In a recent article written for the New York Times, The Moral Instinct, cognitive scientist Steven Pinker takes us on a tour of the most recent research on the psychology and evolution of morality. He discusses the primacy of our moral intuitions over reasoning, ways in which our moral instincts can be fooled by difficult situations—and what brain imaging shows us is happening when we are caught in these moral dilemmas. Of particular interest are theories that identify the primary areas of moral judgment. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt notes five: harm, fairness, group loyalty, respect for authority, and purity.
Haidt, in a September piece for Edge, entitled Moral Psychology and the Misunderstanding of Religion, talks about his five moral "foundations" and the ways that they are applied in religion. The foundations influence more than just religion as Haidt applies them to politics as well. In his findings, Haidt notes that people who identify themselves as politically liberal tend to be primarily concerned with issues of harm and fairness while paying little attention to group loyalty, respect for authority, or purity. Meanwhile, those who identified themselves as politically conservative tended to be concerned with all five of the moral spheres. This may serve to illuminate the ways in which religion is often misunderstood by scientists and academics, and how those of differing political stripes organize their respective priorities.
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