From two to three moralities

Shweder, a cultural psychologist, used the interviews he had collected in India (Bhubaneswar) and the United States (Chicago) to later develop the big three model of morality in the 1980s and 1990s (Shweder, Haidt, Horton, & Joseph, 2008; Shweder et al., 1987, 1997). According to this approach, there are three different moral codes, or ethics, that conceptualise a moral agent in different ways.

First, the discourse of the ethic of autonomy describes the moral agent as an autonomous individual who is free to make choices only with minor limits. This ethic focuses on an individual’s rights and needs: harming oneself or others ought to be avoided, and the rights of other persons ought to be respected. Within the ethic of autonomy, behaviour is assessed from the perspective of harm, rights, fairness, autonomy, and freedom. The second moral discourse, the ethic of community, defines a moral agent in relation to his/her group memberships, such as family, workplace, or society. This kind of moral reasoning is underpinned by role-based duties and obligations. The objectives of moral behaviour are maintaining social order and harmony and avoiding social sanctions. When behaviour is evaluated from this perspective, we often think about duties, role-based commitments, obedience to authorities, loyalty', group reputation, and dependency on other people, as well as including a consideration of what is best for one’s community'. The third moral discourse, the ethic of divinity', characterises a moral agent as a spiritual being who aspires to follow sacred rules. Moral rules that guide behaviour are based on sacred scriptures or a natural order of things. Moral behaviour in this ethic is defined as the avoidance of moral degradation and striving towards moral purity. When behaviour is assessed from this perspective, we often think about sin, the natural order of things, sanctity', and purity, as well as protecting one’s soul and the world from contamination or spiritual desecration (Helkama, 2009; Shweder et al., 1997).

As a whole, research findings support the idea that three moral codes exist in different cultures (for a review, see Jensen, 2008). Between-country' differences (e.g., the United States vs. the Philippines, the United Kingdom vs. Brazil) as well as within-country ones (e.g., religious conservatives vs. religious liberals) have been found in the use of these moral codes (Guerra & Giner-Sorolla, 2010; Vainio, 2003, 2015; Vasquez, Keltner, Ebenbach, & Banaszynski, 2001), supporting cultural psychologists’ notion of cultural variability in moral reasoning. For example, North Americans seem to prefer the ethic of autonomy more often than Brazilians, Indians, or Filipinos do (Jensen, 2008; Vasquez et al., 2001), and in Finland, liberal religious and nonreligious adolescents justified their moral views with autonomy and community equally, whereas conservative religious adolescents used the ethic of divinity most frequently (Vainio, 2011).

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