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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are…

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (2012)

by Jonathan Haidt

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A groundbreaking investigation into the origins of morality, which turns out to be the basis for religion and politics. The book explains the American culture wars and refutes the "New Atheists."

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Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
The author's explorations into morality from an evolutionary psychology perspective.

In short, the author is Humean regarding the passions, and explores everything in a Darwinian/Durkheimian perspective.

There's a lot here which can be commended. The premise that we morally intuit first and then reason to justify it - that our moral intuition is the "elephant," and reason is its "rider" - explains why it is very difficult to reason about morality, and why appealing only to reason doesn't seem to change much about it.

His moral matrix has a lot to commend it, but may need more work. He is very much right that modern Western liberalism emphasizes autonomy and the care/harm, fairness/cheating, and liberty/oppression dimensions of morality. He is also accurate that in other cultures (and even in pre-liberal Western society), other dimensions exist and have power: loyalty/betrayal, authority/submission, and sanctity/degradation. He spoke of how the "liberty/oppression" proved necessary as he worked in his research, and was not evident at the first; he also identifies different emphases in fairness (fair as equal vs. fair as appropriate based on merit).

He understands modern politics as liberals emphasizing care/harm and fairness as equality with low levels of the rest of the moral matrix. He claims conservatives are roughly equal in all the moral dimensions (although they are slightly less on the care/harm continuum); libertarians are mostly on the liberty/oppression line of things. He claims conservatives understand liberals better than liberals understand conservatives; that might well be accurate in some ways, but I would be interested in seeing whether the "care/harm" can itself be seen with different emphases: care for in-group vs. care for out-group, and then to see if conservatives really understand or empathize with the experience of the outgroup.

His groupish ideology makes some functional sense, but runs into the limitations of his confessional base (evolutionary psychology). He speaks of his "coming to Jesus" moment of appreciation for Burkean conservatism as the need for moral capital. This also can explain why Haidt has become insufferable for his focus on the limitations of liberalism without seemingly having as much to say about the failures of conservatism in its current practice. Yes, moral capital is very much important; pure progressivism is not productive. But believing in the caricature is a problem.

The sad irony of the work is that the author commends getting out of a one-dimensional paradigm regarding morality, yet remains one-dimensional about understanding everything in terms of evolutionary psychology. If he can reason why a thing would work in evolutionary psychology, we find it here in the analysis; if he cannot, it is to be rejected. For all his praise of understanding complexity, his understanding of religion is extremely deficient, one-dimensional, and incapable of truly making sense of what Christianity is supposed to be about. The idea that the impulse to tribalism could be harnessed to consider all humanity as the in-group seems unthinkable to him, even though that's precisely the core purpose of what God has done in Jesus, and the church has at times even reflected it. The analysis is also bereft of historical dimensions; some Taylor from A Secular Age might have helped.

There are a lot of good things which we can appreciate from this, but it surely cannot become the new bible of morality. It would be better for the author to open up the framework and invite conversation from other related disciplines to provide a far more 3-dimensional view of human morality. As long as it's all and only about evolutionary psychology, then sure, you're left with some kind of empathic utilitarianism, and God help us all. ( )
  deusvitae | Jan 4, 2020 |
There's a lot of good food for thought here, and a lot of important insights into how liberals and conservatives view the world differently. Haidt presents his ideas very clearly, backs them up with research, and provides useful summaries at the end of each chapter.

Each chapter could the the subject of an entire book, so sometimes it feels like some of the information is less developed than it could be. I found the first half of the book to be far more enlightening than the second half, which seemed to be building towards a big revelation that never quite materialized.

For me, the most interesting part of the book was the discussion of moral foundations. These are the criteria we use to judge morality. For liberals, morality centers around harm and freedom: liberals consider something to be immoral if it causes harm to people or limits their freedom to make their own choices. Conservatives agree, but conservatives also make moral decisions based on authority (whether authority structures are maintained or subverted), group structure (whether the greater good of the group is maintained), fairness (whether people get to keep what they earn), and respect for the sacred. In other words, the two groups use totally different criteria to judge right from wrong, but we don't talk about our underlying assumptions about what is moral, so we feel like we're speaking different languages when we talk to each other.

This was written in the early years of the Obama administration - I wonder how different it would be if written today during the Trump years. ( )
  Gwendydd | Aug 3, 2019 |
This is a 5 star because of the new ideas (to me) he presents on morals and how they play out in religion and politics. It was slow in parts and more studies than I care to listen to, however it flowed good enough and the insights make this a must read. ( )
  GShuk | Mar 10, 2019 |
This book was written by a social psychologist who tries to challenge conventional thinking about politics, morality, and religion. His life's work was on morality, and he sets out to prove that judgement arise from not only reason, but from personal feelings. He talks about how liberals and conservatives have such different views on right and wrong. What he proves is that both sides are actually right about their central concerns.

This book was just okay. I actually had a hard time with a lot of it because it read like a drone manual. Just a lot of.....blah. It would get very wordy and very technical, but never really went anywhere in large sections of the book. There were a few things that were interesting spattered here and there in the book, but for the most part.....I just worked to get it over with.

I don't recommend it. I think there are probably better books out there about the divide of religion and politics. This one just never really did much and took too long to get to the point in most chapters. ( )
  JenMat | Jan 10, 2019 |
A bit like "Thinking fast and slow". Research based. Interesting and important. ( )
  scottkirkwood | Dec 4, 2018 |
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I could not understand how any thinking person would voluntarily embrace the party of evil, and so I and my fellow liberals looked for psychological explanations for conservatism, but not for liberalism.
In psychology, theories are cheap.
Libertarians are basically liberals who love markets and lack bleeding hearts.
When libertarians talk about the miracle of "spontaneous order" that emerges when people are allowed to make their own choices, the rest of us should listen.
Emphasizing differences makes many people more racist, not less.
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Why can’t our political leaders work together as threats loom and problems mount? Why do people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens?

In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding. His starting point is moral intuition - the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do. These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are wrong.

Haidt shows us how these intuitions differ across cultures, including the cultures of the political left and right. He blends his own research findings with those of anthropologists, historians, and other psychologists to draw a map of the moral domain, and he explains why conservatives can navigate that map more skillfully than can liberals. He then examines the origins of morality, overturning the view that evolution made us fundamentally selfish creatures.

But rather than arguing that we are innately altruistic, he makes a more subtle claim - that we are fundamentally groupish. It is our groupishness, he explains, that leads to our greatest joys, our religious divisions, and our political affiliations. In a stunning final chapter on ideology and civility, Haidt shows what each side is right about, and why we need the insights of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to flourish as a nation.

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