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Fairness: Proportionality or Equality

In 2007 Jonathan Haidt set out his original notion of Moral Foundation Theory in which he postulated 5 innate foundational modules that underlay human moral behavior.  The original five were: Care/harm, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation.  In 2010 he added a sixth module, Liberty/oppression.  As he developed this scheme, he and his followers determined that there was a difference between liberals and conservatives in their expression of these foundational factors.  (For a quick outline of Haidt's construction see:  Liberals emphasized Care/harm with a secondary emphasis on Liberty/oppression and Fairness/cheating.  That is, their primary value was "care for victims of oppression".  Conservatives displayed a broader expression of the foundational factors, incorporating all six modules in their pursuit of their primary value, "preserve the institutions and traditions that sustain a moral community".  The initial presentations of Haidt's arguments prompted an objection from libertarians.  He, then, added them as a third group category when it became clear that their expression primarily emphasized Liberty/oppression with a secondary emphasis on Fairness/cheating in pursuit of their value system, which Haidt said was based on "individual liberty".  It is Haidt's contention that this moral foundation scheme provides a substrate for the moral expressions in human behavior and enables an understanding of the differences in the narratives provided by the three moral/political philosophies: conservatism, liberalism, and libertarianism.


While there are certainly many questions and issues that can be fueled by Haidt's construction, one area in particular has become a focus due to the entrance of the libertarians in his explanatory scheme.  This involves the Fairness/cheating module.  What emerged from his ongoing study of the theory is that the concept of fairness is not as homogeneous as the other modules.  Liberals view Fairness/cheating in terms described by John Stuart Mill, basically that everyone should be treated equally.  Conservatives and libertarians view Fairness/cheating in terms outlined by Emile Durkheim, basically that humans are born into a hierarchical world that limits autonomy and endorses traditions which must be preserved.  Hence, people should be treated proportionately, that is, awarded what they have earned and, if they haven't earned something, they should be denied that something.  So all three groups can claim they endorse Fairness/cheating, but they disagree on what fairness is.  Since they disagree on what fairness is, they devise different strategies to combat cheating because what constitutes cheating is related to their definition of what fairness is. 


Furthermore, this difference in the concept of Fairness/cheating overflows into the Liberty/oppresion module.  All three groups are upset by abuses of political power.  However, the nature of that displeasure relates to their concept of fairness.  Liberals, who view fairness in terms of equality, are aroused by any action aimed towards "underdogs, victims and powerless groups everywhere".  Conservatives and libertarians are aroused by actions that impinge on the freedoms of "their group", which Haidt expands as "don't tread on me", "don't tread on my group", and "don't tread on my nation".  It is, therefore, Haidt's contention that conservatives and libertarians focus on liberty, while liberals focus on equality.


There is a lot of material in Haidt's book, The Righteous Mind (2012), that begs for further analysis, but today I want to frame our approach in terms of his 6 moral modules and, in particular that of Fairness/cheating.  First of all, he describes these modules as innate, but offers a different notion of innate from the one with which we are most familiar.  He sees innate traits as " seen as prewired -- flexible and subject to change -- rather than hardwired, fixed, and immutable".  In other words, nature wires us for a disposition, but it is our experiences that influences the expression of that disposition.  Do you agree that nature provides some sort of "prewiring" that is then "filled in" by experience?  Or do you adhere to the "blank slate" conception?  If you accept a "prewiring" approach, do you see Haidt's six foundational modules as adequate to an examination of our moral behavior?  Why/why not?  Finally, what, if anything, do you make of Haidt's distinction of two notions of fairness and is it helpful in examining the differences in liberal and conservative moral philosophies?  How/how not?


Well, I can assure you that our approach at the Cafe is to afford everyone a 'fair' venue, i.e. equal opportunity to present his/her opinions.  So stop by Sunday and share with us your views of Haidt's explanatory scheme.  Have a safe Memorial Day weekend. 





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  • Charlene

    gonna try to make this!

    May 24, 2013

  • Craig Y.

    3,4.Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion: All revolutions are betrayal of authorities
    5. Sanctity/degradation: Can be have sanctity without degradation or in Christian terms, resurrection without crucification? Degradation is disorder and chaos, from that arrive realization and sanctity.

    May 24, 2013

  • Craig Y.

    Let's say if humans are subject to change, why not society also? Instead of looking at those moral foundations as good and bad, but look at them natural behaviors/remedies to achieve a balance? I am trying to give a contrarian viewpoint and of course one can argue the other way.
    1. Care/harm: Too much care, without experience the harm of wrong doing could make people overly dependent on the government?
    2. Fairness/cheating: Fairness/cheating. Rules are made by men and sometimes made by the power that be and they are far from ideal. Cheating means to get around the rules. In order to achieve a "greater good", why on necessity to get around the rules. Lawyers make rules and they don't let you know they also go around the rules/cheating by them.

    May 24, 2013

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