Gene Expression

Moral dimensions of political tribes

Watching Beyond Belief 2 I was interested in Jonathan Haidt’s contention that liberals and conservatives exhibit alternative valences on five different “Moral Foundations.” In short, liberals tend to emphasize “Harm” and “Fairness,” and manifest little interest in the values of “Loyalty,” “Authority” and “Purity.” In contrast, conservatives tended to have a more balanced weighting of values across all five dimensions, as well as deemphasizing the first two components in relation to liberals. My own immediate thought was, “Where do I fit in?” I assumed I would be closer to liberals here because on social issues I tend to align with that camp. So took the Moral Foundations Questionnaire, and below the fold are my results.

My own value is in green, while liberals are blue and conservatives red.

This seems exactly right to me. My own self-conception is that I tend toward libertarianism. Note that on “Fairness” I match the conservatives. This makes sense, libertarians are generally “fiscal conservatives” and we tend to be less sympathetic than liberals to arguments based on economic fairness or justice. On the other hand, on “Authority” I match liberals. Again, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out why that might be when you consider the typical libertarian attitudes toward direction from on high. My moderate values on “Loyalty” is a reflection of the fact that I am somewhat of a nationalist libertarian insofar as I accept that the nation-state is a legitimate and necessary organizational structure, and I personally have a strong consequentialist derived sentiment which favors viewing nation-states as being more than simply enforcers of contracts between consenting adults (this is where I am not very stereotypically libertarian). As far as my attitude toward “Harm,” I’m a pretty vanilla utilitarian. Finally, when it comes to “Purity” I go farther than even the typical liberal. Here this might be my hard-core reductionist materialism coming through, I don’t really believe that anything has an essence, everything is simply a collection of atoms, so talk of an act or object being pure or impure seems totally incoherent to me most of the time. In fact I would suggest I go further than most liberals as I tend to be reflexively suspicious of opposition to new technology based on the fact that it is “unnatural” (e.g., genetically modified organisms).


  1. #1 Sandgroper
    December 6, 2007

    You big softie, Razza.

    Geez, I turned out more liberal than the liberals – I seem to have a huuuge lack of respect for authority, but I’m fairly loyal and puritanical.

    No idea what that means. I think it probably means I’m an Australian.

    Not too far from your results, except I have less respect for authority and I’m more puritanical – maybe irrationally on the latter, childhood brainwashing.

  2. #2 Dunc
    December 6, 2007

    Wow – I guess I’m an extremist!

    Harm: 3.9
    Fairness: 4.8
    Loyalty: 0.5
    Authority: 0.9
    Purity: 0.4

    No big surprise for me there – I’ve always regarded the last 3 as almost pure bullshit, at least when it comes to morality. I mean, seriously – “Purity”? First define it, please, and then explain what (if anything) it has to do with morality. If it has a meaning at all, it’s aesthetic.

    Maybe I’ve just been reading too many Iain M Banks “Culture” novels recently…

  3. #3 bob koepp
    December 6, 2007

    Valuing “Purity” in the sense that certain bits of the world are viewed as holy or sacrosanct strikes me as pretty wacky. But there’s a different sort of purity that might be more closely related to integrity and consistency in thought and action — and this, I think, is rather important in the context of morality. I wonder how the scores of self-identified liberals and conservatives on that “metric” would look.

    BTW, I consider myself an old-style liberal; freedom of conscience, freedom of inquiry, freedom of association — those are ideas I can get excited about.

  4. #4 chezjake
    December 6, 2007

    I think liberals would come out much higher on “Authority” if they considered the US Constitution as their authority in the same way that right wing Christians consider the Bible as their authority.

  5. #5 marc
    December 6, 2007

    some people may regard aesthetics as part of morality… you know, purity as beautiful, and beauty as good and righteous… something like that.

    my results:

    Harm: 2.8 – way below both liberals and conservatives (i have no idea what that means)
    Fairness: 3.1 – near conservatives
    Loyalty: 2.1 – near liberals
    Authority: 0.9 – very low (typical libertarian, i guess)
    Purity: 1.9 – in between

    …i pretty much expected the result on “Authority”. but i really wonder about the result on “Harm”… maybe it just means that i’m egocentric…?

  6. #6 michael vassar
    December 6, 2007

    Harm 3.5,
    Fairness 3.4,
    Loyalty 1.5,
    Authority 1.8,
    Purity .5,
    but I thought that the test design was absolutely lousy.
    Basically, he asks you and tells you what you said. Give me a break. I think Haidt was onto something, but isn’t very bright, and ignores obvious dimensions like “Honor”. Also, he ignores other ways of explaining the same phenomenon.

  7. #7 Kevin C.
    December 6, 2007

    Harm 2.1
    Fairness 3.1
    Loyalty 2.3
    Authority 2.1
    Purity 1.8

    A little off from what I expected (I thought I’d align a little more to the conservative), but as an atheist Republican, I’m an odd creature with regard to moral and political positions.

  8. #8 pconroy
    December 6, 2007

    My Results…

    Harm: 3.6 < Lib > Con
    Fairness: 2.4 << Lib < Con Loyalty: 1.6 < Lib << Con Authority: 1.9 < Lib << Con Purity: 1.0 < Lib << Con So Fairness I'm nearer to Con, while everything else, I'm nearer to Lib

  9. #9 John Emerson
    December 6, 2007

    Doing a historical and crosscultural study of this would be very interesting. American conservatives are much more utilitarian (the “harm” factor) than traditionalist conservatives (e.g. very conservative European Catholics), and also much more fairness oriented and probably less authoritarian than anyone in a traditionalist hierarchal society.

    For individuals in very traditionalist, authoritarian, hierarchal societies “fairness” and “harm” are hard to perceive at all, since inequality is ordained by God and magical thinking confuses the notion of harm.

    From almost any contemporary point of view, including a market conservative one, the “purity” and “loyalty” factors will be seen as atavistic relics wired in the brain which usually should be minimized and at times suppressed. They motivate the stoning of unchaste women and women trying to marry outside the group, for example.

  10. #10 TGGP
    December 6, 2007

    I discussed this at my blog here.

  11. #11 tom bri
    December 6, 2007

    Started to take the quiz and gave up in disgust. What stupid questions.

    I am a libertarian politically, and pretty much a traditionalist personally. Live and let live.

  12. #12 Chris
    December 6, 2007

    You know what would be great? If Haidt, after all this time, published some data in a peer reviewed psychology journal, instead of just publicizing his theories everywhere else.

  13. #13 Sandgroper
    December 7, 2007

    John – outrageous calumny! I’ve never stoned an unchaste woman in me life. I’ve chased a few unchaste women, but that’s rather different 🙂

  14. #14 Dunc
    December 7, 2007

    some people may regard aesthetics as part of morality… you know, purity as beautiful, and beauty as good and righteous… something like that.

    Sure, some people may hold that view. I’d just vociferously disagree with them and challenge them to justify their position. I mean, I think nori rolls are absolutely foul, but I don’t think there’s anything immoral about them.

  15. #15 Ben Steele
    November 6, 2009

    Offhand, this data doesn’t seem quite right. I wonder if there is bias in the questions or maybe bias in the moral foundations chosen. I’ve looked at a lot of research about personality, values, beliefs, and politics. But I’ve never seen results like this. I wouldn’t trust this data until it’s been peer-reviewed and confirmed with research by others.

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