Modules make mistakes, and many animals have evolved tricks to exploit the mistakes of other animals.

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The second principle of moral psychology is: There’s more to morality than harm and fairness.
In this chapter I began to say exactly what more there is:

• Morality is like taste in many ways—an analogy made long ago by Hume and Mencius.
• Deontology and utilitarianism are “one-receptor” moralities that are likely to appeal most strongly to people who are high on systemizing and low on empathizing.
• Hume’s pluralist, sentimentalist, and naturalist approach to ethics is more promising than utilitarianism or deontology for modern moral psychology. As a first step in resuming Hume’s project, we should try to identify the taste receptors of the righteous mind.
• Modularity can help us think about innate receptors, and how they produce a variety of initial perceptions that get developed in culturally variable ways.
• Five good candidates for being taste receptors of the righteous mind are care, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

In psychology, theories are cheap. Anyone can invent one. Progress happens when theories are tested, supported, and corrected by empirical evidence, especially when a theory proves to be useful—for example, if it helps people to understand why half of the people in their country seem to live in a different moral universe. That’s what happened next. (Pg.149)


I teamed up with a friend from my years at the University of Chicago, Craig Joseph, who had also worked with Shweder. Craig’s research examined virtue concepts among Muslims in Egypt and the United States. We borrowed the idea of “modularity” from the cognitive anthropologists Dan Sperber and Lawrence Hirschfeld.30 Modules are like little switches in the brains of all animals. They are switched on by patterns that were important for survival in a particular ecological niche, and when they detect that pattern, they send out a signal that (eventually) changes the animal’s behavior in a way that is (usually) adaptive. For example, many animals react with fear the very first time they see a snake because their brains include neural circuits that function as snake detectors.31 As Sperber and Hirschfeld put it:

An evolved cognitive module—for instance a snake detector, a face-recognition device … is an adaptation to a range of phenomena that presented problems or opportunities in the ancestral environment of the species. Its function is to process a given type of stimuli or inputs—for instance snakes [or] human faces.
This was a perfect description of what universal moral “taste receptors” would look like. They would be adaptations to long-standing threats and opportunities in social life. They would draw people’s attention to certain kinds of events (such as cruelty or disrespect), and trigger instant intuitive reactions, perhaps even specific emotions (such as sympathy or anger).

This approach was just what we needed to account for cultural learning and variation. Sperber and Hirschfeld distinguished between the original triggers of a module and its current triggers.32 The original triggers are the set of objects for which the module was designed33 (that is, the set of all snakes is the original trigger for a snake-detector module). The current triggers are all the things in the world that happen to trigger it (including real snakes, as well as toy snakes, curved sticks, and thick ropes, any of which might give you a scare if you see them in the grass).

Modules make mistakes, and many animals have evolved tricks to exploit the mistakes of other animals. For example, the hover fly has evolved yellow and black stripes, making it look like a wasp, which triggers the wasp-avoidance module in some birds that would otherwise enjoy eating hover flies. (Pg.144)

I began this chapter by trying to trigger your intuitions about the five moral foundations that I introduced in chapter 6. I then defined innateness as “organized in advance of experience,” like the first draft of a book that gets revised as individuals grow up within diverse cultures. This definition allowed me to propose that the moral foundations are innate. Particular rules and virtues vary across cultures, so you’ll get fooled if you look for universality in the finished books. You won’t find a single paragraph that exists in identical form in every human culture. But if you look for links between evolutionary theory and anthropological observations, you can take some educated guesses about what was in the universal first draft of human nature. I tried to make (and justify) five such guesses:

• The Care/harm foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of caring for vulnerable children. It makes us sensitive to signs of suffering and need; it makes us despise cruelty and want to care for those who are suffering.
• The Fairness/cheating foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of reaping the rewards of cooperation without getting exploited. It makes us sensitive to indications that another person is likely to be a good (or bad) partner for collaboration and reciprocal altruism. It makes us want to shun or punish cheaters.
• The Loyalty/betrayal foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forming and maintaining coalitions. It makes us sensitive to signs that another person is (or is not) a team player. It makes us trust and reward such people, and it makes us want to hurt, ostracize, or even kill those who betray us or our group.
• The Authority/subversion foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forging relationships that will benefit us within social hierarchies. It makes us sensitive to signs of rank or status, and to signs that other people are (or are not) behaving properly, given their position.
• The Sanctity/degradation foundation evolved initially in response to the adaptive challenge of the omnivore’s dilemma, and then to the broader challenge of living in a world of pathogens and parasites. It includes the behavioral immune system, which can make us wary of a diverse array of symbolic objects and threats. It makes it possible for people to invest objects with irrational and extreme values—both positive and negative—which are important for binding groups together.

I showed how the two ends of the political spectrum rely upon each foundation in different ways, or to different degrees. It appears that the left relies primarily on the Care and Fairness foundations, whereas the right uses all five. If this is true, then is the morality of the left like the food served in The True Taste restaurant? Does left-wing morality activate just one or two taste receptors, whereas right-wing morality engages a broader palate, including loyalty, authority, and sanctity? And if so, does that give conservative politicians a broader variety of ways to connect with voters? (Pg.179)


The Sanctity foundation makes it easy for us to regard some things as “untouchable,” both in a bad way (because something is so dirty or polluted we want to stay away) and in a good way (because something is so hallowed, so sacred, that we want to protect it from desecration).

If we had no sense of disgust, I believe we would also have no sense of the sacred. And if you think, as I do, that one of the greatest unsolved mysteries is how people ever came together to form large cooperative societies, then you might take a special interest in the psychology of sacredness. Why do people so readily treat objects (flags, crosses), places (Mecca, a battlefield related to the birth of your nation), people (saints, heroes), and principles (liberty, fraternity, equality) as though they were of infinite value? Whatever its origins, the psychology of sacredness helps bind individuals into moral communities.42 When someone in a moral community desecrates one of the sacred pillars supporting the community, the reaction is sure to be swift, emotional, collective, and punitive. (Pg.174)

The Sanctity foundation is used most heavily by the religious right, but it is also used on the spiritual left. You can see the foundation’s original impurity-avoidance function in New Age grocery stores, where you’ll find a variety of products that promise to cleanse you of “toxins.” And you’ll find the Sanctity foundation underlying some of the moral passions of the environmental movement. Many environmentalists revile industrialism, capitalism, and automobiles not just for the physical pollution they create but also for a more symbolic kind of pollution—a degradation of nature, and of humanity’s original nature, before it was corrupted by industrial capitalism. (Pg.176)

WE&P by: EZorrilla.

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