Moral Foundations: Which?

About a decade ago I wrote at my old blog about moral foundations theory, the idea that people have different fundamental moral feelings which drive their ethical intuitions; I also explored this at the Weekly Wonders tumblr. Although I have grown in my thinking a lot since then, a basic version of Haidt’s idea has become essential to the furniture of my mind; it seems obviously, trivially true that something about our ethics is both given and idiosyncratic. Our moral foundations are given in that they are neither something we chose nor something we acquired through reason but rather something motivating us without our even knowing why; they are idiosyncratic in that different people have different moral motivations. Our moral judgements are always driven by normative feelings, a particular kind of motivation along with appetites and fears. I know better than to trust what seems obvious to me, but I really can’t see how moral foundations theory could be wrong.1


“The deadly Franciscan Fist,” Matt Baume,

That said, I still have some questions and concerns regarding moral foundations theory which I’ve never gotten into. My friend Jon has asked me to write a bit about this sort of thing so he can share it with his students and I’m going to use that request as an excuse to finally get around to airing those concerns. These concerns can be described roughly speaking as “which?” and “whence?” Today I’ll talk about “which?”

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