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J Cogn Neurosci. 2011 Sep;23(9):2103-16; discussion 2117-22. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2011.21637. Epub 2011 Feb 3.

Can Innate, modular "foundations" explain morality? Challenges for Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory.

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1
Department of Philosophy,University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Drive, La Jolla, CA 92093-0119, USA. csuhler@ucsd.edu

Abstract

Jonathan Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory is an influential scientific account of morality incorporating psychological, developmental, and evolutionary perspectives. The theory proposes that morality is built upon five innate "foundations," each of which is believed to have been selected for during human evolution and, subsequently, tuned-up by learning during development. We argue here that although some general elements of Haidt's theory are plausible, many other important aspects of his account are seriously flawed. First, innateness and modularity figure centrally in Haidt's account, but terminological and conceptual problems foster confusion and ambiguities. Second, both the theory's proposed number of moral foundations and its taxonomy of the moral domain appear contrived, ignoring equally good candidate foundations and the possibility of substantial intergroup differences in the foundations' contents. Third, the mechanisms (viz., modules) and categorical distinctions (viz., between foundations) proposed by the theory are not consilient with discoveries in contemporary neuroscience concerning the organization, functioning, and development of the brain. In light of these difficulties, we suggest that Haidt's theory is inadequate as a scientific account of morality. Nevertheless, the theory's weaknesses are instructive, and hence, criticism may be useful to psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers attempting to advance theories of morality, as well as to researchers wishing to invoke concepts such as innateness and modularity more generally.

PMID:
21291315
DOI:
10.1162/jocn.2011.21637
[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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