Haidt has not made an assumption about moral foundations. His hypothesis is confirmed by data about how people actually make moral judgments. For example, see his paper: Moral Foundations Theory: The Pragmatic Validity of Moral Pluralism in the journal Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. You can get a free copy at http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2184440.
Could you clarify your point about men and women’s different mating strategies? I have seen a lot of opinions on that topic that are closer to speculations than science.
If you are interested in the science of morality, Haidt has some useful links in the interview.
I’d also recommend the book Evolution, Games, and God by Martin Nowak (editor). A more accurate title would Evolution, Games, Morality, and the Evolution of Religion, but that would be less catchy. This book examines morality from a totally different perspective than Haidt, but is fully consistent with Haidt’s conclusions - which strengthen both approaches.
Thanks for the reference Mark. I am really a novice when it comes to moral philosophy. I tried to read Ruse’s Evolutionary Naturalism but had to put the book down about half way through because I did not think it was very well written. I will take a look at your reference. I am anxious to find out how he documents a moral hypothesis.
“Could you clarify your point about men and women’s different mating strategies? I have seen a lot of opinions on that topic that are closer to speculations than science.”
I am sorry to hear that you have heard that mating strategies are speculative science. The entire field of EP has had problems since Dawkins and Wilson were responsible for making it a well known area of study in the 1970s. Unfortunately many of its tenants do not meet the approval of the woman’s movement and they have been undermined. Another problem was Gould when he was alive and Lewonten who decided in the 1970s that the field was unacceptable to them and publically attacked Wilson. You may know that Gould before he died became somewhat of a laughing stock among research scientists and some philosophers because of his ridiculous stance. Steven Pinker, Dawkins, Dan Dennent, Robert Wright etc. almost certainly played big rolls in destroying Gould’s reputation among the scientific community. I think I can safely say that mating strategies along with the rest of EP are alive and well. One of the reasons I am so against the PC in the universities is because of the scurrilous attacks on science and in particular EP. But we can leave that debate for another time.
Mating strategy is a very simple idea but underlies many of the fundamental ways humans behave (see Pinker’s The Blank Slate). The principle revolves around the notion that it requires 9 months for a woman to have a baby. In hunter gatherer society (which is where these traits were selected and even though we live in a much more sophisticated culture the traits are still there), women had to be very selective when having sex. The reason women are more coy about sex than males is because they bear the burden of being pregnant for 9 months where as the male can bolt. These basic traits drive a host of interactions between men and women and make us essentially different in our goals. But the biology is fascinating. The sophistication of the field is amazing. They have discovered that sperm compete in the microscopic world with foreign sperm. There are sperm that live only to kill foreign sperm. And the vagina is constructed to be a competitive ground for the competition (in case there are several males competing). Men tend to cheat more than women because they can get their genes passed on many times with this strategy where as women are limited to a nine month period. Women are focused on resources. They will marry the best provider but sometimes have sex with the healthiest males (best looking). They get the best of all worlds in these cases because they have resource for the children and the best genes. I don’t want to generalize too much but imo any discussion of morals must consider EP as I hope you see why. Jealousy and many other emotions can be linked directly to our long history of selection in hunter gatherer society. And at the end of the day, it is all about female selection. Males attempt to impress and women select the male that they think will provide the most benefit (an interesting example would be the guy driving a hot new car). In animals where the male takes care of the offspring (see the seahorse) it is the opposite behavior—the males select.
I highly recommend Dave Buss’s textbook on EP to update you on the details especially if you are interested in morals. It may appear to be anti female but I have lectured several feminist classes on the topic and they seem quite open to it once they find out the fundamentals. My point is that although we have genetic traits that make us want to behave sexually in various ways (to get our genes passed on), it may not make us happy to allow these drives to push us. The perfect case is a male tempted to cheat after marriage. It may be a good strategy to get genes passed on but it may be terrible for future happiness. Sorry if this seems like a lecture – I am just very interested in the subject.
Glad you liked the references. I am familiar with Dave Buss’s Evolutionary Psychology text, though I have not looked at it in several years. My interests have gone much more in the direction of Evolution, Games, and God and, indeed, beyond that to the cross-species universal aspects of morality which I do not see much discussed in the literature.
I also did not get much out of Ruse. Evolution, Games, and God is more useful by an order of magnitude. (I wrote a 4 out of 5 star review on Amazon on the book that might be of interest. Last time I looked there were only 3 reviews so you should not have much trouble finding it.)
Ruse seems to take a perverse delight in saying “Morality is an illusion!” which, while technically correct in the sense he means it (that some magic obligation to act morally is an illusion), is highly misleading. Morality’s function as a product of evolutionary processes is as objectively real as gravity.
I agree that “we have genetic traits that make us want to behave sexually in various ways (to get our genes passed on), it may not make us happy to allow these drives to push us.”
I had two concerns with your comments about mating strategies. First, that there seemed to be a “it is natural therefore it is moral” flavor to them, which I now understand you are not putting forward as sensible (I was misunderstanding you). But second, the mating strategies literature seems to overly suffer from the “just so story” problem in that a hypothesis explains just one fact. That is, such hypothesis typically offer very little explanatory power and no predictive power and are therefore more speculation than science. Whereas, a robust hypothesis in science may explain millions of facts.
Definitively NOT being a “just so story” is one of the hopes I have for understanding morality as the product of evolutionary processes. An hypothesis about the evolutionary origins of morality can potentially explain millions of facts in the form of past and present enforced norms in cultural moral codes and perhaps dozens of facts about the biology underlying our moral emotions and Haidt’s moral foundations.
If you are interested, I wrote a blog post “Morality is evolutionary psychology’s killer application” on the subject.
Regarding the history of Evolutionary Psychology, Steven Pinker recently gave what I thought was an informative perspective at http://www.thisviewoflife.com/index.php/magazine/articles/steven-pinkers-advice-to-the-next-generation-of-evolutionary-psychologists
It is on David Sloan Wilson’s on line digital magazine Evolution: This View of Life. If you can find the Morality section, you will see that I am the associate editor there. Any suggestions for appropriate articles - either just linked to or original content - would be appreciated.