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Useful Notes / Five Foundations of Morality

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This is a theory by the psychologist Johnathan Haidt that despite local variations, there are five basic markers that different groups of humans have in their accepted behavior:

  1. Care: Be nice, as opposed to harm.
  2. Fairness/Proportionality: This is not the same as being nice, as it is possible to be unjust to one person in your desire to be nice to another. Opposed to cheating.
  3. Ingroup/Loyalty: Stand by your tribe. Opposed to betrayal.
  4. Authority/Respect: Respect the customs and the hierarchy. Every culture above the size of the hunter-gatherer band (and even many hunter-gatherers; respect your elders) has these. Even cultures that think themselves egalitarian. Opposed to subversion.
  5. Purity: Don't do things that are squicky. This corresponds to both physical purity (don't eat poop) and moral purity (don't burn the Bible). Opposed to degradation.
  6. Liberty (added later) which is opposed to oppression.

The author claims that these are evenly emphasized among conservatives and that liberals emphasize primarily the first two. He also claims that this causes much modern political controversy. And of course a lot of mutual Values Dissonance.

A number of customs are aspects of more than one marker, naturally. For instance, consider rabbis discussing the reason for kosher. Among their reasons aside from reason number 5, might be that it is healthy, thus preventing plague and ensuring that people can pull their weight (number 2), that it is a salute to God (number 4) and that it emphasizes one's identification with the Jewish people (3).

Furthermore, variations exist from culture to culture. Observant Jews, for instance, express number 5 by abstaining from pork and not eating milk and meat together (in more extreme forms, this requires two refrigerators). Most non-Jewish Americans simply think that meat is acceptable, but blood and organs are yucky. Likewise, Americans and other Westerners stand in line at restaurants as an expression of 2 and 4. Not all cultures do that. And Americans seldom eat dogs or horses, which at first glance is about purity but is really about loyalty as well (dogs are friends, horses are faithful servants). And so on.


From a writers point of view this theory, is a handy framework for Worldbuilding. Other uses can be thought of.

The author has used this theory as the basis for at least two books, The Righteous Mind and The Happiness Hypothesis as well as several essays and articles.

Fictional Examples:

  • Harm/Care : In the Firefly episode "Ariel", Simon risks his life to save a stranger.
  • Fairness/Proportionality: In Babylon 5, Commander Sinclair refuses to use force to end a strike according to "the Rush Act", and instead gives the workers the higher wages which they want.
  • Ingroup/Loyalty: In Firefly, Mal says to Jayne, "If you turn on any of my crew, you turn on me."
  • Authority/Respect: In The Chosen, Danny Saunders stands by his overbearing father despite the father's demands.
  • Purity: In Ivanhoe Rebecca threatens to kill herself rather than allow herself to be raped by the evil De Bois-Guilbert.


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