Forsyth, Iyer, & Haidt 2012 - Society for Personality and Social

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Idealism, Relativism, and Ethics: The Moral Foundations of Individual
Differences in Political Orientation
Methods
Abstract
Both Moral Foundations Theory (MFT, Haidt & Joseph, 2008) and Ethics Position
Theory (EPT, Forsyth, 1980) describe individual differences variations in individuals’
intuitive, personal moral philosophies.
 MFT posits five foundations of intuitive ethics: harm, fairness, ingroup, authority,
and purity
 EPT identifies two moral dimensions: idealism (concern for consequences ) and
relativism (concern for principles)
We examined the congruence of these two theories by sampling the political views,
justice beliefs, communal orientations, and moral foundations/ethics positions of
9128 individuals in 130 countries. The results indicated
(a) differences in ethics position were significantly associated with variations in
concern for harm, fairness, loyalty, authority/respect, and purity and
(b)these foundational dimensions predicted respondents’ positions on a variety of
political and social issues.
Moral Foundations Theory
Integrating evidence drawn from anthropological
analyses of morality, comparative studies of the
bases of cooperation in primate populations, and
Haidt’s (2001) social intuitionist theory’s emphasis
on the emotional foundations of morality, Haidt and
Joseph (2008) identified a common set of virtues, or
foundations, that undergird systems of morality in a
cultures around the world:
 Harm/care: concern for the suffering of others; recognizes
that questions of ethics are most likely to arise when
actions cause others to suffer
 Fairness/reciprocity: justice, rights, and autonomy
 Ingroup/loyalty: group-level factors that influence morality,
including social obligations to one’s group, such as loyalty,
community, and self-sacrifice
 Authority/respect: morality, as a social system, is in some
cases influenced by status and hierarchy, and includes
respect, obedience, and tradition
 Purity/sanctity: cleanliness, honor, and chastity.
Graham, Nosek, Haidt, Iyer, Koleva, and Ditto’s
(2011) analysis of the Moral Foundations
Questionnaire suggested the possibility of two
superordinate dimensions (individualizing and
binding).
Ethics Position Theory
Ethics Position Theory, or EPT, emphasizes two
fundamental dimensions of variation: idealism and
relativism (Forsyth, 1980, Forsyth, O’Boyle, &
McDaniel, 2008).
 Idealism: individuals’ concern for the welfare of
others (e.g., “People should make certain that
their actions never intentionally harm another
even to a small degree.”)
 Relativism: emphasis on moral principles (e.g.,
What is ethical varies from one situation and
society to another.”)
Jonathan Haidt,
University of Virginia
Ravi Iyer
University of Southern California
CFA of MFQ and EPQ
Political Orientation and Ethics Position
Har
m
I
Idealism
Fair
We quantified the degree of overlap
between the five aspects of ethics
identified in MFT and the two
dimensions of ethics identified in EPT
by sampling the political views, justice
beliefs, communal orientations, and
moral foundations/ethics positions of
9128 individuals in 130 countries.
Participants were 9128 individuals
(37% women; mean age 36.2 years)
who had previously registered at
website YourMorals.org and selected
to take both the MFQ and EPQ.
Ingro
up
R
Relativism
Auth
*
Ethical Type and Politics
Harm
Fairness
Ingroup
Authority
Purity
3.50
57.2% of the
participants were
classified similarly
by the two
different
theoretical
systems, and this
percentage of
agreement rose to
84.1% when
differences in
relativism/binding
were resolved.
3.00
2.50
2.00
1.50
1.00
0.50
0.00
Exceptionists
Subjectivists
Consistent with Graham, Haidt, &
Nosek (2009), exceptionists (EPQ: low
relativism/idealism, MFQ: low
individualizing/high binding) expressed
the most politically conservative
attitudes, and the two more relativistic
types (high individualizing, subjectivists
and situationists) endorsed more
liberal positions. The absolutists, who
have high scores on both
individualizing and binding dimensions
of the MFQ, fell intermediate.
Purit
y
Scores of Situationists, Absolutists, Exceptionists, and Subjectivists on the Five
Scales of the Moral Foundations Questionnaire
4.00
Politics and Ethics
*Authority
4.50
These two dimensions, when taken together to
define an individual’s ethical theory, define four
ethics positions: absolutism, subjectivism,
situationism, and exceptionism. Forsyth (1980)
developed the Ethics Position Questionnaire to
assess these two dimensions and 4 moral types.
Analysis of individuals’ political orientation supported both theories. ANCOVA,
with sex as a covariate, using ethics positions (as calculated by either MFQ scores
or EPQ scores) yielded significant main effects and interaction of the two
subscales, when a 5-point measure of political beliefs served as the dependent
variable. The means below are based on the MFQ scores, but similar means
resulted when individuals were classified using the EPQ.
Liberal ----- Conservative
Donelson R. Forsyth
University of Richmond
Absolutists
Situationists
Very Liberal
Sub Exc
141
10
Sits Abs
680 107
Liberal
229
86
494
357
Slightly Liberal
96
114
71
169
Moderate
69
154
27
155
Slightly
Conservative
Conservative
11
191
2
65
3
311
2
68
Very Conservative
1
142
0
15
A more fine-grained analysis is provided by
cross classifying individuals in a 4
(ideology) x 7 (political orientation) table;
χ2 (18) = 2400.36, p < .001. These results
suggest that subjectivists and
situationists—who are both relativistic (or,
alternatively, low in ingroup, authority, and
purity)—are rarely conservatives. In
contrast, the liberal exceptionist is very
rare (1 in a 100). Of all the conservatives
in the sample, 79.4% were exceptionists.
Absolutists, in contrast, were more varied
in their political beliefs. These individuals
are idealists but also nonrelativists (or high
binders), and tend to be more strict in
their moral judgments.
References
Forsyth, D. R. (1980). A taxonomy of ethical ideologies. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39(1), 175-184.
Forsyth, D. R., O'Boyle Jr., E. H., & McDaniel, M. A. (2008). East meets west: A meta-analytic investigation of cultural variations in
idealism and relativism. Journal of Business Ethics, 83(4), 813-833.
Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. A. (2009). Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Journal of
Personality and Social Psychology, 96(5), 1029-1046.
Graham, J., Nosek, B. A., Haidt, J., Iyer, R., Koleva, S., & Ditto, P. H. (2011). Mapping the moral domain. Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology, 101(2), 366-385.
Haidt, J . (2001). The emotional dog and its rational tail: A social intuitionist approach to moral judgment. Psychological Review.
108, 814-834.
Haidt, J., & Joseph, C. (2008). The moral mind: How five sets of innate intuitions guide the development of many culture-specific
virtues, and perhaps even modules. The innate mind volume 3: Foundations and the future (pp. 367-391) New York: Oxford
University Press.

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