Do Conservatives and Liberals Think Differently About Morality?

August 10, 2015 | Megan McArdle
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Some psychologists studying moral and political reasoning have argued that conservatives tend to address moral questions by looking at a variety of criteria (labeled sanctity, loyalty, authority, etc.), while liberals tend to make moral decisions by asking just two questions: “Is it fair?” And “Does it do more harm than good?” Citing a recent study, Megan McArdle points to a different interpretation:

It may not be so much that liberals don’t care about sanctity, authority, and so forth, as that they are culturally encouraged not to admit that they do. That may seem like a distinction without a difference, of course, but I don’t think that it is, because our stubborn moral intuitions about what is right and wrong are much more powerful than our logic when we make decisions. (Just try to get the average person to sit down and coolly reason through the discovery that his spouse enjoys the occasional fling at a conference with people they never see again.)

Coming at someone with utilitarian math when the problem is actually that you’ve desecrated their sacred space is a recipe for bitter and unresolvable conflict—and perhaps, for a culture war that no one is going to win.

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