Emotion
  • Moral Concern