The most dangerous thing society teaches boys and men, especially white boys and men, is that their emotions are objective logic and reason and that anyone who disagrees is being irrational.
-Tumblr user jean-luc-gohard
Beyond their cognitive demands, the Moral Foundation items are enmeshed with cultural precepts and rhetorical cues. Consider, for example, the items listed above. Questions about the requirements for society, the demands of equality, or the virtue of chastity unavoidably make reference to particular belief systems with specifically articulated tenets about such ideas. Such rhetorical cues unavoidably raise problems of endogenous and confounding variables. If moral foundations are really innate, then their measures must be exogenous to any other cultural or political phenomena they purport to explain. Otherwise they are functionally indistinguishable from simply being alternative measures of culturally determined values. Yet, by relying on particular concepts like justice, equality or invoking particular standards of behavior like chastity, the moral foundation items invoke concepts and rhetorical signals of other belief systems.
In short, the multivariate equations demonstrate that religious sentiments are the primary sources of the reported ideological differences across the Moral Foundations scale. In particular, it is the greater religiosity of self-identified conservatives that explains their differential scores on the Authority, Ingroup, and Purity scales. Although ideology remains a significant but small predictor of the Harm and Fairness scales, it no longer relates to the Moral Foundations emphasized in the Haidt et al research. The fact that the inclusion of one scalar item that gauges largely religious sentiments can eliminate the robust relationship between ideology and Haidt’s central findings should cause great concern about the overall validity of Haidt’s original hypothesis test.
The experimental items demonstrate that the Moral Foundations Items are highly sensitive to idiomatic references and often work contrary to expectations from Haidt's theories. For example, in the framing experiment on the Harm foundation, conservatives are three times less likely to disagree with the statement that "Handouts, like X, keep poor people dependent on other and should be stopped" when the handout comes from "church soup kitchens" rather than Food Stamps. Liberals are four times more likely to disagree with the statement that "Everyone should have a say on controversial social issues, especially X, because that's only fair" when the reference is "religious groups" while conservatives are four times more likely when the reference
is "minority groups." If moral foundations really inform ideological priors, then such large differences in responses should not exist.
Similar evidentiary problems occur with other moral frames as well. For example, Moral Foundations Theory suggests that conservatives "rely" more on intuitions of loyalty than liberals, yet we find no ideological differences in the high levels of agreement to the statement "People who leek secret government information under (our president's/President Obama's) fight against terrorism and deserve severe punishment" regardless of the reference. Moral Foundations theory also suggests that conservatives are more concerned with issues of purity, yet we find this depends on what is considered pure. Liberals and moderates, for example, were more likely to agree with the statement "Things made pure by our Creator should not be contaminated by humans" when the thing in question is "the environment." Conservatives, on the other hand, are more in agreement when the environmental cue is left out. Finally, Moral Foundations Theory suggests that conservatives' judgments are more attuned to concerns with authority, yet we find liberals and moderates are twice as more likely to agree with the statements "While some may disagree with a particular President/President Obama, he's our leader and we have to follow him" than conservatives.
As noted above, one explanation for why Haidt finds such a strong relationship between the Moral Foundations survey items and ideology is because the survey items invoke rhetorical cues that signal appropriate responses to ideologues themselves. In other words, when faced with the difficult dilemmas posed in the Moral Foundations questionnaires, respondents may be using particular terms in the questions as ideological heuristics to guide their responses. This alternative hypothesis is based on the observation from other scholars (e.g., Everett 2013, Farwell and Weiner 2000, Lakoff 2010, Treier and Hillygus 2009,) that certain concepts or terms which are prominent in moral foundations theory are commonly understood as having ideological connotations.
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