Is it wrong to eat your dog? – culture and morality
A family’s dog was killed by a car in front of their house. They had heard that dog meat was delicious, so they cut up the dog’s body and ate it for dinner. Is this OK?
It’s not exactly your typical survey question, but psychologist Jonathan Haidt isn’t looking for typical answers either. He wants to know whether people in different cultures have different views of just what is right or wrong.
In the U.S. and most Western societies, conventional wisdom accepts only one definition of morality. Only harm to others, injustice, and the violation of individual rights are believed equally wrong for everybody. Autonomy rules.
Non-Western cultures may have a broader view of the moral sphere. The ethics of community, for example, require duty, respect, obedience to authority, and actions consistent with your social role.
Haidt and his Brazilian colleagues surveyed adults and children in Philadelphia, Recife, and Porto Alegre. They expected differences to show up based on age, socioeconomic status, and the degree of Westernization. Philadelphia was considered the most Westernized, followed by Brazil’s Porto Alegre, then poorest Recife.
All subjects were told two types of stories: some involving “conventional” (harm-based) moral violations, others describing harmless yet offensive violations of strong social norms, like the dog story, reflecting a broader definition of mortality. At issue was whether people universalize–consider certain actions wrong everywhere–and the belief about whether violators should be stopped or punished.
Moral judgment indeed works differently in different cultures, says haidt. Outside the West, moral condemnation requires no victim and considers a person’s emotional responses. Westernization and–surprisingly–high socioeconomic status were reflected inn a more permissive attitude toward mortality.
Don’t even think about trying to eat your dog in Recife.
COPYRIGHT 1994 Sussex Publishers, Inc.
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