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Oliver Scott Curry @Oliver_S_Curry
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1/ What's wrong with Moral Foundations Theory? (And how to get moral psychology right) <a long thread>
2/ Once the exclusive preserve of theology and philosophy, the study of morality is now a thriving interdisciplinary mix of evolutionary theory, genetics, biology, animal behaviour, psychology and anthropology.
3/ On this view, there is nothing mysterious or magical about morality — it is merely a collection of biological and cultural mechanisms for promoting cooperation.
4/ Foremost amongst these accounts has been @jonhaidt’s Moral Foundations Theory (MFT).
5/ MFT argues that “Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make cooperative social life possible.
6/ What’s more, MFT argues that because humans face multiple social problems, they have multiple moral values. They rely on multiple ‘foundations’ when making moral decisions. These include: Care, Fairness, Ingroup, Authority & Purity
7/ These Moral Foundations have been operationalised, and measured, by the Moral Foundations Questionnaire (MFQ).… You can complete the questionnaire here:
8/ MFT/MFQ have had an enormous impact on moral psychology. The central papers have been cited 100s of times. There is a huge literature applying MFT to bioethics, charity, environmentalism, psychopathy, religion, and especially politics
9/ HOWEVER, MFT and MFQ have a number of theoretical and empirical problems.
10/ The main problem is that MFT is not based on any particular theory of cooperation, or indeed on any explicit theory at all.
11/ Indeed, Haidt, has explicitly argued against taking an ‘a priori or principled’ approach to moral psychology, and advocated an ‘ad hoc’ approach instead…
12/ And, sure enough, the original foundations were not derived from any particular theory, but gleaned from a review of five previous works on moral psychology. This has lead to a number of critical omissions:
13/ MFT has no foundation dedicated to kin altruism. (The MFQ does have two items pertaining to family, but they appear under Fairness and Ingroup.)
14/ MFT has no foundation dedicated to reciprocal altruism. MFT conflates reciprocity (a solution to iterated prisoners’ dilemmas) with fairness (a solution to bargaining problems). And the MFQ has no items pertaining to reciprocity at all.
15/ MFT has no foundation, and the MFQ has no items, dedicated to competitive altruism (costly signals of status), such as bravery or generosity.
16/ And MFT has no foundation dedicated to possession or property rights (the prohibition of theft). (The MFQ’s only mention of property occurs in an item about inheritance, under Fairness.)
17/ MFT also includes foundations that are not tied to any particular form of cooperation.
18/ MFT has a foundation dedicated to Care. But ‘care’, like ‘altruism’, is a generic term. It doesn’t distinguish between the different theories/psychological mechanisms for care (kin altruism, mutualism, reciprocal altruism, competitive altruism, etc)
19/ And MFT has a foundation dedicated to Purity. But avoiding “people w/ diseases, parasites [&] waste products” is not itself a moral problem (any more than, say, avoiding predators), and has no explicated connection to cooperation…
20/ …on the contrary, 'purity' is described as an “odd corner” of morality because it is not “concerned with how we treat other people”…
21/ So although MFT claims to be an evolutionary-cooperative account of morality, it excludes the four most well-established types of evolved cooperation: kin altruism, reciprocal altruism, competitive altruism & respect for first possession.
22/ And MFT includes two categories – generic altruism & pathogen avoidance – that are not types of evolved cooperation.
23/ MFT also has empirical problems. The main problem is that MFT’s five-factor model of morality has not been well supported by studies using the MFQ.
24/ Some of the original studies, as well as replications in Italy, New Zealand, Sweden and Turkey, and a 27 country study (using the short-form MFQ), have found that MFT’s five-factor model falls short of the conventionally ‘acceptable’ degree of model fit (CFIs<0.90)
25/ And so despite promising five moral domains, the MFQ typically delivers only two [Care-Fairness] and [Ingroup-Authority-Purity]. And it is this two-domain model that is often used in research.
26/ Other research has taken issue with specific foundations, especially Purity. But that’s a topic for another thread @kurtjgray
27/ To their credit, proponents of MFT acknowledge these concerns – for example, that the original list of foundations was “arbitrary”, based on a limited review of only “five books and articles”, and never intended to be “exhaustive”…
28/ … and they have positively encouraged research that could “demonstrate the existence of an additional foundation, or show that any of the current five foundations should be merged or eliminated”…
29/ And so that is what my colleagues and I have done:
30/ I went back to first principles – the evolutionary game theory of cooperation – identified (at least) seven distinct types of cooperation, and used them to explain seven distinct types of morality #moralityascooperation…
31/ We then showed that these seven types of morality can be found all around the world, and are probably cross-cultural universals @drdanmullins…
32/ And we have now used this framework to develop a new measure of moral values – the Morality-as-Cooperation Questionnaire (MAC-Q) – that promises, and delivers, seven moral domains @cjvanlissa…
33/ The MAC-Q shows that all seven types of cooperation are considered morally relevant – in fact, MAC’s new domains (family, reciprocity, heroism, property) are considered *more* morally relevant than the domains shared with MFT (group, authority, fairness).
34/ The MAC-Q also shows that each type of cooperation gives rise to a distinct moral domain – family, group, reciprocity, heroism, deference, fairness, property.
35/ Thus the MAC-Q introduces four new moral domains (family, reciprocity, heroism, property). It distinguishes family from group, and reciprocity from fairness. And it does a better job than the MFQ of distinguishing between 'group loyalty' and 'respect for authority'
36/ So, an approach to morality that is guided by the underlying principles of cooperation outperforms one that is not. And this is just the start…
37/ Equipped with a principled theory, we are now in a position to generate new testable predictions, and thus advance a genuine science of morality. <fin, for now>
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