540 of 576 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? ) I do not exaggerate when I say this is one of the best (nonfiction) books I've read this year. Haidt is a great writer, and has a real knack for explaining a wide variety of things with clarity and wit. Here, Haidt is concerned to walk us through the world of morality and politics, explaining some of the reasons why very smart and good people disagree on such things as the value of equality, authority, tradition, and other thorny topics.
In 2006, Haidt wrote The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, part of whose thesis was that cognition is primarily based in emotion, with reason coming in after the fact, most often to justify what has already been 'decided' on. Section 1 of this book (one of whose chapters is titled "The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail, also the title of an earlier article by Haidt) picks up where Haid's previous book left off. There is evidence from neuroscience (Who's in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain, behavioral psychology Simple Heuristics That Make Us Smart, and other areas (Thinking, Fast and Slow) that increasingly suggests that human reason is less a tool for figuring out what to do, and more a tool for justifying what we've already decided to do (based on emotion and other simple snap-judgment intuition) to ourselves and others. Of course, this isn't to say reasoning is futile, or that we don't ever use it to actually decide what to do, but we generally use reason as a deciding mechanism only when intuition and emotion are at a loss or conflicting.
And the upshot of this? Reason is often less decisive in deciding what the best moral positions or political positions are. And this leads us into section 2, whose primary thesis is that any moral or political theory that attempts to use reason to discover the simple rules that should govern all political and moral decision making are likely going to fail. Why? Because, according to Haidt's and others' ressearch, there are at least six mental 'modules' that go into moral and poltical decisions, and it is difficult to argue that any one (or two or three) are more important than others. And they are: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation and liberty/oppression. Some people (often of the political left) care most about care/harm and fairness/cheating in their emphasis on egalitarian politics that aim to provide care for those in need and create fair rules in the sense that everyone, relatively speaking, starts on an 'even playing field.' Others (usually conservatives) have tempermants that focus on authority/suversion and loyalty/betrayal, focusing on maintaining or promoting institutions that foster some level of deference to authority (in legitimate hierarchies), and loyalty (whether to country, God, family, etc).
So, while liberals like to boil all politics down to questions of fairness, rights, and freedom from oppression, and conservatives like to boil politics down to matters of preserving tradition and legitimate fidelity to rules that have stood the test of time, Haidt reminds us that human nature is more complex than either of these. (Yes, this oversimplifies, but Haidt does it to show that, despite the diversity of beliefs liberal or conservatives have, their within-group 'core' is largely the same.) Humans, he writes in Section 3, are oftee\n self-interested individuals who require liberty, but also have a remarkable capacity (and often longing for) being part of groups where they sacrifice some liberty for the group. Humans have a tendency for egalitarianism (we get mad when we feel, or see others, oppressed), but also organize just as often into hierarchal groups. (Incidentally, this is similar to the thesis of Frans de Wall, who in Our Inner Ape, suggests that our ancestry is mixed between the hierarchal ape and the egalitarian bonobo). Haidt writes that evolution works at many levels: gene, cell, organism, group), and human nature is largely a push-and-pull between individuals competing and individuals cooperating.
The overall mmessage in The Righteous Mind is that the righteous mind, which attempts to privilege its own take on morality and politics, just doesn't grasp the complexities of morality and politics. We try to break down moral decision making into a set of unflappable rules: do what maximizes overall happiness, do what gives everyone the most liberty compatible with the liberty of others, do what strengthens the well-being and cohesion of the group, etc. And all of these seem to have a piece of reality, but none of them captures the whole thing. In reality, we are both selfish and altruistic, yearning for liberty and group-membership, egalitarianism and hierarchy, equality and proportional reward, etc. In the end, Haidt's word of wisdom is that whatever favored position you have politically, try to always question what else it is you are missing. After all, very smart and good people are conservatives, liberals, Buddhists, Christians, atheists, and many other things. Is it more likely that your positoins are right and everyone else is just missing it (the position of the righteous mind), or that you probably have a grain of truth in a field that contains many other grains? As philosopher Isaiah Belrin, a philosopher whose plurallism Haidt's argument resembles, has written (in Liberty: Incorporating Four Essays on Liberty), "One belief more than any other, is responsible for the slaughter of individuals on the altars of the great historical ideals... This is the belief that somewhere, in the past or in the future, in divine revalation or in the mind of an individual thinker, in the ronouncements of history or science, or in the simple heart of the uncorrupted good man, there is a final solution."
If I have one criticism of this otherwise fantastically interesting and wide-ranging book, is that its wide-ranging-ness is not very well tied together. While each chapter definitely has an argument of its own and concludes with a brief summary, he doesn't tie it all together very explicitly. We go from the basics of moral psychology to discussions of the "modular mind" theory in neuroscience, to discussions about different political positions, to group selection theory in evolution, to the New Atheists take on religion.... but Haidt isn't very explicit in explaining how and why he ties these things together. What makes things a tad more confusing is that Haidt is (somewhat) inconsistent between chapters (though not in a way detrimental to his argument): in one chapter he might explain why humans are primarily selfish, or why group selection is a valid theory in evolution, then in a proceding chapter, he'll suggest that selfishness, or group selection theory, are not quite as good as some suppose. So, while Haidt isn't being horribly inconsistent (one can suggest, as he does, that humans are primarily selfish without seeing this as the ultimate explainer of all human activity), but it does add to the book's somewhat disjointed and whirligig feel.
Overall, though, this is small potatoes, and you'll notice that I am still giving the book five stars. I began the review saying that this is esaily one of the best non-fiction books I've read this year (and I've read many). I stand by that, even with some minor flaws. If you have any interest in the field of moral theory, psychology, evollutionary biology, or evolutionary psychology (and I am interested in all four), you MUST read this book. Strongly recommended.
241 of 261 people found the following review helpful
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I was first introduced to the striking findings of Dr. Jonathan Haidt's research when I heard him speak at a conference on ethics and human research. The combination of his engaging speaking style married to hard data from his psychology experiments was impressive, as was his ability to constructively engage both the liberal and conservative members of the audience. I was intrigued enough to read the book-length version of the lecture, and I was greatly rewarded. Haidt shows how our minds have evolved to make us prone righteous disagreement. He hopes that a better understanding of our predisposition to take uncompromising moral stands can be a starting point to reverse the increased contentiousness of our politics.
Reading Haidt's "The Righteous Mind" was in some ways like taking a college survey course in moral psychology. In particular, the early chapters take a reader through the controversies and the limitation of prior attempts to study the psychological underpinnings of why we think the way we do. Experiments in psychology are accessible and illuminating in ways that other fields can only envy, and Haidt's book is full of absorbing descriptions of the research. Throughout, this book is highly data-driven (it concludes with nineteen pages of references to the scientific literature). What sets it apart is Haidt's ability to weave into the science both his own research and his evolving understanding of his personal moral frameworks. This human element makes the book both accessible and engrossing. Haidt wraps each section of the book around a "central metaphor" and then demonstrates the fascinating studies that validate that metaphor.
Section 1: Central metaphor - Our minds are like a rider on the back of an elephant. Through multiple studies, many conducted by Haidt himself, a reader learns how our conscious thoughts have a very limited ability to influence our emotional predispositions. We spend most of our intellectual effort as the "elephant rider" not in rationally deciding what course of action to take, but in trying to justify what the elephant has already done based on its gut level snap judgment. Or, to quote David Hume from 1739, "¯reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them." What Hume perceived, Haidt validates. In addition to the research demonstrating that this is so, Haidt also explores the teleological argument of _why_ our brains evolved this way. Fascinating.
Section 2: Central Metaphor - The human "moral palate" is like a tongue, but instead of taste receptors for bitter, sweet, salty, etc., it responds to different dimensions, or flavors, of morality. Liberal morality draws most heavily from the moralities of "care/harm", "liberty/oppression", and, to a lesser degree, "fairness/cheating". Conservative morality, in contrast, values "care/harm", fairness/cheating", and "liberty/oppression", but not quite so highly as liberal morality. At the same time it also elevates concerns about "loyalty/betrayal", "authority/subversion", and "sanctity/degradation", flavors of morality that are rare on the liberal palate . This places the two sides of the political divide in an asymmetrical position. Conservatives seem to have an ability to at least appreciate liberal reasoning, even if they disagree about its conclusions. Liberals, in contrast, have trouble even recognizing as authentic any arguments which appeal to the non-liberal moral palate.
Haidt, who began his research as a proud liberal, finds this to be one of the central reasons for the failure of liberalism to connect with the broader public. I think this sort of openness to unexpected findings is sadly rare in the behavioral sciences, which are replete with papers explaining what is "wrong" with conservatives. It is to Haidt's great credit that he used his research to look for a greater understanding of moral psychology, not for confirmation of his underlying personal bias.
Section 3: Central metaphor - We humans (at least morally) are 90% chimp, 10% bee. Haidt makes the case that the human mind crossed the intellectual Rubicon from chimp to man when we developed "shared intentionality", the ability to work together for a group, not an individual goal. From that point forward, it is possible that natural selection favored not just the fittest individual, but also the fittest groups. Haidt suggests that a portion of our psychology co-evolved with religion and other group-binding mechanisms to make the best use of interconnected moral communities. In short, our understand of the underpinnings of civilization is incomplete if we think purely in terms of "Homo economicus", man as a seeker only of individual reward, and instead must at least consider our instinct for "hive-ishness".
Conclusion: There really wasn't a metaphor here, but I'd call this the "that's all very interesting, but what can we do about it?" section. In some ways this is the weakest chapter, in that it is more proscriptive and (somewhat) less data-driven. On the other hand, it is also the most ambitious, as this is clearly the section where Haidt tries to leverage his research into practical application. He hopes that a clearer understanding of what motivates our fellows will lead to less divisive politics. As he says:
"Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say."
The proscriptions for achieving this are more general, but none-the-less worthy. Haidt calls for a less Manichean approach to politics, recognizing that liberal, conservative, and libertarian have vital contributions to the success of the body politic. If his book can help opponents to see the morality, even if it is a different morality, that is at work in the values of our political opponents, then maybe compromise might stop being a political dirty word. As Haidt concludes:
"We`re all stuck here for a while, so let`s try to work it out."
152 of 165 people found the following review helpful
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Published at the perfect time in American politics, The Righteous Mind belongs next to other scientific gems by Pinker (The Blank Slate), Sagan (The Demon Haunted World), Wright (The Moral Animal), Ariely (Predictably Irrational), and Wilson (Strangers to Ourselves). The main thesis is morality tends to operate by initial, intuitive reactions and only then do people respond with post-hoc strategic justifications. This seemingly small idea alters dominant theory and research on moral psychology. Why should you read this particular book?
1. Haidt does not try to persuade you with a smattering of self-selected studies. He carefully walks the reader through multiple philosophical traditions and quite an impressive body of research spanning ethology, behavioral economics, neurobiology, and psychology. The descriptions of these studies are stimulating and everything is in the service of setting up a revised conceptual model of morality. I love the fact that he wants to neutralize the readers natural defenses (reflexive mental processes outside of conscious awareness). Thus, he does not offer a definition of morality until p. 274. This is one example of Haidt's careful structuring of topics, examples, and data. There appears to be a motive for every decision. Something that is far too rare in a culture where speedy presentation and publication is the norm.
2. Haidt's personal journey, involving several changes in moral beliefs, is a secondary storyline. By presenting his own biases, the reader is able to focus on the persuasiveness of his arguments. Again, this is all in the service of reducing defensive reactions in readers and I believe it works quite well.
3. There is a perfect blending of philosophy and science. Morality is difficult to study and readers will be pleased to find that the arguments do not rest on empirical data alone. When evidence is presented, Haidt carefully walks the reader through three or more distinct reasons for his position. No different than a lawyer, he adopts an open, reflective attitude toward supportive and non-supportive evidence to obtain his current worldview.
4. The book is descriptive and prescriptive. In the last two chapters, Haidt uses his knowledge of moral psychology to offer suggestions for improving public discourse on religion and politics. Its a satisfying ending to a comprehensive volume. I would offer the disclaimer that if all you want are tips on how to bridge the divide between atheist and religious individuals, and liberals and conservatives, this is probably not the book for you. This is not a self-help book. This is a book for people who are interested in how and why automatic, non-conscious mental processes play a role in politics, religion, war, and peace. This is a book for people who are interested in the latest perspectives in evolutionary theory. For instance, Haidt offers a persuasive argument for the possibility that human evolution occurs at the group level and not just at the level of genes and individuals (a multilevel approach).
The world would be a better place if people read this book. I am hoping this gets in the hands of every person in a position of power to impose their moral beliefs on others, from political advisors, pundits, and politicians to the leaders of churches, synagogues, and mosques.
287 of 334 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? ) `The Righteous Mind' presents an imaginative theory on the origins of human morality and the source of discord in the realm of moral systems such as politics and religion. It is one of the more ambitious endeavors a reader will come across in popular science and philosophy today, and for this, it is to be commended. But, the theory is far too immense for this book's style and scope to handle appropriately, it is highly speculative when it shouldn't be, and ultimately is not nearly as convincing as it could be.
One of the main difficulties is that the author is not straightforward with his premises. By the subtitle we know this book is going to be about "why good people are divided by politics and religion". But the author does not tell us his hypothesis until we're nearly finished with the book. Indeed, he admits on page 274 that he hasn't even established a definition of `morality' by that point. "You're nearly done reading a book on morality, and I have not yet given you a definition of morality." As a matter of fact, he never really does define morality (he offers a definition of `moral systems', not `morality'), and so it is impossible to make a reasonable assessment of this argument, supposedly on morality.
His rationale for doing this gives the show away: "The definition I'm about to give you would have made little sense back in chapter 1. It would not have meshed with your intuitions about morality, so I thought it best to wait." In other words, he needed to prepare the reader by giving preliminary arguments, the assumption being that only after those preliminaries were done, the real argument could be understood.
But this is to conceal the point being made until after it has been made, and so no one can properly assess that point in the process. This amounts to a rhetorical trick to get people to accept the argument's foundation and thus have a harder time denying the argument when it is finally presented. In the meantime, the objective reader will be left confused and a little frustrated--What point is he trying to make? Why is he being so elusive? Why doesn't he come out and say what he means?
This approach does conform to the theory, itself, however, one of whose main points is to diminish the role of reason and rationality. According to Haidt, people don't really pay attention to reasonable arguments anyway, rather making decisions based on emotions and intuition. As such, he spends most of the book bypassing a reasonable argument.
It is a shame because the theme is fairly interesting and deserves to be fleshed out in a good, straightforward argument. The argument, summed up by the definition of moral systems that Haidt offers (on page 274), is as follows:
"Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible."
Basically, morality is an artificial construct geared toward making society work. Once we arrive at this thesis, we actually have something to work with and much of the material leading up to this point finds its place. Of course, one will still have questions about the thesis and the various proofs offered in defense, but at least one has substance to reflect on and test.
And there is plenty to reflect on and test. Haidt is clearly imaginative and is willing to check prejudices in order to arrive at some penetrating conjectures. He's right when he suggests that the best way to approach a political argument is to start with common ground. His metaphor of `innateness'--a first draft that can be revised with work--is excellent. Throughout this book, the attentive reader will be compelled to question standards, clarify logic, and conquer new intellectual territory. For this, it is worth the read. And, as long as the reader watches out for the book's stylistic deficiencies, it can be a rewarding experience.
Those interested in these themes might also consider Everyone Agrees: Book I: Words, Ideas, and a Universal Morality
42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
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I recently read Jonathan Haidt's THE HAPPINESS HYPOTHESIS and greatly enjoyed its synthesis of ancient philosophers and modern neuroscience. So I was excited to read THE RIGHTEOUS MIND, even though I'm not as interested in morality -- or at least I wasn't before I read it. Haidt once again does a great job of creating a narrative surrounding recent scientific studies and famous philosophers and thinkers, this time in the realm of ethics and morality. It works great as a sequel of sorts to the chapters in HAPPINESS HYPOTHESIS that deal with the ideas of 'hypocrisy' and 'divinity'.
Haidt begins by looking at morality across various world cultures, bringing in his experiences living in the caste-based society in Orissa, India and a cross-cultural study done with colleagues in Brazil. He challenges our own pre-conceived notions using the elephant-and-rider metaphor from HAPPINESS HYPOTHESIS, which puts the modules of the brain that reason (the rider) at the mercy of the larger impulsive and emotional parts (the elephant). Basically, study after study shows that we form our opinions intuitively, then work backwards to justify the opinions with reason.
You can see how this will quickly lead into the third rails of religion and politics. Haidt proposes that decisions within these realms are guided by a moral matrix which is comprised of six different parts: Care/harm, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation and Liberty/oppression. Liberals (in the American sense), conservatives and libertarians all place differing degrees of emphasis on these different modes.
For example, while a liberal or libertarian might see no harm in someone using an American flag as a rag to scrub a floor inside the privacy of their own home, for a conservative, this activates the Loyalty/betrayal module because the American flag is a symbol of cultural unity. So even if no one knew about it, to the conservative it would still be wrong. On the other side, liberals see overt expressions of patriotism like American flag pins as naïve jingoism at best and as the first steps toward fascism and genocide at worst.
Although Haidt doesn't say it, I believe his Sanctity/degradation schema goes along way towards explaining why American democracy responds differently to sex scandals than does European democracy.
According to the twin studies cited by Haidt, one third to one half of our tendency toward one political philosophy is inherited. We are born on one side of the aisle and few of us choose to cross it. If that's the case, what can be done to change people's minds? Haidt has little answer for this, but his moral matrix theory does at least offer some hope that the liberal side can begin to understand the conservative side as well as the conservatives understand the liberals. I phrase it this way because Haidt cites another study in which he asked respondents to answer questions about morality "as a typical liberal" or "as a typical conservative". This study showed that conservatives were actually much better at seeing the liberal point-of-view than were liberals the conservatives'. Haidt himself identifies as liberal, so it is not as if this is the conclusion he would have sought.
I don't know enough about the literature to judge whether Haidt's analysis is correct. I do think his ideas about the six moral dimensions and the group-level evolution that might explain its emergence are highly stimulating. Not since I read Lakoff's DON'T THINK OF AN ELEPHANT have I felt so many new vistas open up in the landscape of political language. If Haidt is right, and 'different strokes for different folks' leads to a stronger, more competitive nation, then perhaps this is just the paradigm shift we need. I worry that this will just arm political speechwriters with more ways to conceive 'dogwhistles' that cynically divide conservatives and progressives.
For the political discussion alone, I recommend this book. However, I must also briefly touch on the 'religion' part of the subtitle. In a central chapter on religion, Haidt takes on the thinkers he calls "The New Atheists": Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens and Dennett. To Haidt, the New Atheists don't understand the Hive Switch mechanism which can be activated by any group activity - from church to raves to a good play. It can even be activated in isolation in the cathedral of nature, as with the Emersonian Transcendentalists. He cites studies that show churchgoers -- while no more generous than non-churchgoers in some psychology studies -- when looked at as a larger community are much more generous within their own community. Religion also yields dividends in trust-based games. (His primary example is the Orthodox Jewish diamond syndicate.) To me, it's a bit of a strawman argument to say that religion is beneficial in many aspects. None of the New Atheists dispute this, and Alain de Botton has written a whole book on the premise. Haidt fails to address the concern that religion is broadly polarizing *between cultures*.
His argument rather should be along the lines of fundamental American ideals: toleration of all religions and other Hive Switch activators so long as they do not interfere with civic life -- separation of church and state. Haidt also glances at the idea that the most powerful binding forces in today's world may not be governments or churches but multi-national corporations. In Haidt's analysis, the advantage liberals have over conservatives is not to be blind to the 'capture' of governments and other institutions by corporate forces. I can see the moral matrix at work in recent events. Conservatives view Occupy Wall Street as dirty and disrespectful of authority. They do not see them as freedom fighters for fairness and against oppression, as many progressives do.
All in all, THE RIGHTEOUS MIND is a thought-provoking book and one that I hope will change the shape of the political debate between left and right. Highly recommended.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 21, 2012
Jonathan Haidt's "The Happiness Hypothesis" is one of the top ten books I have ever read. As opposed to merely entertaining me or providing for interesting thought, it truly helped me better understand the world we live in. His new book is very much in the same vein and every bit as good.
Given the editorial reviews and the 28 predecessor reviews on this site, I will not waste your time with summaries of its main points (or, even worse, with my personal views on them). Let me just (1) assure you that it reads as effortlessly as water drinks, and (2) say that, in a society of increasing closed-mindedness, if you want to recall what it's like when a very smart person pursues intellectual inquiry with an open mind, you will find this book quite gratifying. I strongly recommend you read this book as I expect the author will add as much to your understanding of the world as he has to mine.
35 of 40 people found the following review helpful
on April 6, 2012
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Late in life I made a Mary Matalin - James Carville marrage. My husband opened many windows of understanding for me. I stopped listening to Rush Limbaugh when I realized how painful listening to him was for my beloved. And I amazed him when I interpreted for him how misrepresented I felt by much mainstream media. Without either of us changing our particular moral viewpoint we respected and came to appreciate each others.
Since my husband's death I have tried to stay in touch with the liberal political viewpoint but it can be painful. I often feel like a masochist when liberals beat up on conservatives. It was particularly painful after the Gabrielle Gifford shooting when liberals berated and demeaned conservatives for incivility they used themselves with impunity.
So Jonathan Haidt's book is water to a thirsty soul. I hope that you read it too.
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
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When an atheist writer quotes Jesus in a postive way, I think we can safely assume we have a unique writer. My assumption was correct -- this book blew me away in the most positive way possible. It's a much-needed message for what this spiritually and politically splintered generation needs. The book was well organized and presented a realistic view of where we are, and he attempts to show (most of it very effectively) why good people are divided by politics and religion.
He's a master of the following formula: "First tell your audience what you're going to tell them, then tell them, and tell them what you've told them." He's extremely thorough. In the introduction he presents his three main points of which the book will deal with:
Part 1: INTUITIONS COME FIRST, STRATEGIC REASONING SECOND.
Part 2: THERE'S MORE TO MORALITY THAN HARM OR FAIRNESS. He deals with six psychological/mental "taste recptors:" care/harm, liberty/oppression, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subverson and sanctity/degradation.
Part 3: MORALITY BINDS AND BLINDS.
At the end of the book, he sumps up his points with even more supporting material.
He uses many sources as well as analogies. He roots his position in the ideas of philosopher David Hume. The author's main metaphor is a rider (reason) on an elephant (intuition and other factors, often outside our own immediate consciousness. His key point is that the RIDER serves the ELEPHANT.
He writes a great deal about this and quotes from a varity of sources (including Jesus, which I found remarkable, as the author claims to be an atheist). He emphasizes and re-emphasizes the idea that intuition and emotions, among other things, are actually the most important ways that we as human beings form and develop our ideas.
He then explores the subject of morality and traces what he believes is its origin and development. He also ties in the political, religious and moral controversies of the day. Surprisingly, he is not against religion and even shows how it can be helpful. Equally surprisingly, he even takes the "new atheists" to task, claiming that they depend too much on rationality at the expense of other aspects of cognition, especially intuition.
To make a list of all the valuable insights would make an overly long reviw, but suffice it to say that tis book is very much worth reading. This author is a thorough thinker. He presents one of the best comparsons and contrasts between liberals, conservatives and liberarians I've ever read. He even shows how the terms are used in Europe -- similar to the United States, but not exactly the same, either. I was personally helped like this, as I have watched the political scene in the United States turn into something I don't know any more.
I'm not saying that I agreed with every word I read, but this is one of those books where it really doesn't matter. He has a civil, respectful tone throughout the whole book. I can't read minds, but I'll bet you'll never hear this author slam-dunking people who don't agree with him. It would be hard to find fault with his civil manner of discussing important issues. In open-mindedness and plain old good manners, I rate this book right up there with THE SELFLESS GENE.
If you haven't guessed by now, I find this book very much worth reading.
20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2012
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Haidt has written an excellent book about moral psychology. However, be careful how you approach this: his concern is with what we are, not with what we ought to be. Although the ideas affect philosophy, this book is about psychology. Nevertheless, he proposes one "ought". By showing us how people arrive at their moral intuitions, he wants to help us get past those intuitions and at least be tolerant of others with whom we disagree morally and politically. And with the understanding he provides we might even come to respect other's viewpoints even if we don't like them.
I believe he is mistaken in assuming that our moral intuition is all there is to ethics. Even though he recognizes the dual-process model of the human mind, he gives virtually no hope for the reasoning part to overcome the intuitive part. Our reasoning mind serves only in making our moral intuitions seem respectable. In that respect we lack freedom. That being the case, how can he appeal to us to get past our intuitions that put us in the groupish bee hive and to tolerate, if not respect, those with whom we disagree?
However, contrary to Haidt, I am certain that there is a place for a rational, philosophical approach to ethics and that by understanding our psychology we can override our moral intuitions. Through reason we may come to recognize that some of our moral intuitions are cognitive illusions. Like visual illusions, we cannot help but experience them, yet by reason we can learn when we are mistaken to take them at face value.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 17, 2012
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It is often pleasant to see your worst suspicions of human nature confirmed with scientific evidence and so I was delighted to read Jonathan Haidt's excellent volume documenting how people rationalize their behavior post hoc, mostly to provide cover for their prejudices or "intuitions", as Haidt describes them ("moral reasons are the tail wagged by the intuitive dog").
Thus, political and religious discord are more easily accounted for by people's primary processing differences than they are by people's rational arguments (we haven't really come that far from Freud now, have we?). And on top of that, people's intuitions tend to have an evolutionary basis (or at least the templates for certain behaviors are "organized in advance of experience" due to evolutionary forces); even religion has survival value, much to the dismay of the "New Atheists". We even discover that conservatives tend to be more successful not because they are more sneeky and underhanded, but because their values appeal to more "Moral Foundations" than what Liberal's typically do (6 vs. 3).
If, while reading this, you begin to wonder if the conclusions that Professor Haidt starts to draw about conservatives vs. liberals are beginning to sound like the very post hoc rationalizations he mentioned in the early part of the book, then you are not the only one. He even describes an incident where he appears to have had a sudden transformative conversion to conservatism upon reading a volume edited by Jerry Muller who elevates conservatism over liberalism by proposing that conservatism is based on creating a happier society through enlightened reasoning. And this in a book that clearly states "Anyone who values truth should stop worshiping reason".
Sigh, I suppose it was bound to happen. In professor Haidt's defense however, he never says that he is somehow immune to his own rationalizing processing. And, overall, this was quite an entertaining work, even if it seems that he continues to harbor the belief or hope that people will, with all their ingrained differences that he ascribes so frequently to an almost inborn template, finally find some way to "get along".