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Question Session 01

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Disgust: Nikki’s Question

‘Disgust is thought to have originated in distaste, a food-rejection impulse or motivation triggered by the ingestion of unpleasant-tasting substances, prototypically those that are bitter (Chapman, Kim, Susskind, & Anderson, 2009; Rozin & Fallon, 1987). Because many bitter substances are toxic (Garcia, Hankins, Denton, & Coghlan, 1975), the role of distaste in food rejection has a clear and concrete adaptive function. Distaste appears to have very ancient origins: Even sea anemones, which first evolved some 500 million years ago, will expel bitter foods from their gastric cavity (Garcia et al., 1975)’ (Chapman & Anderson, 2013, p. 300).

Chapman, Kim, Susskind, & Anderson (2009, p. 1222) provide an important clue on how to think about disgust when they refer to ‘the primitive motivational system of disgust’. My proposal would be that we treat disgust as a primary motivational state.

For a basic introduction to primary (‘primitive’) motivational states, see:

Liberty: Bruno’s Question

Bruno asked:

Is there a particular reason, why in your lecture you listed only 5 of the 6 virtues related to Moral Foundations Theory? Missing Liberty/Opression

I checked this: there is. Liberty comes later than the others (Iyer, Koleva, Graham, Ditto, & Haidt, 2012) and it not measured in the Moral Foundations Questionnaire.

There’s also a bit of a puzzle about the postulation of this foundation. Roughly, Iyer et al. (2012) found a group of people where the foundations do not appear to work (and we’ll see later that others have found further groups; in particular, Davis et al. (2016)). On the face of it, this looks like an objection to the theory. Why is postulating an additional foundation a good response to that objection?

Haidt et al’s own answer to this question does not appear convincing:

‘MFT’s five moral foundations appeared to be inadequate in capturing libertarians’ moral concerns, but the approach that gave birth to these foundations served us well in examining this new group, and stimulated us to consider Liberty/oppression as a candidate for addition to our list of foundations’ (Graham et al., 2013, p. 87).

I do think there might be more compelling answers to the question of why postulating an additional foundation is a good response to the objection. But I would not start from the view that the foundations should include Liberty — the case for that is quite different from the case for the other foundations.


Moral Foundations Theory : The theory that moral pluralism is true; moral foundations are innate but also subject to cultural learning, and the Social Intuitionist Model of Moral Judgement is correct (Graham et al., 2019). Proponents often claim, further, that cultural variation in how these innate foundations are woven into ethical abilities can be measured using the Moral Foundations Questionnare (Graham, Haidt, & Nosek, 2009; Graham et al., 2011). Some empirical objections have been offered (Davis et al., 2016; Davis, Dooley, Hook, Choe, & McElroy, 2017; Doğruyol, Alper, & Yilmaz, 2019). See Moral Foundations Theory: An Approach to Cultural Variation.
Social Intuitionist Model of Moral Judgement : A model on which intuitive processes are directly responsible for moral judgements (Haidt & Bjorklund, 2008). One’s own reasoning does not typically affect one’s own moral judgements, but (outside philosophy, perhaps) is typically used only to provide post-hoc justification after moral judgements are made. Reasoning does affect others’ moral intuitions, and so provides a mechanism for cultural learning.


Chapman, H. A., & Anderson, A. K. (2013). Things rank and gross in nature: A review and synthesis of moral disgust. Psychological Bulletin, 139(2), 300–327.
Chapman, H. A., Kim, D. A., Susskind, J. M., & Anderson, A. K. (2009). In Bad Taste: Evidence for the Oral Origins of Moral Disgust. Science, 323(5918), 1222–1226.
Davis, D., Dooley, M., Hook, J., Choe, E., & McElroy, S. (2017). The Purity/Sanctity Subscale of the Moral Foundations Questionnaire Does Not Work Similarly for Religious Versus Non-Religious Individuals. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 9(1), 124–130.
Davis, D., Rice, K., Tongeren, D. V., Hook, J., DeBlaere, C., Worthington, E., & Choe, E. (2016). The Moral Foundations Hypothesis Does Not Replicate Well in Black Samples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 110(4).
Doğruyol, B., Alper, S., & Yilmaz, O. (2019). The five-factor model of the moral foundations theory is stable across WEIRD and non-WEIRD cultures. Personality and Individual Differences, 151, 109547.
Graham, J., Haidt, J., Koleva, S., Motyl, M., Iyer, R., Wojcik, S. P., & Ditto, P. H. (2013). Moral Foundations Theory: The Pragmatic Validity of Moral Pluralism. In P. Devine & A. Plant (Eds.), Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 47, pp. 55–130). Academic Press.
Graham, J., Haidt, J., Motyl, M., Meindl, P., Iskiwitch, C., & Mooijman, M. (2019). Moral Foundations Theory: On the advantages of moral pluralism over moral monism. In K. Gray & J. Graham (Eds.), Atlas of Moral Psychology. New York: Guilford Publications.
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., & Bjorklund, F. (2008). Social intuitionists answer six questions about moral psychology. In W. Sinnott-Armstrong (Ed.), Moral psychology, Vol 2: The cognitive science of morality: Intuition and diversity (pp. 181–217). Cambridge, Mass: MIT press.
Iyer, R., Koleva, S., Graham, J., Ditto, P., & Haidt, J. (2012). Understanding Libertarian Morality: The Psychological Dispositions of Self-Identified Libertarians. PLOS ONE, 7(8), e42366.
Miller, L., Murphy, R., & Buss, A. (1981). Consciousness of body: Private and public. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 41(2), 397–406.
Schnall, S., Haidt, J., Clore, G. L., & Jordan, A. H. (2008). Disgust as Embodied Moral Judgment. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 34(8), 1096–1109.
Sinnott-Armstrong, W., Young, L., & Cushman, F. (2010). Moral intuitions. In J. M. Doris, M. P. R. Group, & others (Eds.), The moral psychology handbook (pp. 246–272). Oxford: OUP.