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Fundamental Concepts

The Moral Foundation Theory (MFT) (Graham et al., 2013) deals with the origins and variations of human moral reasoning based on innate and modular foundations, and how these alter the rational decision about the consumption of information in different cultures. Such attributes are measurable by the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ) (Graham et al., 2011), a survey to identify the importance of the five most latent moral domains in individuals: (1) harm/care, (2) justice/reciprocity, ( 3) in-group/loyalty, (4) authority/respect, and (5) purity/holiness.
The Habermasian theory of Communicative Action (Theory of Communicative Action) (Habermas, 2012) emphasizes the importance of using rational arguments for legitimate social coordination. This theoretical assumption will be confronted with the MFT, when we put young people to debate news and climate change (climate change), at which time we will compare rational and moral guidelines for the consumption of this news.

Where does morality come from? Why are moral judgments so often similar across cultures, and sometimes different? Is morality one thing or several? The Moral Foundations Theory (MFT) was created to answer these questions. In this chapter, we describe the origins, assumptions, and current conceptualization of this theory and detail the empirical results it has made possible, both within social psychology and beyond. Looking to the future, we face several criticisms of this theory and specify five criteria to determine what can be considered the foundation of human morality. Finally, we suggest a variety of future perspectives for MFT and moral psychology.

“The supreme objective of any theory is to simplify and reduce as much as possible the basic irreducible elements without having to give up the adequate representation of the results of a scientific experiment”. (Einstein, 1934, p. 165)

“I came to the conclusion that there is a plurality of ideals, just as there is a plurality of cultures and temperaments… my human character is finite – we can say it’s 74, or maybe 122, or 27, but finite, whatever. And the difference it makes when a man pursues one of these values, I am, why not, able to understand why he pursues him or what it would be like, in his circumstances, for me to pursue him. Hence the possibility of human understanding”. (Berlin, 2001, p.12)

Scientists value parsimony as much as the adequacy of explanation. There is, however, an inherent tension between these two values. When we try to explain an aspect of human nature or behavior using just a single construct, the gain in elegance is often at the expense of the loss of descriptive complexity. We venture to imitate Procrustes, the mythological character who forced his guests to fit exactly on an iron bed, stretching them or cutting off their legs.

In this article we ask: How many “irreducible basic elements” are needed to represent, understand and explain the breadth of the moral domain? We use the term monist to describe scholars who claim the answer is: one. This is usually identified with justice or equity, as Lawrence Kohlberg stated: “Virtue is ultimately one, not many, and it is always the same ideal, regardless of climate or culture…The name of this ideal is justice. ” (Kohlberg 1971, p. 232; see also Baumard, André, & Sperber, forthcoming). The other common candidate for the foundation of morality is sensitivity to harm (eg, Gray, Young, and Waytz, 2012), or related notions of generalized human well-being or happiness (eg, Harris, 2010). Monists typically try to show that all manifestations of morality are derived from an architecture to implement the basic value or virtue they propose.

Other theorists – whom we will call pluralists – claim that the answer is: more than one. William James’s (1909/1987) extended critique of monism and absolutism, A Pluralistic Universe, identifies the perceived confusion of pluralism as a major source of resistance to it:

“Whether materialistic or spiritually minded, philosophers have always aimed to clean up the rubbish with which the world is apparently filled. They have substituted economic and orderly conceptions for the first sensible tangle; and whether these were morally elevated or merely intellectually pure, they were , at any rate, always aesthetically pure and defined, and intended to give the world something clean and intellectual in the way of internal structure. Compared to all these rationalizing images, the pluralistic empiricism I profess offers only a pitiful appearance. a kind of gothic affair, confused, without broad contours and with little nobility”. (page 650)

Aristotle was an early moral pluralist, sidelined by Kohlberg (1971) for promoting a “bag of virtues.” Carol Gilligan (1982) was pluralist when she argued that the “ethics of care” did not derive from (nor was it reducible to) an ethics of justice. Isaiah Berlin said, in our opening quote, that there are a finite but potentially large number of moral ideals that are within the repertoire of human beings, and that an appreciation of the full repertoire opens the door to mutual understanding. We are brazen pluralists, and in this chapter we will try to convince you that you should be too. In the first two parts of this chapter we present a pluralist theory of moral psychology – the Moral Foundations Theory (MFT). In part three, we will provide an overview of the empirical results that we and others have obtained using a variety of measures developed to test the theory. We will demonstrate that the pluralism of TFM has led to discoveries that have long been unnoticed by monists. In part four, we will discuss the critiques of the theory and future research directions that are motivated in part by these critiques. We will also propose specific criteria that researchers can use to decide what counts as a foundation. Throughout the chapter, TFMs will focus on pragmatic validity (Graham, Nosek, Haidt, Iyer, Koleva, & Ditto, 2011) – that is, their scientific validity, usefulness both in answering existing questions about morality and in allowing researchers to formulate new questions.

We admit at the outset that our particular list of moral foundations is unlikely to survive the empirical challenges of the next few years without change. But we think our overall approach is likely to stand the test of time. We predict that 20 years from now, psychologists will be primarily pluralists who draw on cultural and evolutionary psychology to examine the psychological mechanisms that lead people and groups to hold values ​​and beliefs. We also emphasize, at the outset, that our project is descriptive, not normative. Not trying to say who or what is morally right or good. We are simply trying to analyze an important aspect of human social life. Cultures vary morally, as do individuals within cultures. These differences often lead to hostility and sometimes violence. We think it would be helpful for social psychologists, policymakers and citizens in general to have a language in which they can describe and understand moralities that are not their own. We think that a plurality of approaches is necessary for this descriptive project. We don’t know how many moral foundations there really are. There may be 74, or maybe 122, or 27, or maybe just five, but certainly more than one. And moral psychologists who help people recognize the inherent pluralism of moral functioning will be at the forefront of efforts to promote the kind of “human understanding” that Berlin described.

The moral domain is broader than concerns of empathy and fairness as measured by existing measures of moral competence, and is not just a subset of values assessed by value inventories. To satisfy the need for reliable and theoretically grounded measurement of the full range of moral concerns, we developed the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ) based on a theoretical model of five sets of universally available (but variably developed) moral intuitions: harm/care, justice /reciprocity, in-group/loyalty, authority/respect and purity/holiness. We present evidence for the internal and external validity of the scale and model, and in doing so, we present new insights into morality:

1. Fitting the comparative model of confirmatory factor analyzes provides empirical justification for a five-factor framework of moral concerns.

2. Convergent/discriminating validity of evidence suggesting that moral concerns predict personality traits and attitudes of social groups not previously considered morally relevant.

3. We establish pragmatic validity of the measure by providing new knowledge and research opportunities on demographic and cultural issues. These analyzes provide evidence for the usefulness of the Theory of Moral Foundations (MFT) both in increasing the scope and in narrowing the resolution of psychological views of morals.


In this important book, Habermas develops his views on a number of moral and ethical issues. Based on his theory of communicative action, Habermas elaborates an original conception of ‘discourse ethics’, which seeks to reconstruct a moral point of view from which normative claims can be impartially judged. Habermas connects communicative ethics to the theory of social action through an examination of social psychology research on moral and interpersonal development. He intends to show that our basic moral intuitions spring from something deeper and more universal than contingent features of our tradition, that is, from normative presuppositions of social interaction that belong to the repertoire of competent agents in any society.

The Intuitive and Exemplary Morality Model (MIME) combines the logic of several well-known media theories within the social intuitionist perspective, from moral psychology to describing how media content and moral intuitions interact to influence each other. MIME is one of the few models in communication science that combines ultimate causes with immediate causes of human behavior to explain and predict the selection, valuation and production of media content. This chapter begins by summarizing the achievements and drawbacks found in the research, examining the short- and long-term mechanisms of the model, and concludes by examining its future as a comprehensive, biologically rooted model of media experience.


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