A Must Read: The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

I just finished reading The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathon Haidt, a social psychologist formerly at UVA and now at NYU. I highly recommend it. It touches on a boatload of topics that we have talked about here, including that perennial issue of the source and nature of morality. It is written by a self-proclaimed very liberal academic, but he does a pretty good job of setting that aside and except in a couple of places it happily does not approach things within the confines of liberal premises. In fact much of it is aimed at explaining why premises differ so much from person to person.

I’ve discovered (after already purchasing and reading it) that it is actually out there on the internet for free, here.

To entice you to read it, I’ll leave you with one of the concluding passages, which hopefully shows that my recommendation doesn’t derive simply out of confirmation bias.

If you take home one souvenir from this part of the tour, may I suggest that it be a suspicion of moral monists. Beware of anyone who insists that there is one true morality for all people, times, and places—particularly if that morality is founded upon a single moral foundation. Human societies are complex; their needs and challenges are variable. Our minds contain a toolbox of psychological systems, including the six moral foundations, which can be used to meet those challenges and construct effective moral communities. You don’t need to use all six, and there may be certain organizations or subcultures that can thrive with just one. But anyone who tells you that all societies, in all eras, should be using one particular moral matrix, resting on one particular configuration of moral foundations, is a fundamentalist of one sort or another.

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrestled throughout his career with the problem of the world’s moral diversity and what to make of it. He firmly rejected moral relativism:

I am not a relativist; I do not say “I like my coffee with milk and you like it without; I am in favor of kindness and you prefer concentration camps”—each of us with his own values, which cannot be overcome or integrated. This I believe to be false.

He endorsed pluralism instead, and justified it in this way:

I came to the conclusion that there is a plurality of ideals, as there is a plurality of cultures and of temperaments.… There is not an infinity of [values]: the number of human values, of values which I can pursue while maintaining my human semblance, my human character, is finite—let us say 74, or perhaps 122, or 27, but finite, whatever it may be. And the difference this makes is that if a man pursues one of these values, I, who do not, am able to understand why he pursues it or what it would be like, in his circumstances, for me to be induced to pursue it. Hence the possibility of human understanding.”

12 Responses

  1. I think what we got here is a failure to FRIST!!


  2. More PL-ers are pushing the Communism was right wing meme…. Oh brother…

    Actually, I realized that Bitter Tulip is just A101 in a new sock puppet


  3. I thought Communism is right, we’ve just never really tried Communism, because Stalin and Mao were, in reality, right-wing fascists. Or something.

    Just had the wrong guys in charge, is all. Fix that, Communism will work great!


  4. Thanx, Scott. I will get the freebie. Sounds good.

    On a political note, I was unhappy that LG’s campaign flamed out. While he has been very hawkish all the time on every FP front, he has also been a gentleman, a man of good humor, and one I would have expected to pick conservative, but very competent and honest judges.

    I don’t guess he ever had a chance, but when I thought of Rs I was sure I could support, he was #1 in this field.

    I know – never married, never rumored to have a girlfriend – big deal, so what?

    Discretion is good in a POTUS, right?


    • WaPo publishes a political cartoon featuring Ted Cruz’s kids…as monkeys. They eventually pulled it down, the editor claiming that he “failed to look at it”. So, if he is to be believed, he failed to do the single thing that an editor exists to do – review material before it gets published. Although he disagrees, he “understands” why the cartoonist thought an exception to the general rule of leaving kids alone was “warranted” in this case. Warranted because Cruz is a conservative Republican, I assume. Hard to imagine a cartoon of Obama’s kids portrayed as monkeys slipping through the editing process. Impossible to imagine, actually.



      • Ah, the SCLM again…


      • Although he disagrees, he “understands” why the cartoonist thought an exception to the general rule of leaving kids alone was “warranted” in this case.

        Sometimes I wonder if it’s not simple hypocrisy, but kind of (at least at some level) the point of such things, if the messages is: “Oh, no, the ‘hands off the kids’ thing is only for acceptable people, not heretics and infidels, so while it would be totally inappropriate to do what we’re doing to Republican X if he were actually a human being, it’s okay, because he’s subhuman. It’s also important, because they need to be reminded on a regular basis that they are inferior to us and should stop being so uppity.”

        There are lots of ways to insult and lampoon people, but the choices often seem to be calculated to re-affirm the message: you are not one of us, and thus you are not afforded the rights that Real People are entitled to.


        • However that got through, it was awful. Telnaes is obviously a mean hypocrite. Or did she ever do that to Chelsea? Then she would just be a mean bitch. Hiatt may have just been screwing his female or male secretary.

          When a pol uses his kids in the campaign as props, which many have done, it is de rigueur in local races featuring young supposedly family loving pols, it is certainly fair to criticize the pol as a stage parent, or even as a negligent one, depending. Minor children, however, should be left out of the direct line of fire.

          Obviously I am talking matters of taste, not law. Just because an act is lawful doesn’t mean it is responsible.

          Addendum: I have downloaded the book and will be reading it before New Year’s.


        • Mark:

          I have downloaded the book and will be reading it before New Year’s.

          Let me know what you think. I found it very thought provoking.


Be kind, show respect, and all will be right with the world.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: