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Conflating the Many Meanings of “Care” Hinders Our Understanding of Morality, Ideology, Politics, and Human Nature



Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that  work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible. – Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion page 314.

By this definition every moral system, every morality, has the same goal regardless of the weighting of any of the components within it.

That goal, in a word, is “care:”  The protection and preservation of society and the people within it.

Every moral foundation is a form of caring.  Loyalty? Yup.  Authority?  Yup.  Sanctity? Emphatically Yup.

It’s wrong, therefore, to say that liberals care more or conservatives care less.

The truest, most honest, most empirically accurate, way to summarize the lessons of Moral Foundations Theory is to say that liberals and conservatives care DIFFERENTLY.

The word “Care” has several meanings:

  1. It is a moral foundation.
  2. It is a normative value.
  3. It is the aim of all moral systems.
  4. It is a one-word proxy, a “dog whistle” word, that denotes liberalism.

Saying that liberals care more conflates these very distinct and separate meanings into the latter one.  It’s an example of WEIRD thinking as Haidt describes it in The Righteous Mind:

Detaching the focal object from its context, assigning it to a category, and then assuming that what’s true about the category is true about the object.  

It obfuscates rather than clarifies the findings of Haidt’s work and the lessons of Moral Foundations Theory.

To say or imply that liberals care more than conservatives serves only to feed the liberal narrative of perpetual victimhood at the hands of non-liberals.  Contrary to Haidt’s goal of  describing how “Good People Are Divided By Politics And Religion,” it only reinforces the liberal vision that non-liberals are NOT “Good People.”

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An Interpretation of Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory

This sidebar lists a series of posts which together make up an essay relating Moral Foundations Theory to today's politics, and even a little history, as viewed through The Independent Whig's six-foundation moral lens.

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Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Traits and Moral Foundations

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