Moral Foundations Theory

I think we’re going to hear a lot about Moral Foundations Theory. Katherine Mangu-Ward steered me toward this. Moral Foundations Theory clarifies a lot of things I’ve been trying to untangle, particularly the utter unsuitability of political labels like “conservative” or “progressive”.

Of course, anyone who offers a good new idea risks having it tampered with, and this is no exception. I would prefer different nomenclature and lose the awkward positive/negative nomenclature. For example, I’d prefer “compassion” to “care/harm”. But this isn’t a substantive thought.

I do have some additional substantive thoughts:

I suspect that the influence of the individual moral foundations depends upon how they are aligned with self interest.

The weighting of moral foundations performed by Jonathan Haidt et al is interesting, but I suspect that actual behavior is determined more by ranking than by weighting. Mises’ great insight about the ordinality of preference would seem to have applicability here.

Making decisions based on a moral foundation will be influenced by time preference, as are all decisions. Thus, two people with an identical preference for compassion may make different decisions in the same situation, one basing the decision on shorter term implications, the other on longer term implications. In short, time preference is probably orthogonal to moral foundations.

These thoughts are not criticisms. I can see great value in exploring the great issues of the day in terms of the moral foundations, the overlap with self interest, the ranking of foundations, and the time preference of those involved. Stay tuned – I may have to do more.


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