Philosophy

February 4, 2014

Moral Gyroscope–Using Haidt’s 6 Moral Foundation Model

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Written by: Duane Covrig
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In 2014, a doctoral student of ours did a wonderful dissertation describing the dynamics of innovation and how leadership works with tensions to create better outcomes, new products, and new ways of doing things. Dr. Eddy Witzel’s work can be viewed here. He helped me see the role of leadership in using  tensions to find better outcomes. I see how this can work with the use of moral tensions to create moral innovation.

Immediately I thought of Haidt’s six moral values. I cite Haidt’s work elsewhere in my blogs and find his critique of the “liberal West” moral superiority complex to be right on. He argues that liberals emphasis the care and liberty  and one form of justice like equality, while conservativse and the cultures of the East add equal emphasis to justice as merit, loyalty, sanctity of life, and authority.

Prior to Eddy’s focus on dynamic tensions that can be leveraged to make change, I saw Haidt’s descriptions of the key moral values in world systems as types of colors. You can blend them together and get new colors. I failed to see a tension that can create a deeper understanding of each value.

Seeing values in tension helps us see the dynamo of moral innovation that is required to work in our minds to develop wisdom, prudence, sound judgement (see Proverbs 8 and 9).

The picture with this post, created by my GA Ben Nichols, helps to capture the moral field in which moral judgment operates. See these moral tensions can help us see a ways of articulating new moral innovation that can result with better moral analysis and judgment.

Polarities and tensions help us see the values in our lives in more vivid portrayal. They bring to surface what we want and believe. Tension come as we try to see both values vividly and simultaneously and needing fulfillment and with deep angst we look for a solution. As we hold those values close as we feel the moral weight each pulls and in that vortex of dilemma or challenge, we must find a way through and in that process new moral thinking can emerge.

When we have tensions we have an invitation to judgment. We cycle between two views or values or even more as the gyroscope spins, and in that movement (a wheel within a wheel) we find a better way to articulate the truth. As we wrestle, we grow and moral innovation and better judgments can be the fruit of this tension.

For example, as an individual and as a community, we learn to manage these tensions and this creates social mores, or leads to new social policy and even laws. Some of that innovation brings better living and some worse. The figure (adapted from http://avstop.com/ac/3-6.html) shows the three axis of a gyroscope and I where I would place Haidt’s values in working tension with each other.

Sets in Tension:

1. The classic Justice v Care. The one bringing nurturing and deliverance and support and the other bring rewards based on merit, punishment, retribution and even vengeance.  This is the main tension of moral choice and sets the outside frame.

2. Liberty and Loyalty is the me and we tension. I am free to do my own thing but in responsiveness to my family, neighborhood and groups needs. When do I go too far one dimensions without concern for my family. When does family distort my true freedom as a person and when siding with their interests I destroy the innovation God has developed in me that would give them better life.

3. Sanctity v Authority. There are authorities in the world–parents, institutions, laws–that are meant to guide my life. However, I have in myself a dignity, an unalienable and self-evident right to personal judgment, regardless of what authorities say.

(Yes. I thought about Liberty and Authority as being a polarity, but if we interpret purity/sanctity as the inalienable right of a person to his or her dignity then what works most in tension with that is the authority of laws or groups to either support or limit that. But I could be persuaded differently. It could be our three plane moral gyroscope is really has many more dimensions that our “flat moral world” thinking can’t manage.

I find this to be a dynamic model for understanding moral judgment.What do you think?

As I think about this Moral Gyroscope I am reminded of the vision of Ezekiel…”As I watched the four creatures, I saw something that looked like a wheel on the ground beside each of the four-faced creatures. This is what the wheels looked like: They were identical wheels, sparkling like diamonds in the sun. It looked like they were wheels within wheels, like a gyroscope.

They went in any one of the four directions they faced, but straight, not veering off. The rims were immense, circled with eyes. When the living creatures went, the wheels went; when the living creatures lifted off, the wheels lifted off. Wherever the spirit went, they went, the wheels sticking right with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When the creatures went, the wheels went; when the creatures stopped, the wheels stopped; when the creatures lifted off, the wheels lifted off, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.” The Message Bible Ezekiel 1

Prayer: God of innovation, thanks for lifelong commitment to me to help me try to understand of morality. It has been more difficult for me than for most out there, so I thank you for Haidt and others, like Eddy Witzel, who have taught me how to see innovation as part of our moral growth. We don’t just inherit morality, we can actual grow the morality and ethics given us and come up with even better ways of stewarding this give of wisdom and ethics you have given us who are made in Your Image.  The angels are right, surely all praise and honor and authority do belong to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recently a doctoral student was describing the dynamics of innovation and how leadership works with tensions to create better outcomes, new products, and new ways of doing things. His profound study really helped me see the role of leadership in moral innovation.

Immediately I thought of Haidt’s six moral values and how they could be placed in tension with each other where as before I saw them as a slab of values instead or different rooms of a moral house. Seeing them in tension helps us see the dynamo of moral tension that divides people. It also can help us see a way of articulating what innovation can result from these tensions.

Polarities and tensions help us see the values in our lives in contrast to other values and tension comes when we can see both values and hold those close as we try to create a new way of thinking about things.

When we have tensions we have an invitation to judgment. We cycle between two views or two values to find a better way to articulate the truth. Out of this comes moral innovation and better judgments.

We–individually and as a community–learn to manage these tensions and that creates movement. Some of that innovation brings better living and some worse.

The figure (adapted from http://avstop.com/ac/3-6.html) shows the three axis of a gyroscope and I envision Haidt’s model working this way.

Sets in Tension:

1. The classic Justice v Care. The one bringing nurturing and deliverance and support and the other bring rewards based on merit, punishment, retribution and even vengeance.  This is the main tension of moral choice and sets the outside frame.

2. Liberty and Loyalty is the me and we tension. I am free to do my own thing but in responsiveness to my family, neighborhood and groups needs. When do I go too far one dimensions without concern for my family. When does family distort my true freedom as a person and when siding with their interests I destroy the innovation God has developed in me that would give them better life.

3. Sanctity v Authority. There are authorities in the world–parents, institutions, laws–that are meant to guide my life. However, I have in myself a dignity, an unalienable and self-evident right to personal judgment, regardless of what authorities say.

(Yes. I thought about Liberty and Authority as being a polarity, but if we interpret purity/sanctity as the inalienable right of a person to his or her dignity then what works most in tension with that is the authority of laws or groups to either support or limit that. But I could be persuaded differently.)

I find this to be a dynamic model for understanding moral judgment.

What do you think?

As I think about this Moral Gyroscope I am reminded of the vision of Ezekiel…

“As I watched the four creatures, I saw something that looked like a wheel on the ground beside each of the four-faced creatures. This is what the wheels looked like: They were identical wheels, sparkling like diamonds in the sun. It looked like they were wheels within wheels, like a gyroscope.

They went in any one of the four directions they faced, but straight, not veering off. The rims were immense, circled with eyes. When the living creatures went, the wheels went; when the living creatures lifted off, the wheels lifted off. Wherever the spirit went, they went, the wheels sticking right with them, for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. When the creatures went, the wheels went; when the creatures stopped, the wheels stopped; when the creatures lifted off, the wheels lifted off, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.” The Message Bible Ezekiel 1

Prayer: God of innovation, thank you for showing me a better understanding of morality. Thanks for amazing participants in our leadership program (like Eddy Witzel) who have taught me how to see innovation as the management of polarities and tension. Help me to move freely between your love and justice, the call for  loyalty to others as well as the great liberty I have in you to be free. May I always realize your deep respect for my personal dignity even as I submit to the authority that keeps life together on this planet.



About the Author

Duane Covrig
I teach leadership and ethics at Andrews University. I am a Seventh-day Adventist eager for the Second Coming of Christ and positive about His judgment hour work (Rev 14:6-12). I use that reality to understand morality and ethics.




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  1. […] set of values that I have also been using lately to understand moral leadership are Jonathan Haidt’s six moral framing values–Care, Justice, Liberty, Loyalty, Authority, Sa….  While I don’t buy into his evolutionary arguments for how these developed, nor into his […]



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