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Moral Psychology is Relationship Regulation

  • Author(s): Rai, Tage Shakti
  • Advisor(s): Holyoak, Keith;
  • Fiske, Alan
  • et al.

Genuine moral disagreement exists and is widespread. To understand such disagreement, we must examine the basic kinds of social relationships people construct across cultures and the distinct moral obligations and prohibitions these relationships entail. In Chapter 2 of the dissertation, I develop Relationship Regulation Theory, which postulates that there are four fundamental and distinct moral motives embedded in different social-relational schemas. Unity is the motive to care for and support the integrity of in-groups by avoiding or eliminating threats of contamination, and providing aid and protection based on need or empathic compassion. Hierarchy is the motive to respect rank in social groups where superiors are entitled to deference and respect but must also lead, guide, direct, and protect subordinates. Equality is the motive for balanced, in-kind reciprocity, equal treatment, equal say, and equal opportunity. Proportionality is the motive for rewards and punishments to be proportionate to merit, benefits to be calibrated to contributions, and judgments to be based on a utilitarian calculus of costs and benefits. The four moral motives are universal, but cultures, ideologies, and individuals differ in when they activate these motives and how they implement them. Unlike existing theories (Haidt, 2007; Hauser, 2006; Turiel, 1983), Relationship Regulation Theory predicts that any action, including violence, unequal treatment, and "impure" acts, may be perceived as morally correct depending on the moral motive employed and how the relevant social relationship is construed. In Chapter 3, I report two experiments that I conducted to investigate whether activating social-relational schemas would lead to corresponding activation of moral motives. In Experiment 1, I found that framing a social group in terms of Communal Sharing or Authority Ranking social-relational schemas led to activation of Unity and Hierarchy motives, respectively. In Experiment 2, I found that priming Communal Sharing and Market Pricing Schemas led participants to allocate bonuses in a hypothetical vignette differently in ways that reflected the use of Unity and Proportionality motives, respectively. In Chapter 4, I incorporate notions of character into Relationship Regulation Theory. Specifically, I argue that moral judgments are partially based on evaluations of other people as prospects for social relationships. I use this relationship-based perspective of moral judgment to explain cases where an actor's intentions are neglected in observers' moral judgments of them.

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