Group Dynamics and the Public Sphere


How do we account for the extreme variation in the moral beliefs of people?

It does not take much life experience to recognize that human beings can disagree passionately about moral choices. Contemporary debates about abortion and gay marriage show that people can hold completely opposite viewpoints with equal degrees of moral conviction. One way of understanding this is to assume that different people and different groups vary in the way they rank the five categories. For example, respect for authority is more highly valued in collectivist cultures than in individualist cultures, which might in turn prioritize fairness. This can explain the intense cultural divide between traditional Islamic cultures and Western European cultures over the 2005 controversy regarding a Danish cartoon about the prophet Mohammed. The Islamic side felt it was a moral transgression for the cartoonist to ridicule the Islamic prophet (authority/respect and ingroup/loyalty), while the Europeans felt the cartoonist had a moral right to free expression (fairness/reciprocity) without fear of violence (harm/care).


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