Will Wilkinson and Jon Haidt just did a bloggingheads.tv. I’ve blogged Haidt’s ideas before (Chris is skeptical). During this bloggingheads.tv interview Haidt lays out the difference between college age liberals and other societies with a scenario where a beloved dog dies and the family decides to consume the creature. Most non-college age non-liberals think that that’s immoral, while many of the liberals express a more guarded utilitarian evaluation where its morality is ambiguous. That’s fine, but later on Haidt mentions that a lot of New Age liberals are always going on about “toxins”; I see this in my day to day life all the time. So what gives? I wonder if Haidt is over-reading the responses to his first question.
First, liberals can be disgusted. How would the college students react if if you asked if it was moral if a family decided to eat a newborn that had died, or perhaps their mother who was living in the attic until her expiration? So I think there might be a quantitative difference, but on the margins the underlying principle operates. Secondly, what about a culture where women get circumcized where their labia and clitoris are removed at the age of 18 because they are told that that is what “good girls” should do? What if the women are doing this of their own free choice with their own sterile knives and anaesthesia?
I don’t have strong opinions on either the quantitative and qualitative questions here. Haidt has a Ph.D. and I’m sure he can design good experiments, and perhaps I’m ignorant because I haven’t read all his papers. But I can’t shake off the perception that perhaps the outcomes of these results are an artifact (there is also the point that people may say one thing but act out in a different way, and avowed morality/reason often is overruled by a gut reaction proximately).