Moral Foundations Theory is ambitious -- we're trying to develop a comprehensive theory of morality describing its evolutionary roots, its development in childhood, its variations across cultures, and its operations in adult moral judgment. Our strategy from the beginning has been to think big, put the theory our there, and welcome critiques. If we're right that everyone suffers from confirmation bias then we are not in a good position to find flaws in MFT ourselves. We rely on the scientific community and the scientific process to improve the theory -- or to reject it and replace it with a better theory if anyone can create one.

For an overview of MFT, see our major academic review paper, Graham et al. 2013.  (ungated copy here). As we explain in that paper, MFT consists of four claims:

  1. Nativism: There is a “first draft” of the moral mind
  2. Cultural learning: The first draft gets edited during development within a particular culture
  3. Intuitionism: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second
  4. Pluralism: There were many recurrent social challenges in our evolutionary history, so there are many moral foundations

Most of the critiques listed below argue against one of these four claims. Most often the rejected claim is pluralism – or else the argument is for a different kind of pluralism.

On this page we list all the main critiques that we know of. In some cases we have written a response already, either as a published article, or as a blog post, which we link to. In most cases we find some merit in the critique, which we try to acknowledge, as well as some errors, which we respond to. The list is not yet complete; we will be writing more responses throughout 2016.

For the large and growing body of publications employing or supporting MFT, please see our publications page.

Our most prolific critic has been Kurt Gray. To see our most detailed response to him, click here. To download Jon Haidt's powerpoint slides from the 2016 SPSP debate with Gray, click here. To see a list of empirical studies showing the ways that sanctity behaves differently than harm, click here


============ 2016 ===============

Janoff-Bulman, R., & Carnes, N.C. (2016) Social Justice and Social Order: Binding Moralities across the Political Spectrum. PLoS ONE

 

Smith, K. B., Alford, J. R., Hibbing, J. R., Martin, N. G., & Hatemi, P. K. (2016). Intuitive Ethics and Political Orientations: Testing Moral Foundations as a Theory of Political Ideology. American Journal of Political Science.

============ 2015 ===============

    Gray, K. & Keeney, J. E. (2015). Impure, or just weird? Scenario sampling bias raises questions about the foundation of morality. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 6, 859-868 

    • Link to article
    • Link to commentary by Jesse Graham, published as Graham, J. (in press) Explaining Away Differences in Moral Judgment: Comment on Gray & Keeney (2015). Social Psychological and Personality Science. (link to full text of this response here)
    • Link to Kurt Gray's author response, published as Gray, K. (in press). Disconfirming Moral Foundations Theory on Its Own Terms. Reply to Graham (2015). Social Psychological and Personality Science

     

    Schein, C. & Gray, K. (2015). The unifying moral dyad: Liberals and conservatives share the same harm-based moral template. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 41, 1147-1163

     

    Davis, D. E., Rice, K, Van Tongeren, D. R., Hook, J N., DeBlaere, C, Worthington, E L.; Choe, E. (2015) Moral Foundations Hypothesis Does Not Replicate Well in Black Samples. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 

    • Link to article
    • Link to our response on the YourMorals blog (forthcoming in May).

     

    ============ 2014 ===============

    Gray, K., Schein, C., & Ward. A. F. (2014). The myth of harmless wrongs in moral cognition: Automatic dyadic completion from sin to suffering. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 143, 1600-1615.

     

    Kugler, M., Jost, J. T., & Noorbaloochi, S. (2014). Another Look at Moral Foundations Theory: Do Authoritarianism and Social Dominance Orientation Explain Liberal-Conservative Differences in “Moral” Intuitions?. Social Justice Research27(4), 413-431.

     

    ============ 2012 ===============

    Gray, K., Young, L., Waytz, A. (2012). Mind perception is the essence of morality. Psychological Inquiry, 23, 101-124. 

    • Link to article
    • Link to our response (ungated copy here) published as: Koleva, S., & Haidt, J. (2012). Let's Use Einstein's Safety Razor, Not Occam's Swiss Army Knife or Occam's Chainsaw. Psychological Inquiry, 23(2), 175-178. doi: 10.1080/1047840X.2012.667678

     

    ============ 2011 ===============

    Suhler, C. L., & Churchland, P. (2011). Can innate, modular “foundations” explain morality? Challenges for Haidt's moral foundations theory. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 2103–2116.

    • Link to article
    • Link to our response, published as: Haidt, J., & Joseph, C. (2011). How moral foundations theory succeeded in building on sand: A response to Suhler and Churchland. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 23, 2117-2122.