The Five Moral Senses

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University of Virginia moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt delivered an absolutely dynamite talk on new advances in his field last week. The video and a transcript have been posted by Edge.org, a loose consortium of very smart people run by John Brockman. Haidt whips us through centuries of moral thought, recent evolutionary psychology, and discloses which two papers every single psychology student should have to read. Through it all, he's funny, erudite, and understandable. Here, we excerpt a few paragraphs from his conclusion, in which Haidt tells us how to think about our moral minds:

I've been arguing for the last few years that we've got to expand our conception of the moral domain, that it includes multiple moral foundations, not just sugar and salt, and not just harm and fairness, but a lot more as well. So, with Craig Joseph and Jesse Graham and Brian Nosek, I've developed a theory called Moral Foundations Theory, which draws heavily on the anthropological insights of Richard Shweder...

That the five most important taste receptors of the moral mind are the following...care/harm, fairness/cheating, group loyalty and betrayal, authority and subversion, sanctity and degradation. And that moral systems are like cuisines that are constructed from local elements to please these receptors.

So, I'm proposing, we're proposing, that these are the five best candidates for being the taste receptors of the moral mind. They're not the only five. There's a lot more. So much of our evolutionary heritage, of our perceptual abilities, of our language ability, so much goes into giving us moral concerns, the moral judgments that we have. But I think this is a good starting point.

Read the full story at Edge.org.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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