When Putnam first lists the benefits of living in a community that is rich in social capital, he writes that
"dense networks of interaction probably broaden the participants' sense of self, developing the 'I' into the 'we,' or (in the language of rational-choice theorists) enhancing the participants' 'taste' for collective beliefs" (67).
I find this expression odd. Why call this a "taste" or a "preference" rather than just saying that when people interact with others (and especially with people who are not just identical to them), they are more likely to develop a habit of public-mindedness? They believe that it's worth pursuing what's right for the group rather than what will most benefit the individual in the short-term.
If beliefs are too ephemeral (do you know that you hold a belief until it's tested?), then how about using affect as an explanatory term. Surely people care. Some people care about communities, and some people care mostly about themselves. Some people are willing to make personal sacrifices (e.g., slower and smaller cars) for the sake of the environment or for public well-being, and some people are not.
A social science that is unable to refer to values, or that must call them preferences (and preferences which, I imagine, are non-rational because they don't immediately benefit the self) is a social science without a moral center.