Get PJ Media on your Apple

The PJ Tatler

by
Rick Moran

Bio

June 23, 2013 - 12:06 pm

What I find fascinating about this study is not so much that it is supposed to show conservatives as insensitive, but that it correctly and completely defines the difference between the two ideologies when it comes to moral issues.

Are there universal moral truths or aren’t there? This study shows conclusively that conservatives think there are and liberals think there aren’t.

When it comes to topics like abortion or assisted suicide, there seems to be no common ground between conservatives and liberals. Why is there such a noticeable rift between the two political orientations?

Research published June in Social Psychological and Personality Science suggests that religious individuals and political conservatives think about moral issues in a fundamentally different way than liberals.

The study by Jared Piazza of the University of Pennsylvania and Paulo Sousa of Queen’s University Belfast, which included a total of 688 participants, found religious individuals and political conservatives consistently invoked deontological ethics. In other words, they judged the morality of actions based on a universal rule such as, “You should not kill.” Political liberals, on the other hand, consistently invoked consequentialist ethics, meaning they judged the morality of actions based on their positive or negative outcomes.

Morality based on “outcomes”? Isn’t that a classic definition of moral relativism? Obviously, Raw Story believes that this is some kind of triumph for the left, that it’s good to judge moral actions based on how things turn out. Abortion may be an evil but if it results in a woman living a better life, then it is a positive good.

“Does being religious or being conservative promote a rule-based ethic or does having a rule-based ethic promote religiosity and/or conservatism?” Piazza told PsyPost. “This question is difficult to answer definitively without running a longitudinal study, since you cannot really manipulate religious orientation, or being in possession of a deontological orientation, and then look at the consequences.”

The study’s cross-sectional methodology makes it impossible to say anything more than religion and conservativism are associated with deontological ethics. However, Piazza said prior research suggested that being religious underlies the adherence to deontological ethics

“I think it is more likely that being religious — and being religious in a particular way — is what promotes deontological commitments, and not the other way around,” he told PsyPost. “In a recent unpublished study I conducted with my colleague Justin Landy at Penn, we found that it is a particular sub-class of religious individuals that are strongly opposed to consequentialist thinking. Specifically, it was religious individuals who believe that morality is founded upon divine authority or divine commands, and that moral truths are not obtained via human intuition or reason, who were strong deontologists (i.e., they refused to find various rule violations as permissible even when the consequences were better as a result).”

Do conservatives believe that moral truths are only obtained through divine authority? Certainly, many Christians do. But the point is, being a conservative means accepting the existence of certain universal human values and moral truths no matter where they arise, be it from God or “natural law” as Thomas Aquinas believed when it came to man governing his actions. Liberals appear to disdain the very idea of moral truth and substitute a relativistic worldview where consequences of one’s actions aren’t “moral” in any classical Christian or enlightenment sense, but rather, their morality is based on a “positive outcome” — even if the action taken to obtain that outcome violates a universally recognized moral precept.

It’s a nice out as far as living a life where the only rule is “do what feels good.”

Rick Moran is PJ Media's Chicago editor and Blog editor at The American Thinker. He is also host of the"RINO Hour of Power" on Blog Talk Radio. His own blog is Right Wing Nut House.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
"Political liberals, on the other hand, consistently invoked consequentialist ethics, meaning they judged the morality of actions based on their positive or negative outcomes."

I have to say that I don't believe this, either.

As a former liberal, I'll tell you right now that a liberal doesn't even CONSIDER consequences. Rather, a liberal bases morality on INTENTIONS. If you meant well, you're good. If liberals truly subscribed to consequentialist ethics, then they'd be capitalists. But they're not, since they think capitalism is selfish. No, this doesn't truly show the real difference between conservatives and liberals, because the real truth is that conservatives have a complex set of ethics that acknowledges both absolutes in good and evil actions and gray scales in the people that commit them. Liberals, on the other hand, only recognize that nice = good and mean = bad even if the "mean" guy was "mean" because of blunt honesty (such as pointing out that your art major is useless).
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (23)
All Comments   (23)
Sort: Newest Oldest Top Rated
Lefties are careless and righties are more careful. That is the big difference. It is also the big difference between youth and age. Most people get more politically conservative as they grow older, because they slowly learn it is important to be careful. It is especially important to be careful with the truth. After youth, and its chemical effects on the brain, the other big thing which makes people careless is dependence on public money. Just as a drug addict is loyal to a drug dealer, and does not care about the rest of the world, so people who are addicted to government money are loyal to the extravagant political party, and careless about the consequences.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
> ... but rather, their morality is based on a “positive outcome”

It seems to me that this skirts the issue. Liberals and conservatives, as well as moral absolutists and relativists, all have some stake in outcomes. We have to have some standard by which to measure the success or failure of the outcome. It is the standard that stands as either absolute or relative.

Is it okay to tell a lie? That sounds like an easy one; in fact, it is not. Scenario: you know for a fact, having just discovered it yourself, that the family across the street is hiding Jews in the attic from the Gestapo. Later in the week, you are approached by a Nazi official. He asks you, do you know anyone who is harboring Jews?

Obviously, the correct moral answer is, no sir. Congratulations, you just justified telling a moral lie.

So how can a moral absolutist, like myself, believe that telling a lie is a good thing?

As Gen. Curtis Lemay used to say, there's a reason for the rules: the reasons are important; the rules are not. E.g., the rule against telling lies is less important than the reason behind them.

And that reason is: building and maintaining loving relationships -- the essence of moral law. It does no good to talk about morality without talking about relationships. That's the reason moral law exists. The rules themselves, or at least many of them, can change. However, the standard by which we judge the rules is absolute, as are some of the rules: e.g., love the Lord with all your heart; love your neighbor as yourself. Even when the rules do change, there's nothing arbitrary about it. Only in service to the absolute love that ought to accompany all of our acts can the rules themselves be seen as relative. That is our standard: absolute love.

The standard can only be absolute if it is eternal. The existence of the Holy Trinity is the only theology that really supports this -- One God, but in Three Persons, the same yesterday, today and forever. They have had to get along with each other forever; from personal experience, they know everything about maintaining loving relationships.

If God were a monadic God -- one God, one Person -- then, presumably, eons would have passed before He created another soul. During that intervening time, there would have been no relationships, but only a universe of one. Relationships would not be permanent. Moral law would have to wait to be born.

Conservatives believe in an absolute standard because they believe (or tend to, anyway) in the absolute and permanent love of our Creator. Liberals, who tend not to believe very strongly in the Christian narrative, believe in a situational standard. And why not? The liberals' world is a situational world. Evolution put man here one day long ago and some day long from now (or so we hope) a supernova will take him away. This means moral law is not absolute; it arrived some time after man became self-aware and will vanish when he does. And since everything else is situational, so too is morality.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Morality based on “outcomes”? Isn’t that a classic definition of moral relativism? "

No.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consequentialism
http://www.iep.utm.edu/conseque/
http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consequentialism/

Actually you don't really need to read any of the above, all what you need is a bit of mental effort: if you are a relativist, how can you possibly say that one outcome is better or worse than another?
So if you are a relativist you cannot base morality on outcomes; or on anything else, in fact.

As an aside, I believe that American "liberals" are neither serious consequentialists nor serious relativists, but that's another story.
OTOH you cannot be a Hayekian/Burkean conservative without being a consequentialist to a large extent; but that is yet another story.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
It should be noted that "social science" and "sociology" are pseudo-scientific frauds. They migh have qualified as "soft" sciences if they hadn't gone off the rails almost from the start. Keep in mind that these are the same folks who labeled the Tea party as "authoritarian," and have "proven" that ideological orientation is genetically pre-determined, especially if you're right-wing. And yet, they also rail against any other kind of biological determinism because they actually think that human nature can "evolve." They have no more legitimacy than phrenology, astrology, or alchemy.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Just a couple of observations.

Fundamentalist Muslims practice deontological thinking. That's why they're fundamentalists.

The "You shall not kill" example was interesting. Most conservatives wouldn't obey that law. They know that killing is sometimes necessary - that it can produce positive outcomes (at least for the people who aren't getting killed). Many liberals will scream "You shall not kill" at the tops of their lungs - but only at their ideological opponents, and only when it will give them an advantage in an argument or an election. Which is why Bush killing jihadis was wrong but Obama killing jihadis is right.

Liberals are deontological in their ontological thinking. They have as many hard and fast rules as conservatives do. Principles they consider self-evident and beyond dispute. We call them "political correctness." They follow those rules quite rigidly and punish anyone who violates them swiftly and severely.

I've taken any number of "morality" surveys online, most of them for academic research, many of them designed to find out what makes liberals and conservatives different. There's not much to them - they ask questions that will provoke predictable, even stereotypical responses from liberals and conservatives. This makes me suspicious whenever some psychologist or sociologist announces that he's got the whole thing figured out.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
The "You shall not kill" example was interesting
As I'm sure you know, that Commandment was mistranslated by the time it got to the King James version. The original meaning was "Thou shall not commit murder."
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
It was not really mistranslated. "Kill" in the 16th/17th century English was murder. "Slay" was non criminal killing.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
The best explanation I ever read was Arnold Kling's. Paraphrasing his argument in my own words: like you have three primary colors (with all other colors available as blends of those three), you have [putting political poseurs aside] three primary political perspectives --- three "lenses" to look at the world.
* "progressive": oppressor vs. oppressed
* "libertarian": freedom vs. coercion
* "conservative": civilization vs. barbarism
These 3 primary perspectives also have views on human nature:
progressive: belief in the innate goodness ("noble savage") and perfectability of man, "unconstrained vision" [Sowell]
libertarian: belief that people will rationally pursue self-interest if left alone, "constrained vision" only externally (resources, conflicting self-interests)
conservative: tragic view of fallible human nature, "constrained vision" (both externally and internally)

When it comes to "outcomes", it's not so much that a conservative doesn't care, it that (s)he will give a much greater weight to the long-term consequences than to the immediate "outcome". For example, based with a longstanding law or tradition that basically works but occasionally produces sad outcomes, the progressive will favor discarding it out of 'compassion', while the conservative will be much more likely to leave it in place and apply an ad-hoc band aid (e.g., private charity) to the wound rather than risk unintended consequences down the line.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
* "progressive": oppressor vs. oppressed
* "libertarian": freedom vs. coercion
* "conservative": civilization vs. barbarism

Strictly speaking the first 2 dichotomies are equivalent, or else what is the difference between "oppression" and "coercion"?
The difference between the "progressive" and libertarian" views is in the definition of oppression/coercion. To oversimplify, "progressives" view the free market as the oppressor and the State as the savior, while "libertarians" view the State as the oppressor and the free market as freedom.
(I am in the latter camp, though I also have sympathy for the "conservative" view, and also for views that are now largely forgotten even by "conservatives".)
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
That's one of the best explanations I've read.

I've always believed that "progress" is the application of many "band aids" over a long period of time. Band aids are limited in scope and easy for people to understand. The ones that work become traditions, morals, laws. The ones that don't eventually get abandoned as old-fashioned and pointless.

As a conservative, I'm suspicious of huge, sweeping plans to "fundamentally transform" anything. This macro view of everything ignores the pesky details - hidden issues that turn up later to the surprise of the reformers. And if the reformers get it wrong, they pretty much ruin EVERYTHING. The amount of damage band aids can do is limited - by design.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
P.S. - A reasonable conservative doesn't hang onto a tradition whose harm outweighs its benefits. A reasonable liberal doesn't abandon a tradition whose benefit outweighs its harm.

We differ on the meanings of "benefit" and "harm."
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
They seem to ignore that the point of our ethics is to as much as possible avoid having to make those difficult decisions by following the rules of our moral code. Avoid the crime as it were so that you don't have to worry about the possible outcome. It's not always possible, but part of our morality is supposed to help us avoid those choices as much as possible.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Moral issue such as: From each according to his ability, to each according to his need. All for the public good.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Pseudo science of the kind that sociology has been pumping out for decades - mostly due to its domination by marxist addled academics with no ability to conduct real science.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Political liberals, on the other hand, consistently invoked consequentialist ethics, meaning they judged the morality of actions based on their positive or negative outcomes."

I have to say that I don't believe this, either.

As a former liberal, I'll tell you right now that a liberal doesn't even CONSIDER consequences. Rather, a liberal bases morality on INTENTIONS. If you meant well, you're good. If liberals truly subscribed to consequentialist ethics, then they'd be capitalists. But they're not, since they think capitalism is selfish. No, this doesn't truly show the real difference between conservatives and liberals, because the real truth is that conservatives have a complex set of ethics that acknowledges both absolutes in good and evil actions and gray scales in the people that commit them. Liberals, on the other hand, only recognize that nice = good and mean = bad even if the "mean" guy was "mean" because of blunt honesty (such as pointing out that your art major is useless).
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
That sounds about right, based on my experience with American academics (which I assume to be mostly "liberal") and also based on my internet experience of "liberalism".
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Btw, didn't a similar study show pretty much what I just said, that conservatives have deeper and more complex ethics than liberals and that liberals AND conservatives both subscribe to a set of moral absolutes (the liberal ones just happen to be an immature and childish set)?
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
1 2 Next View All