By John Ray (M.A.;Ph.D.)

What is Post-modernism?

Post-modernism is an extreme Leftist "doctrine" that seems to have become particularly influential in literary and artistic circles -- especially, of course, in our universities and colleges. It is also taught by "Continental" philosophers -- who seem to be invariably far-Left. And it seems to be very destructive not only of people's moral anchors but also of most people's enjoyment of both literature and art. I have had no personal contact with it as Postmodernism was not around when I was a student of such things in the '60s so I know it only secondhand but it would seem to be nothing more than a particularly addled form of hatred for most of the modern world. Its central "doctrines" all seem to spring from a denial that there are any rules for anything. So the postmodernists say that "There is no such thing as truth", "Reality is merely a political construction" and "morality is meaningless". They seem oblivious of such simple philosophical retorts as: "If there is no such thing as truth, how do we know that what YOU say is right?". Things that would bother normal people -- such as inconsistency (saying contradictory things) -- obviously do not bother them a bit. And their vacuity about morality is compellingly reminiscent of the psychopath (The old term for psychopaths was "moral imbeciles").

And postmodernists are in fact demonstrably psychopathic in their readiness to lie. "There is no such thing as truth" is an excellent cover for lies. "There is no such thing as truth in what I say" is, after all, a straightforward expansion of the statement. And indeed there is not in many cases. At least as far back as Stalin, lies have always been an essential prop for the Left. An extended account of how present-day Leftist historians use postmodernism to excuse the most barefaced lies about the past can be found here

But that postmodernism is nonetheless a most peculiar refuge for the Left, with their proclaimed devotion to "social justice", George Watson points out succinctly. Watson refers to it as "Subjectivism":

Subjectivism, it is widely believed, means tolerance and openness. Nobody can say you are wrong: it all depends on where you are coming from. It is a cosy place to be -- until, that is, somebody points out that belief in social justice is a judgment; so if all judgments are merely personal, so is that.

Some more comments on just what postmodernism is: Joe Willingham put it this way to me:

"Postmodernists claim that there is no objective truth, that there is only interpretation, and that it all depends on who is in power. According to the postmodernists, we are so biased by our race, class, and gender that knowledge is impossible. The postmodernists allow freedom of speech only for those who share their Leftist political views on issues like feminism, affirmative action, and free enterprise versus socialism. They hire and fire on the basis of ideology rather than scholarship, and they try to prevent speakers of whose views they don't approve from appearing on campus.

The subjectivist epistemology, the idea that power and not reason is the key to the "construction of reality" - all that is classic Fascism. It is no accident that one of the postmodernists' favorite philosophers is the German Nazi sympathizer Martin Heidegger.
An interview with Stephen Hicks also seems to give a very clear exposition of what postmodernism is all about. An extract:

"The contradictions they [The postmodernists] embrace are so obvious: "All cultures are equal, but the West is uniquely evil. Values are subjective, but sexism and racism are really evil. Technology is bad, but it's unfair the West has more of it ...... [Post-modernists are] driven not by a desire to discover or advance truth but primarily by the desire to hurt the enemy. If all you want to do is destroy, it doesn't matter to you if the words you use contradict each other."

Classic Leftist stuff. Prof Hicks now has a book out called Explaining postmodernism, which I review here.

Roger Scruton makes a similar point:

Hence, in Rorty, Derrida, and Foucault, we find a shared duplicity of purpose: On the one hand to undermine all claims to absolute truth and on the other hand to uphold the orthodoxies upon which their congregation depends. The very reasoning that sets out to destroy the ideas of objective truth and absolute value imposes political correctness as absolutely binding and cultural relativism as objectively true

Good old-fashioned Leftist hypocrisy, in short. When Leftism has failed in so many ways in so many places, the hypocrisy still lives on.

Cameron Pritchard sums up the desperation of the modern Left well too. Excerpt:

Capitalism, said Marx, would create its own gravediggers. And yet there is a fascinating irony in the fact that now, at the beginning of this century, the socialist left seems to be actively plunging itself into its own grave. Its advocates define themselves not by what they are for, but what they are against. They have abandoned their former commitment to modernity: to the values of reason, technology, wealth and progress and returned to a brand of openly anti-scientific "utopian socialism" that would make Marx himself turn in his grave.

So post-modernism is what you turn to when the truth becomes just too uncomfortable.

But perhaps the ultimate revelation of the emptiness of postmodernism was the "Sokal hoax". See here and here. Deliberate and incomprehensible nonsense was published by a serious postmodernist academic journal without them realizing that they were being sent up! Give me Warren Buffett's view of the matter any day:

"You're neither right nor wrong because people agree with you. You're right because your facts and your reasoning are right. In the end that's all that counts"

Not profound but look at his results!

And at this point perhaps one small excerpt from a very substantial article on postmodernism would not go astray:

The Post-Modern project enjoys both the energy of moral outrage and a philosophical cover for its errors to prevent anyone from undercutting the outrage. In this, it is enormously attractive to any party having a gripe against the modern world. Every failed state, every ethnic hustler, every ideological movement, every intellectual poseur, and every tyrannical thug has a stake in feeding and propagating this modern variant of Rousseau's Hydra. Its energetic rise in modern Europe will prove to be one of the great ideological challenges of the 21st century.

To most people the ideas of postmodernism -- that truth is nonexistent etc -- simply seem too bizarre to be worth further consideration. Such claims are just a sort of intellectual masturbation for Leftists. Life goes on BECAUSE we recognize some statements as true and others as false. If I ring the WRONG telephone number I will not speak to the person I want to speak to. An article by Simon Blackburn called "In defence of truth" makes a similar point at much greater length and thoroughly dissects the theories of Richard Rorty -- one of the chief postmodernists. Warning though: The first two thirds of the article sets out the postmodernist position. You may want to skip straight to the final third of the article to get to something worth reading.

Simon Blackburn is the professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge and appears to be something of a Leftist himself. He is however thoroughly within the tradition of British empiricism in philosophy. The British have always seen the purpose of philosophy as being to clarify and EXPLAIN whereas French philosophers (and France seems to be the prime source of postmodernism) from Descartes, through Sartre to Derrida have always seen being clever as the prime role of philosophy -- and they have generally equated being clever with an ability to CONFUSE any issue they touch on. Note for instance the following comment from Baudrillard: "Some know how to slip away at the appropriate moment. Their death is a stroke of cleverness: it makes the world more enigmatic, more difficult to understand than it was when they were alive, which is the true task of thought.". French thought, maybe.

In the circumstances, it is no wonder that the Anglo-Saxons are so much more influential in the modern-day world than are the French. Someone recently said that the French are basically a Chihuahua that wants to be a bull-terrier. The Ango-Saxons really are that bull-terrier. And, as a former bull-terrier breeder, I can asssure you that, despite their power, bull-terriers are extremely good natured -- not something that one would often say of either Chihuahuas or the French.

A final comment on what drives the Leftist contempt for truth:

"There are other people for whom truth counts for nothing, but power for everything. They interpret every type of interpersonal transaction as a power struggle. Thus if you calmly try to persuade such a person of the truth of some proposition by appealing to facts and reasoning correctly from them, he will interpret that as nothing but an attempt to dominate him psychologically. Such people are utterly blind to the fact that truth can sometimes be attained by dialectical means. They project their own lust for power into everyone else interpreting everything that is manifestly not a power-move as latently a power-move.

There are plenty of leftists like this. Taking their cue from Nietzsche, they assume that everything is power at bottom. Die Welt ist der Wille zur Macht und nichts anders! "The world is the will to power and nothing besides!" Supported by this assumption, they set out to unmask (deconstruct) phenomena that manifestly are not power-driven, for example, attempts to state what is the case. Compare my comments on Stanley Fish in "Of Truth and Fish". Power-mad themselves, these leftists project lust for power into everyone and everything. It is a curious pars pro toto fallacy: one takes a phenomenon one finds in oneself, lust for power, and then interprets everything else in terms of it."

Quote from W.F. Vallicella:

So Leftists are the true Nietzscheans. They see only the power implications of "texts" and deny any truth to them because that reflects their own dismal priorities.

Postmodernism in literature and art

Before going any further here, however, I think we should ask how much it all matters. I think it is pretty obvious that truth matters in history and the sciences but a major redoubt of the postmodernists seems to be in university cultural and literary studies departments -- where it is often referred to simply as "Theory". But is anything that we see and hear in art and cultural studies important? (I have argued elsewhere that they are certainly not useful. See here and here).

Now before anyone points the skinger of forn at me over that question let me add that I myself have always been a pretty literary type: I read almost the entire ancient Greek canon in my teens; I understand that, during my B.A. studies, I got the highest mark awarded for the poetry paper in first-year English -- out of about 1000 students; and I still know large slabs of Chaucer by heart -- in the original Middle English, of course.

But I have never seen my literary proclivities as any great virtue -- which is why I did not continue with literary studies but went into social science instead. To me literature is to be enjoyed, not studied and if you do not enjoy it go and read The Phantom and good luck to you. The high moral tone of The Phantom would certainly leave most of French literature for dead, at least.

So the postmodernists would appear to be doing a good job of destroying literary studies but so what? I think the answer is that they have turned that which should be simply enjoyable into tedious and destructive propaganda and we surely saw enough of that from Stalin, Hitler and their ilk to want no more of it.

Denis Dutton has some good comments on WHY postmodernism has become popular in university English departments:

"First, it has long seemed to me that there is in academic circles, especially among humanists, an odd sort of prestige that attaches to philosophy. Perhaps it is some sense that even if philosophers don't have the final answers, at least they are raising the important issues. Perhaps it is the impressive technical rigor which characterizes some philosophy. Or maybe it is the capacity of philosophy to ask the most amusingly awkward questions about such diverse enterprises as politics, religion, and silence. As a philosopher, I find this awe pretty silly, but there it is: I hold piano virtuosos in reverential awe and my pianist friends tell me that's silly too. Second, it must be admitted that there are intelligent scholars in other fields who, whatever their considerable abilities, have little aptitude for philosophy. No crime in that: talents for mathematics, languages, music, poetry, literary criticism, and other fields are not evenly spread across the academy, and why should it be different with philosophy? Anyway, talent aside, there are only so many hours in the day to permit gaining expertise beyond one's chosen scholarly specialty.

But here we have a possible partial explanation for the popularity of deconstruction in literary and other humanist circles. Deconstruction provides academic folk with the illusion that they are raising big, deep philosophical issues, because they are (courageously, no doubt) "calling into question" or "problematizing" the very foundations of thought, meaning, and value. Intellectually, this is bargain basement stuff, of course: philosophy on the cheap. It stands to real philosophy as the electric organ stands to piano virtuosity. But it seems very exciting - the "heady brew" that so agitated that English professor. And there are other benefits as well. Deconstruction has built into it the usual self-immunizing strategies characteristic of other ersatz sciences, such as astrology or doctrinaire Freudianism. Confronted with any intellectual criticism, the deconstructionist airily waves the speaker away, or gestures knowingly to his fellow believers, as though to say, "Tiresome, isn't it, the way people keep trying to revive the superstitions we have long since transcended!" There is no need, and certainly no demand, for the believing deconstructionist to engage the benighted skeptic in any argument. In fact, the situation for the deconstructionist is ideal: one can have the transcendent exhilaration of seeming to tackle profound philosophical questions without having to actually do any philosophy. And philosophers who object can be ignored, since they are still the unknowing dupes of logocentrism, or something. Finally, while the whole procedure, like a roller coaster, seems dangerous, with that dark talk of radical "subversion" and "scandal" it is virtually risk free. One can be on the correct side, against sexism, racism, or ethnocentrism (a show of hands, please, of those in favor of ethnocentrism), but all from the cozy security of the academy.

This helps to explain both why deconstruction has captivated the imaginations of so many literary scholars who enjoy dabbling in philosophy, and why it has not caught on to anything like the same extent with professional philosophers. In the first place, even those philosophers who take deconstruction seriously are nevertheless interested to consider alternative theories - not just Derrida on, say, essentialist philosophies of language, but thinkers such as Wittgenstein or Quine or Kripke as well. And once one is on this road, the depth and appeal of alternative theories become apparent. (This isn't unique: Christians who take up comparative religion often suffer a similar loss of faith.) Second, philosophers really do listen to arguments, even if they don't always change their minds. If a philosopher presents me with two arguments designed to show that God cannot exist, and I respond by trying to demonstrate how they fail, it is simply not open to my opponent merely to dismiss me with, "What? You mean you believe in God?" In fact, such a response simply spoils the fun. Among philosophers, the rejection of an argument for a position need not entail anything about whether the speaker accepts or rejects that position.

I am talking here not about something that happens now-and-then in philosophical discussions; I am talking about the air philosophy breathes. The point would hardly be worth making, except that this simple respect for your opponent's argument is not encouraged by deconstruction. The way all-too-many deconstructionists play the game, if you object to the deconstructionist account of logocentrism, you are still under the spell of some phonologist superstition. If you suggest that there might be reasons why some literary interpretations are intrinsically better than others, or that authorial intentions cannot be wholly dismissed by criticism, then, you obviously favor making reader and critic subservient to the God-author. If you question the slogan "all interpretation is misinterpretation" you must be one of those people who believe in One Truth. In confronting opposition, the deconstructionist does not move in the realm of claim and counter-argument. This fact is implicitly recognized in the way that, in the popular vocabulary of deconstruction, theories are said not to be refuted but to be displaced by other positions: the language (borrowed here from Freud, but it might as well be Thrasymachus) is not that of argument and evidence, but of hogging space, getting attention, repressing or getting even with some enemy. It's all power and desire.

So once again it all boils down to the unending Leftist pursuit of kudos and power -- to be gained, of course, on the cheap if at all possible.

In what I have so far said, I have had literary studies principally in mind. The situation is at least as bad in art. Have a look at this and this. Both articles are quite brief and tell us what postmodern art is by way of some choice examples. Normal people would simply be be disgusted by it all. AND THAT IS THE POINT. Postmodern art aims to get attention at all costs. I have argued elsewhere that Leftists are basically unoriginal people who are desperate for attention -- and postmoderns are clearly an extreme example of that. They are people driven to desperation by having nothing to say or contribute yet also having a great longing for attention -- and in that situation any attention will do, even if all they manage to do is to disgust people.

So I would argue that, in literary and cultural studies, postmodernism is very self-limiting and largely harmless. Its impact on morality, however, may be another matter.

Moral relativism and the Left

Although not usually under that name, postmodernist ideas have come to be widely taught in the schools. Postmodernism is so pervasively taught in the universities and colleges that almost all school-teachers get heavy exposure to it during their training as teachers. And what they themselves are taught they tend to pass on. So it behooves us to look particularly at how well founded postmodernist moral ideas are and how they can be replied to.

In postmodernism and elsewhere, Leftists make great hay out of the fact that moral absolutism (ethical non-naturalism to be technical) is very hard to defend philosophically. And I agree with them. I too am a moral relativist -- i.e. I believe that there is no timeless and forever fixed right and wrong and that what is right and wrong varies from society to society and has no meaning aside from that. That does NOT mean, however, that all ways to live or all political systems are equally wise -- which is the extension of moral relativism that Leftists usually glide into without people noticing. In other words, some ways of living and some political systems lead to generally desired outcomes and some do not. That is a simple empirical proposition for which there is much evidence. Most people, for instance, desire material prosperity but only some ways of living lead to that. Laziness or Communism, for instance generally do not lead to prosperity so laziness and Communism are generally unwise, or, in shorthand, "bad" or "wrong". So there is no need for the sophomoric philosophical debating points of Leftists to embarrass anybody into abandoning talk of "right" and "wrong". Such terms do have real and important meanings -- even if you are a moral relativist.

And at least from Edmund Burke onwards, conservatives have taken the matter one step further. That some value (or some rule or some way of living and conducting oneself) is merely the custom of a given society is quite dogmatically and automatically taken by Leftists to imply that the value concerned is NOT worthy of respect or continuation. Conservatives think about it more deeply, however, and think that one must draw precisely the opposite conclusion. That some custom or system is the result of trial and error testing of all the wisdom of all our predecessors over a long period of time is seen by conservatives as indicating that it is probably a wise and valuable custom that should not be abandoned except for very strong reasons. The custom may not be "right" in any absolute, immutable or unimprovable sense but it may still be very wise and valuable in enabling a civil and healthy society to function and give its members what they desire -- such as peace, security and prosperity. In that sense, courage, honesty, democracy and the rule of law are "right". Countries where such values are widespread generally have more peace, security, freedom and prosperity than countries where such values are not widespread. Values and standards of behaviour are very important matters indeed.

Amusingly, however, Leftists are very prone to using the language of right and wrong (which they claim not to believe in) when it suits them. They will claim that things like Apartheid or "racism" are WRONG without batting an eyelid. In good psychopathic fashion, the moral relativists suddenly become moralists. They will happily say things that they do not remotely believe in if it suits their ends of gaining power and influence. I did some research into the dishonest Leftist use of moral language which is reported here. And when Leftists do use moralistic language, it is rather fun to use the arguments of moral relativism to show how shallow their arguments are -- as here. They can be "hoist with their own petard" (i.e. blown up with their own bomb). There is a broader coverage of the issues in moral philosophy here.

Perhaps a final comment on the sheer folly and futility of postmodernism is here, speaking of a far-Left Israeli historian: "In both books Pappe in effect tells his readers: "This is what happened." This is strange, because it directly conflicts with a second major element in his historiographical outlook. Pappe is a proud postmodernist. He believes that there is no such thing as historical truth, only a collection of narratives as numerous as the participants in any given event or process; and each narrative, each perspective, is as valid and legitimate, as true, as the next. Moreover, every narrative is inherently political and, consciously or not, serves political ends. Each historian is justified in shaping his narrative to promote particular political purposes. Shlomo Aronson, an Israeli political scientist, years ago confronted Pappe with the ultimate problem regarding historical relativism: if all narratives are equally legitimate and there is no historical truth, then the narrative of Holocaust deniers is as valid as that of Holocaust affirmers. Pappe did not offer a persuasive answer, beyond asserting lamely that there exists a large body of indisputable oral testimony affirming that the Holocaust took place." Hoist with his own petard indeed.



I have been content above to quote what people say who have had stomachs strong enough actually to study postmodernism. I would be remiss, however, if I did not offer the reader here at least one specimen of a postmodernist "text" so that readers can judge the worth of postmodernism for themselves. Listen to the painful stuff that Derrida had to say about the 9/11/2001 events in NYC and elsewhere:

"Something" took place, we have the feeling of not having seen it coming, and certain consequences undeniably follow upon the "thing." But this very thing, the place and meaning of this "event," remains ineffable, like an intuition without concept, like a unicity with no generality on the horizon or with no horizon at all, out of range for a language that admits its powerlessness and so is reduced to pronouncing mechanically a date, repeating it endlessly, as a kind of ritual incantation, a conjuring poem, a journalistic litany or rhetorical refrain that admits to not knowing what it's talking about. We do not in fact know what we are saying or naming in this way: September 11, le 11 septembre, September 11. The brevity of the appellation (September 11, 9/11) stems not only from an economic or rhetorical necessity. The telegram of this metonymy-a name, a number-points out the unqualifiable by recognizing that we do not recognize or even cognize that we do not yet know how to qualify, that we do not know what we are talking about.

Amusingly, he got it right in his last sentence above. Leftists are often intelligent people. They must at times find it depressing that they have to claim to find wisdom in such an utterly confused and evasive soul as Derrida.


It is not only the Postmodernists but Leftists generally who seem to be psychopathic (unable to tell right from wrong). Former Leftist, Ron Rosenbaum, spells out the moral imbecility of Leftist activists at some length in his article "Goodbye, All That: How Left Idiocies Drove Me to Flee".

We see the same moral imbecility in the repeated claim by Leftists of "moral equivalence" between very disparate people and groups. For instance, at the height of the Cold War, Leftists would routinely claim that Communist regimes and the economically successful "Western" democracies such as the United States were morally equivalent -- that neither was more blameworthy or praiseworthy than the other. When President Reagan called a spade a spade and described the USSR as an "evil empire", this was regarded as shocking and ignorant by US liberals. How anybody can see any equivalence between systems that murder millions without trial because of their suspected political views (as Stalin did in the USSR and Pol Pot did in "Kampuchea") and countries that either have no death penalty at all or agonize over every such penalty that they inflict (even when the penalty is for the most heinous crimes) defies imagination.

If it shows nothing else, their assertions of moral equivalence show the utter amorality of Leftists. Stalin's heirs are among us. One of them said in 2002 : The disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life". And that was George Galloway, a British Labour Party member of parliament at the time who has since drifted even further Left. And going back further, Malcolm Muggeridge, one of the few journalists to report honestly what he saw in the Soviet Union in the 1930s, knew well the British Leftists of his day. He says that members of the Left intelligentsia, like Beatrice Webb, knew of Stalin's vast brutalities against his own people of that time but just didn't care. They were attracted by the Soviet "vision" of a people who were made to do what intellectuals thought was a good thing so that was all that mattered. Mass-murder and suffering were a matter of indifference to them.

Stalin's mass murders certainly appear to this day to be regarded by many Leftists in the economically successful "Western" democracies as merely awkward from a PR point of view rather than wrong. In psychiatry, amorality is the mark of the psychopath -- the "moral imbecile" who just cannot tell right from wrong and who commits murders and other heinous crimes with a clear conscience as a result. "Moral equivalence" would therefore appear to be reasonably described as psychopathy in politics."

There is an extended treatment of Leftism as sub-clinical psychopathy here


In what I said above about the meaning of moral language, I did of course brush very lightly over a large philosophical topic. It seems reasonable therefore that I extend my comments a little more for those interested in the philosophy of the matter.

Leftists say that only values exist rather than any abstract properties of rightness or wrongness and I agree with that. Where do we go from there, however? Leftists draw the to-be-expected inconsistent conclusion that describing anything as "wrong" or "evil" is therefore silly unless it it applies to the actions of George W. Bush or other conservatives.

The conclusion I draw is that people use moral language in a variety of ways but they mostly mean something real and important by it that transcends the personal. They are not merely expressing their own preferences or values. They are conveying propositions that do have truth value. This can most clearly be seen in those cases where we feel that we could substitute the word "advantageous" for "good" or "right" with no loss of meaning or little loss of meaning. I take "advantageous" to mean "leading in the long term to a situation that you would prefer". So the saying "killing babies is wrong" translates not to "there is an immutable property of wrongness about killing babies" but to "Killing babies leads in the long term to a situation that you would not prefer over the alternative."

Now, obviously, many people DO want to say that killing babies has nothing to do with preferences and that it would still be wrong even if everyone in the universe said it was right. That is however a mere assertion or expression of personal opinion that is not testable and so has no truth value. I do not argue with such people. They are entitled to their opinion and to their way of using words. I simply want to point out that for many if not most people "advantageous" is either a large part or 100% of what they mean by "right" and that in such cases the statement is capable of being argued for as being either true or false. I could, for instance, argue against the proposition that "Killing babies leads in the long term to a situation that you would not prefer over the alternative" by saying that the ancient Greeks routinely killed babies and that theirs was the most brilliant society and civilization of its times so killing babies does not have consequences that are automatically or on the whole unpleasant. Many people would fault my argument in that respect (by presenting, for instance, reasons why Greece would have been even more brilliant if they had not killed babies) but the argument would be about what leads to what -- a scientific argument, if you like. It would not be a mere assertion of values.

So it is perfectly reasonable, rational, realistic and coherent to see "is right" statements as having truth value -- and Leftists who deny truth value to such statements are distorting or ignoring what many if not most people mean by such statements.


Amusing: Richard Wolin's book, The Seduction of Unreason appears to be a good critique of postmodernist irrationality but he makes his book politically correct by noting -- correctly -- that in the 1930s what we now call postmodernism was primarily a Fascist doctrine. So he says that postmodernism is "Rightist" too, you see: It is not only a mental confusion of the Left. The facts that Fascism was a development of Marxism and that Hitler was a socialist seem to be "forgotten" by Wolin. It would indeed be surprising if a Rightist philosophy suddenly became the guiding light of the Left but no such thing has happened. "Postmodern" thinking has ALWAYS been a Leftist escape-hatch from reality. Although both Marxism and Fascism may be long dead in most people's minds, both are variants of socialism and both still flourish among Leftist intellectuals -- not that they are honest about it, of course.

Click here for a list of all John Ray's comments on moral philosophy


Some 2007 research by Haidt would seem to be of considerable interest in connection with the above. Haidt argues that the basis of morality is instinctive but that conservatives display greater cognitive complexity in dealing with moral questions. Given the frequent Leftist assertion that "there is no such thing as right and wrong", that is not inherently surprising. Although they often use moral talk in an attempt to influence others, Leftists would seem, on their own admission, to have no serious interest in or committment to morality of any kind. That does make the invariable brutalities of Communist regimes rather understandable.

Part of a summary of Haidt's review:

"Haidt argues that human morality is a cultural construction built on top of -- and constrained by -- a small set of evolved psychological systems. He presents evidence that political liberals rely primarily on two of these systems, involving emotional sensitivities to harm and fairness. Conservatives, however, construct their moral understandings on those two systems plus three others, which involve emotional sensitivities to in-group boundaries, authority and spiritual purity."

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