Skip to main content

Watch: Moral Differences between Liberals and Conservatives

On November 4, 2012, the moral differences between liberals and conservatives was the timely topic of discussion at a pre-election installment of the The Righteous Mind symposia. All of the panelists reflected that they enjoyed reading the book and engaging with Haidt's ideas, even as they each employed their own academic training to critique The Righteous Mind.


Barry Schwartz, Dorwin P. Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action and professor of psychology, and one of the organizers of the event, provided an overview of Haidt's arguments to prepare the audience for the conversation. Rich Schuldenfrei, professor emeritus of philosophy, began the discussion by introducing Haidt's case that sacredness, merit, authority, and loyalty are valued as moral principles more by conservatives than by liberals. For an anthropological perspective, Associate Professor Farha Ghannam weighed in on Haidt's reliance on the concept of human nature shaping our political bias. 

Ben Berger, associate professor of political science, questioned Haidt's methodology, suspecting that Haidt is capturing how people perceive they should act, rather than their true beliefs. Berger noted that fear of social pressure may impact reporting and that what Haidt is capturing may be less genetic and more memetic. Carol Nackenoff, Richter Professor of political science wondered how we could have ever had consensus in this country if liberals and conservatives are as different as Haidt makes them out to be. 

The symposia events have been made possible with funding and administrative support from the Swarthmore College Institute for the Liberal Arts. The Institute aims to foster curricular, pedagogical, and scholarly innovation; to engage in generative thinking about the future of the liberal arts and higher education; and to facilitate conversations between liberal arts institutions and those who live liberal arts lives.

The Righteous Mind Symposium included these additional events

  • Watch: The Limits of Reason in Moral Thinking, with Associate Professor of Economics Amanda Bayer, Professor of History Timothy Burke, McDowell Professor of Philosophy Richard Eldridge, and Darwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Action Barry Schwartz.
  • Watch: Moral Differences between Liberals and Conservatives, with Associate Professor of Political Science Ben Berger, Associate Professor of Anthropology Farha Ghannam, Richter Professor of Political Science Carol Nackenoff and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy Richard Schuldenfrei.
  • Watch: Morality and Evolution, with Professor of Psychology Frank Durgin, Assistant Professor of Biology Vince Formica, Senior Research Associate, Howard A. Schneiderman Professor Emeritus Developmental Biology Scott Gilbert, and Turner Professor of Philosophy Hans Oberdiek.
  • Watch: Religion and Social Cohesion, with Associate Professor of Religion Tariq al-Jamil, Swarthmore College President Rebecca Chopp, and Claude Smith Professor of Political Science James Kurth.
  • Watch: Why America Is So Polarized, and What We Can Do About It -- a lecture by Jonathan Haidt, author of "The Righteous Mind: How Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion."

Submissions Welcome

The Communications Office invites all members of the Swarthmore community to share videos, photos, and story ideas for the College's website. Have you seen an alum in the news? Please let us know by writing