Conservatives Show 'Insensitivity' to Consequences on Moral Issues Says Study

Cosmo DiNardo (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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.”


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