the five pillars of moral philosophy… and i’m missing three of them

Conor Friedesdorf at the Daily Dish posted this article by Rob Dreher on the basis for conservative criticisms of the Cordoba House (aka the “Ground Zero Mosque”). I disagree with Dreher’s presentation of the conservative reasoning against construction, but think that he has a point when he says that one of the most significant problems with the political discourse of today is the failure to recognize that “people on opposite sides of the political spectrum analyze these issues using somewhat different criteria.”

But immediately after making this point, I think Dreher (in citing Haidt) falls prey to the same problem:

“Haidt has found that everyone factors Harm (e.g., “Whom does this hurt?”)  and Fairness into their moral thinking, but only people who generally fall onto the conservative side of the American spectrum also factor in Authority, Loyalty, and Purity.”

In using Haidt’s five moral foundations (explained more fully in this pdf, on page 7) to defend the conservative antipathy towards the Cordoba House, Dreher brushes aside valid reasons for opposing the critics of the Cordoba House (Palin, Newt, etc.) based on those same foundations that he claims liberals (like myself) never employ.  I think arguments can be made against the construction of the Cordoba House on the basis of the harm that it may cause to those who had family and friends die on 9/11.  But more importantly than this, I would say, is the argument that appeals to the “purity” of the American ideal.  In Haidt’s formulation of Purity,

“In many cultures, disgust goes beyond such contaminant-related issues and supports a set of virtues and vices linked to bodily activities in general, and religious activities in particular. Those who seem ruled by carnal passions (lust, gluttony, greed, and anger) are seen as debased, impure, and less than human, while those who live so that the soul is in charge of the body (chaste, spiritually minded, pious) are seen as elevated and virtuous” (p. 8 of the pdf linked above).

I view the opposition to the Cordoba House as the result of Haidt’s “carnal passions” (primarily anger, and among politicians, greed), while I think that allowing it’s construction would be to put “the soul in charge of the body,” by holding to the purity of our ideals even at a time when it is the hardest.

My criticism of the Cordoba House opponents is also based on loyalty, or what Haidt terms “ingroup.”  Despite the various attacks on Rauf and the Cordoba Initiative, I have seen nothing that would make me question the statement that the Cordoba House “will strive to promote inter-community peace, tolerance and understanding locally in New York City, nationally in America, and globally.
” I think that this is a key moment where America has the chance to say “Yes, you may share a religion with some undesirable people, but who doesn’t?  That doesn’t mean you can’t be part of our ingroup, because America welcomes all people.”

Dreher makes a good point about how important it is to recognize that different people make moral judgments based on different factors.  But he fails to realize that people can have different assessments of how the same factors should be applied when making those moral judgments.

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One Response to the five pillars of moral philosophy… and i’m missing three of them

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