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Conclusion: Moral Psychology Works

Because moral reframing works, we know that cultural differences in moral psychology are likely to matter for overcoming political conflict. Because the leading theoretical explanation of why moral reframing works faces some interesting objections, we do not yet understand why differences in moral psychology matter.

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Do cultural differences in moral psychology explain political conflict on climate change?

We have explored Feinberg and Willer’s argument that cultural differences in moral psychology explain political conflict on climate change. (See The Argument and Some Objections for a summary linking each the claim to the section which covered it.)

This argument, if it works, would support a positive answer to our question. Not only do cultural differences in moral psychology explain political conflict on climate change: such conflict can be overcome by moral reframing.1

Not all of the claims are well supported. In particular, the third claim—‘liberals and conservatives possess different moral profiles’—is not supported by evidence from Moral Foundations Theory (see Operationalising Moral Foundations Theory); and the theoretical justification for predictions about moral reframing appears flawed (see The Argument and Some Objections).

This leaves us with a puzzle. Why does moral reframing seem to work? (See The Puzzle of Moral Foundations Theory.)


moral conviction : ‘Moral conviction refers to a strong and absolute belief that something is right or wrong, moral or immoral’ (Skitka et al., 2005, p. 896).
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.
moral reframing : ’A technique in which a position an individual would not normally support is framed in a way that it is consistent with that individual's moral values. [...] In the political arena, moral reframing involves arguing in favor of a political position that members of a political group would not normally support in terms of moral concerns that the members strongly ascribe to‘ (Feinberg & Willer, 2019, pp. 2--3).
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.


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.
Feinberg, M., & Willer, R. (2013). The Moral Roots of Environmental Attitudes. Psychological Science, 24(1), 56–62.
Feinberg, M., & Willer, R. (2019). Moral reframing: A technique for effective and persuasive communication across political divides. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 13(12), e12501.
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.
Pogge, T. W. M. (2005). World Poverty and Human Rights. Ethics & International Affairs, 19(1), 1–7.
Skitka, L. J., Bauman, C., & Sargis, E. (2005). Moral Conviction: Another Contributor to Attitude Strength or Something More? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 88(6), 895–917.
  1. This is one reason why Pogge (2005) on responsibility for global poverty is so interesting. He is attempting to argue in a way that includes only premises even libertarians would accept. Their moral psychology may differ from both liberals’ and conservatives’ (Iyer, Koleva, Graham, Ditto, & Haidt, 2012). Pogge is not doing this himself (as far as I know), but perhaps his arguments lend themselves to moral reframing