Evolutionary Morality

Fascinating article in this week's Science Times about the evolutionary basis for human morality.  In short, across human societies, actions that are bad for the in-group (however defined in that circumstance) are evil and behaviors that benefit the group are good.  Interestingly, in many societies respect for authority and a sense of purity are seen as moral values, but not so much in the United States.  Psychologist Jonathan Haidt suggests a provocative political dimension:

They found that people who identified themselves as liberals
attached great weight to the two moral systems protective of
individuals ? those of not harming others and of doing as you would be
done by. But liberals assigned much less importance to the three moral
systems that protect the group, those of loyalty, respect for authority
and purity.

Conservatives placed value on all five moral systems
but they assigned less weight than liberals to the moralities
protective of individuals.

Dr. Haidt believes that many
political disagreements between liberals and conservatives may reflect
the different emphasis each places on the five moral categories.

Take
attitudes to contemporary art and music. Conservatives fear that
subversive art will undermine authority, violate the in-group?s
traditions and offend canons of purity and sanctity. Liberals, on the
other hand, see contemporary art as protecting equality by assailing
the establishment, especially if the art is by oppressed groups.

Dr. Haidt, who describes himself as a moderate liberal, says that
societies need people with both types of personality. ?A liberal
morality will encourage much greater creativity but will weaken social
structure and deplete social capital,? he said. ?I am really glad we
have New York and San Francisco ? most of our creativity comes out of
cities like these. But a nation that was just New York and San
Francisco could not survive very long. Conservatives give more to
charity and tend to be more supportive of essential institutions like
the military and law enforcement.?

There are some interesting dissenting viewpoints, but if you are interested enough in them, I'll let you read the whole article

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About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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