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Moral Capital is a Moral Foundation

Moral capital is discussed in depth with nuance and sensitivity in The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. A link to the passage is here.  I highly recommend that you read it.  But for brevity in this post I’ll skip to the following more concise, yet generalized, description of it excerpted from that passage. 

Moral capital refers to the degree to which a community possesses interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that mesh well with evolved psychological mechanisms and thereby enable the community to suppress or regulate selfishness and make cooperation possible.

By moral foundation I mean a moral taste bud, or color receptor, or sense, that causes a flash of affect – an intuitive response – of like or dislike when it is activated.  

I don’t know that moral capital fits the technical criteria for foundationhood described in Moral Foundations Theory: The Pragmatic Validity of Moral Pluralism.

But I DO think it’s a real, EMERGENT property of the combination of the all-foundation moral matrix and the holistic, analects of Confucius, style of thinking.

Trying to describe it is difficult; and leads to moral dumbfounding, like when trying to say why something is wrong even when no individual or group is directly harmed, like desecrating an American flag.  Or gay marriage. Or transgender bathrooms. Or abortion.  Or to many entitlements.  Or the nanny state. Or revolutionary change that throws the baby out with the bathwater.  Or moral relativism.  Same problem of description in all cases.

That’s the conservative DIS-advantage.

Which is exacerbated by the fact that liberals tend toward WEIRD, object-based, pedantic thought.

FWIW liberalism probably has emergent properties or traits too. Paul Bloom’s Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion might be about one of them. But I’m speculating on that. Could be wrong.

I think the lack of emergent properties and traits is a hole in Moral Foundations Theory as it currently stands. And maybe even in social science in general, which is ANOTHER factor, IN ADDITION to lack of viewpoint diversity, it leans left. 

The Ideological divide really, truly, is:

Liberal literal WEIRD pedantic thinking vs Conservative emergent Holistic sagacious thinking.  Flatland vs. Spaceland.   Linear vs Complex cognition.

Unfortunately, Western Culture itself leans toward the first half of each of those pairings. Summarizing some ideas of Albert Einstein:

“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”



3 thoughts on “Moral Capital is a Moral Foundation

  1. I respectfully disagree with the term ‘Moral Capital’ because it implies that there is a single unit of exchange. Moral reasoning is so thoroughly subjective that I would instead use the term ‘Moral Currency’ to reflect a more multi- variant, diverse set of principles through various denominations.


    Posted by Tom Rossman | January 14, 2017, 8:26 pm


  1. Pingback: Social Science = Rationalism, Rationalism = Pedantism, Pedantism Exacerbates the Ideological Divide | The Independent Whig - January 26, 2017

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A politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities. We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

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