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

by Jonathan Haidt

Paperback, 2013


Vintage (2013), Edition: Reprint, 528 pages


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."

User reviews

LibraryThing member TimothyBurke
This is a frustrating book. We spent much of the year discussing it at Swarthmore College and while I was quite prepared to be appreciative of the intent of the book and much of its core argument, I found myself more and more irritated in small and large ways as the year's conversation wore on.
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Part of it is that Haidt, like many of the more faddish new devotees of neuroscience and cognitive science, habitually overreaches his arguments in several respects, particularly in the latter half of the book. He's trying so hard to knock a kind of straw man's version of rationalism off its perch in the first half of the book that he ends up leaving no room for what Daniel Kahneman calls "slow thinking". E.g., Haidt doesn't just say that much of what we assign to rational thought is not particularly rational thought, but essentially completely boxes out anything but a kind of shallow evolutionary psychology as an explanation of any cognitive or behavioral action. Among other things, this makes it hard to explain his own work (e.g., why isn't evolutionary psychology of this kind just another kind of righteousness that is solely motivated by inherited cognitive predispositions?) but also makes it hard to explain why anybody should in fact ever want to go beyond righteousness as he describes it. E.g., he has no normative conception of what moral behavior ought to be and leaves himself no way to get there, but the entire argument of the book drives towards trying to convince people to override their evolved predispositions.

The second big issue follows from the first. Much of the book ultimately amounts to trying to convince educated American progressives that they have to learn from conservatives, who Haidt believes operate on a wider spectrum of appeals to the "moral tastebuds" that human beings have evolved to have. But this first off is based on a prediction that liberals are losing out in American politics because they have such a narrow set of preferences, a prediction that isn't a particularly good reading of the longer arc of American politics since 1945 or even since 2000. It is ultimately either a liberal overreaction to two terms of George W. Bush or it is an elaborate bit of concern trolling by a conservative pretending to sympathy with progressives. But in the larger comparative sense (which Haidt claims to want to pursue) it is not at all clear that political movements that favor all the "tastebuds" tend to succeed, or that such movements tend to be "conservative" in any sense. The first half of the book tries quite seriously to ask whether its psychology can justifiably be called 'universal' but then Haidt completely forgets about that test in the second half. With a bigger "N", it's not clear at all that his assertions about why political movements succeed in relationship to whether they work the full range of deep or innate moral inclinations hold any water outside the United States in the last two decades or across human history at an even bigger scale.
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LibraryThing member annbury
This is an important but exasperating book-- it is gives real insights into the psychological determinants of American politics, but it also overstates and oversimplifies its central points. Nonetheless, I strongly recommend it, particularly to blue-state Democrats like me, who have spend years
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wondering how the Republicans manage to fool so much of the electorate into voting against its own self interest.

Mr. Haidt's first key point us that people don't really vote their own self interest, at least not in the rational economic sense. Rather, we vote for the kind of society that we would like to live in. Our preferences are based on underlying moral assumptions are intuitively and emotionally formed, not based on reason. For your average blue state Dem (particularly the more intellectual variety) that is not an appealing thought. It does, however, find support in a lot of the psychological research that has been done over the past thirty years. In economics, the idea of the rational "homo economicus" whose choices reflect self-interest is losing its grip, courtesy of Daniel Kahneman et al (also courtesy of the financial crisis). Mr. Haidt brings the same view to issues of political choice, convincingly challenging the notion of the "rational voter". He isn't the first to have done so, but instead of focusing on why non-rational voters are wrong, he focusses on what drives them.

In doing so, he gets to his second key point -- that liberals and conservatives differ in their underlying moral assumptions. Liberals, he argues, focus strongly on two imperatives -- avoiding harm, and achieving fairness. Conservatives, he suggests, respond to those but also to other factors -- justice, hierarchy, and sanctity. Liberterians bring in another moral base -- liberty. He is not saying that any of these views is right in an absolute sense, just pointing out that they are there. He also argues that they derive from very basic patterns in human social arrangement, patterns that go far back into the past of our species.

Here I began to have real problems with Mr. Haight's arguments. The orderly arrangement of moral principals seems simplistic, as does the argument that liberals are focused on two of them, conservatives on six, etc. Mr. Haight does tie these arguments to a survey that tries to relate moral bases to political attitudes. It would be gratifying to see more research, perhaps deeper research, on these issues. Also, several of Mr. Haight's arguments that link his moral bases to evolution seem to me to amount to a chain of assumptions producing a less than convincing conclusion.

Still, I found this a very illuminating book -- so much so that I am recommending it to various other blue-state intellectuals. (Some have already assured me that they won't be convinced by it, because it is wrong. Hmmm.) I also found it in many ways a convincing book. Many things that people do, particularly things involving groups, seem to me based on deep emotional forces that may not be rational, but are powerful. As an intellectual, I don't like the argument that most of what people do (me included) isn't determined by reason. But I think that it is true. And if we blue-state Dems are to see anything like our idea of a good society, we have to listen to the other side, rather than dismiss them as stupid.
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LibraryThing member cdogzilla
As an atheist, progressive liberal who strongly values rationalism, secularism, justice, and fairness above patriotism, religiosity, free markets, traditionalism, etc. I find myself looking across a divide at other partisans unable to fathom how they could be so cruel, obtuse, selfish, racist,
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homophobic, Islamophobic, xenophobic, patriarchal, and ahistorical. This book is a valuable bridge to the other side of the divide -- not in the sense that it excuses racism, or any of the other evils of the world -- but in that offers explanations grounded in research that explain how libertarians and religious conservatives arrive at the conclusions. (As well as how I arrived at mine.)

I often found myself grumbling that outside of sociology, Haidt's understanding of history and economics was superficial and lacking nuance, but he's not a historian or economist and where I found myself wishing he understood Marx better, or the history of the progressive movement in America, I didn't see that his generalizations did very much harm to the sociological basis of arguments. I didn't always agree with his examples, but I'm hard pressed to find fault with his approach and methodology overall.

At the end, I found his thesis encouraging, even if unsettling in some ways. I don't like the idea of a "hive button," as he calls it, but I recognize the value in recognizing that groupishness may be an evolved trait arising from multi-level selection, and that purely rational arguments, and policies based on those arguments by extension, will fail to persuade or win support if their advocates don't consider the arguments of the opposition, and the basis of those arguments.

Haidt's style is clear, lucid, and effective in laying out arguments, and their evidentiary basis without bogging down in sociological jargon.
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LibraryThing member rivkat
Haidt has a pretty good response to any criticism, which is that it comes from the critic’s precommitments/moral tastes based in genes as guided in their expression by environment, but oh well. There are several big ideas here (presented as a business book with lots of repetition), including that
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there are six “flavors” of morality, of which liberals use only three (care/harm, fairness, liberty/oppression), while conservatives use all six at different levels (fairness to them means proportionality, plus sanctity, respect/authority, and loyalty). Haidt suggests that liberals have particular trouble understanding conservatives because those three considerations don’t even seem moral to them. Haidt also argues in favor of group selection as one way in which natural selection operates, not just individual selection (the dominant account for decades), suggesting that it’s the best way to explain why certain aspects of human behavior seem group-promoting rather than individual-promoting (e.g., willingness to die in battle for one’s group).

It was a provocative but frustrating book, in part because Haidt seemed unwilling to acknowledge the deepness of the divides even while talking about them. For example, he discussed flagburning as an issue where one “side” sees nothing special about the flag while the other sees it as sacred. But I’ve never heard of an instance of flagburning where the burner’s position was “this flag is meaningless.” (One of Haidt's survey questions asks about a woman who uses a flag as a cleaning rag, but it's a hypothetical.) To the contrary, both the burner and the people who support the burner’s free speech right to burn despite the offense it gives understand quite well that the burner isn’t trying to stay warm. The sides agree on the meaning of the flag, but not on the acceptable implications of that meaning. Authority/subversion isn’t just an axis of morality that goes only in one positive direction—it’s possible for people to believe that subversion is justified and even good. I don’t need to be convinced that the flag has meaning—that’s not where I disagree with those who would ban flagburning.

Another version of this: Haidt makes some brief historical and European references, but treats liberalism/conservatism as genetically based while drawing all his examples from contemporary American politics. “Conservatives are predisposed against change” and “liberals are predisposed towards change” is a weak enough thesis that it doesn’t really do much to help explain our current mess; on the other side it’s hard to derive a genetic basis for opposing Obamacare or opposing teacher’s unions specifically. Or for explaining how cultures and politics change; I'm willing to accept his weak thesis without thinking it has any implications for policy. This difficulty making the leap from genetics to policy comes out particularly at the end of the book, where Haidt suggests that we should all try to understand each other better so that we can get along (but doesn’t have much advice for gay people about how that should work with people who think they’re destroying the country) and also says conservatives are right about markets being good at getting (some) incentives right and therefore health insurance is bad. See, because you don’t pay for the full costs of your routine care, you don’t comparison shop and so health care costs keep rising. Setting aside the ways in which this is a weird description of seeking health care in the US and ignores the credence good character of healthcare that makes comparison shopping quite difficult, it perfectly encapsulates Haidt’s complete American-centricness as he advances his universalist thesis.

Don’t even get me started on his experience in India where the “silent wives” initially freaked him out, but then he got to know people—he doesn’t say whether any of them were wives—and realized that their system had upsides and positive values as well as downsides, which I’m sure it does but I would have appreciated examples instead of platitudes about how the powerful have obligations in these systems too, notwithstanding that they sometimes abuse their power. This is a book about conflict that doesn’t really have violence in it, because Haidt wants us to approve of imposing sanctions on moral misbehavior, but I don’t think he wants us to face the question of whether beating someone up for violating community norms (including norms I endorse, like “don’t cheat people”) is a good idea. Basically, Haidt really likes some features of “red” morality (cf. Cahn & Carbone’s Red Families v. Blue Families and Luker’s Abortion and the Politics of Motherhood), but can’t bring himself to say what those other authors, also sympathetic to conservatives without agreeing with them, do: red morality only works if people can’t opt out of it. This means that if things go wrong—if you marry a man who beats you, if you get pregnant while unmarried—you must suffer to protect others. Conservatives identify other victims of blue morality, and some I will concede; the point is that, while Haidt says we should try to get along because we’re all stuck here for a while, morality also requires punishing deviants (which he acknowledges elsewhere, but not in his celebration of understanding the other's point of view), and you have to face up to who the deviants are and what will happen to them in any moral system.
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LibraryThing member the.ken.petersen
If this is what passes for intellectual thought at the beginning of the twenty-first century, then I suggest that we form an orderly queue and head back for the trees. This may appear to be a harsh statement but, to argue that the human mind is dominated by intuition and that we use logic merely to
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provide the reason for a decision that we have already made, surely negates the point of writing this book. By Mr Haidt's own theory, I will not be persuaded; I either already believe this theory, or I don't.

Leaving this aside, let us examine the main tenet of his opus: "why good people are divided by politics and religion". Haidt' says that Liberals (as far left as an American dare admit to being) use two 'foundations of morality' whilst the right use five. Why five? Is it because, after ruthless research, our author has unearthed five possibles, but no more? No, five is plucked from the air because the tongue has five taste receptors. WHAT??????

OK, let us pass this over too. What are these moral functions? The universally shared functions are 'Care/Harm' and 'Fairness/Cheating' but the clever old right have three more (typical isn't it? Not satisfied with holding most of the land and money, they have to have more morals too.) These virtuous people also have 'Loyalty/Betrayal', Authority/Subversion' and 'Sanctity/Degradation'.

As a member of the centre-left (a lunatic Communist for American media personnel) I am unable to feel loyalty, forge a relationship or avoid contaminants. I think that I can avoid reading any more of this contaminant! I am very proud of my country - not for charging into Afghanistan, Killing many of their people, and our own, then getting out, once we're bored to leave the Afghans with the mess; but because we have a National Health Service, we do not die of treatable issues because we don't have enough money. I am terrifically proud of our literary and art output. I support the football team of the City in which I was born and, despite them rarely winning anything, and regularly disappointing, I cannot change my allegiance. I plead guilty to having a 'thing' about authority. It is not, that I reject all authority, it is that I question the right of the person claiming superiority and yes, I will monitor a leader to ensure that he (would I offend the right were I to add "/she"?) sticks to the straight and narrow, because, 'All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely'. I am also told that, as a left leaning individual, I am incapable of religious thought. The British Labour Party has its roots in the Church. The working class have been historically, and I would suggest still are, the backbone of the Church and when it comes to the basest level of degradation, the poor not only have, in general, a high level of self cleanliness, but actually do the work to keep the upper class clean.

This book uses a system that is often employed by those who wish to obfuscate: Mr Haidt tells us, with authority that something is true then, rather than allowing that statement to be challenged, he races into a proof based on this information. (I have just read that sentence, and I am not sure that I understand it so, I shall give an example):

I make an unsupportable statement - Everything is either black or white.
Now I tell you that I am going to amaze you - I shall prove that the night sky is as white as the driven snow.
Then we go to the proof - go out on any given night. Even if it is cloudy, there is almost guaranteed to be a star, or the moon poking out somewhere; therefore, it is not totally black. As we have already agreed, if something is not black, it is white, QED.
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LibraryThing member Scarchin
This is one of the most important books of our time. Haidt goes into great detail to explain the evolutionary origins behind human habits and thinking that lead to discord and disagreement.

Although he is an atheist and a liberal, Haidt did not set out to validate his world view. In fact, he
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actually affirms the role of religion as a net plus (albeit in evolutionary terms) for society. He also points out where many liberals miss the boat when it comes to moral thinking and claims that they view the world in an unbalanced, though well-meaning, way.

Of the many studies he conducted and discusses, the one that struck me the most was the one where liberals and conservatives were asked to explain how the "other side" would view an issue. His results aligned with my personal experience. Conservatives, in general, understood what the views of liberals are. Liberals, however, generally had an inaccurate understanding of a conservative perspective.

This is not at all to say that this book is an affirmation of conservative views etc. It isn't. Haidt does not jettison his personal views. Instead he explains how people are usually so entrenched with their world view and "team" that, even if they ultimately have the same goals as the "other side," they aren't hearing them because at a very deep, intuitive level they can't "hear" them. We start building our defensive arguments before we have even really heard or considered the facts.

This book is an example of something I often tell me students about. You know experience of learning a new word and then almost magically seeing it everywhere? That is what reading this book is like. It is absolutely mindblowing to see how clearly Haidt's Six Foundations of Moral Thinking can be transposed onto just about any controversy or disagreement. I am astounded- and even angered - to see how mass media and political entities have mastered the art of manipulation through the use of trigger words and constructions. Haidt actually has a Web site where you can see lists of words and the particular moral foundation with which they connect.

Ultimately, I am encouraged by research like this. I am aligned with Haidt's final comments in the book which present the hope that, if we can work to truly understand the perspectives of others and also literally observe how our minds are working (and short-circuit gut level defensiveness), we can attain remarkable levels of cooperation and progress.
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LibraryThing member fingerpost
Haidt goes into detail explaining why liberals think as they do, and why conservatives think as they do. He argues (convincingly to me) that both sides of our American political/religious spectrum base our arguments largely on morals... but the two sides have different definitions of what morality
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is. He discusses the evolution of religion in our world, and argues that even if there is no God at all (an indeed, Haidt himself is an Atheist), that religions have been an absolutely essential force in the development of a civilized world, and that they are still of vital importance today. I would recommend the book to anyone, but especially those who are far enough on the left or right of the political spectrum that they have trouble understanding their opponents as anything other than stupid and/or evil. This book shows that this is not the case.
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LibraryThing member ritaer
This is an important book, especially for those who consider themselves liberal or progressive. It is essential to learn to understand why people take the positions that they do on political and moral issues. Haidt demonstrates that, while liberals base most judgments on the values of care/harm and
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liberty/oppression, with some based on fairness/cheating, there are three other moral stands that matter to conservatives: loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion and sanctity/degradation. Without understanding these other motivations, which Haidt links to our evolution as successful members of groups, we can only see those who disagree as wrong , or even mentally ill.
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LibraryThing member erwinkennythomas
Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion attempted to find answers to this perplexing problem. Haidt therefore reasoned that intuition comes first followed by strategic reasoning. He challenged the notion of an emphasis on rationality as being
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delusional. This view he showcased by speaking metaphorically of a rider and elephant, where the rider is rational and the elephant intuitive. Later the writer wrote there was more to morality than harm and fairness. He presented a Morals Foundations Theory and the research of his colleagues supporting his arguments. He mentioned the studies of Richard Shweder to broaden a reader’s understanding of the moral domain, and that of Emile Durkheim by showing why many people especially social conservatives value binding conditions of loyalty, authority, and sanctity.
In the third part of the book Haidt introduced the principle that morality binds and blinds. He saw people as being multilevel in their selection that turns them in Homo duplex. He stated that people are selfish and groupish. They could spend most of their waking hours being selfish, but have the capacity to become part of the whole community. The book discussed why people are divided by religion and politics. Haidt wrote that it wasn’t because they were Manicheans that saw some people as good and others evil. Individuals are born with certain proclivities that could be shaped by environmental factors. The writer reasoned that people are intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive their strategic reasoning that makes it impossible to connect with others unlike themselves.
The Righteous Mind appears to be based on some reasoning that’s controversial. Haidt’s topic itself is subject to nuances spelled out in the literature. Human behavior is difficult to ascertain with any degree of certainty. Still Haidt as a moral psychologist has attempted to bring some semblance of order to this study. Although he concluded that conservatives will be most successful in social debates, still Haidt saw himself as a liberal, who hopes to broaden liberals’ perspectives in setting the agenda.
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LibraryThing member rocketjk
The Righteous Mind is psychologist/ethicist Jonathan Haidt's attempt to understand and explain why humans can come to see things so differently from each other and, most importantly, to become so set in our ways that we see people who disagree with us on important matters as enemies and/or
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The book, for me, works best in its first half, as Haidt lays out his research and his theories about human perceptions, how we form opinions, and what drives our responses. Essentially, his theory, based on his research, comes down to his belief that our subconscious really provides the bulk of our opinions, which are generally pre-conceived rather than based on new information, and that our conscious mind is mostly responsible for coming up with rationalizations to fit those preconceptions. If you have ever read an essay or article by someone with an opinion that's the opposite of yours, for example, and found yourself actively looking for the faults in the logic rather than trying to learn from the author's experience or perceptions, you'll understand Heidt's basic idea. He calls the subconscious the "elephant," because it's so big and powerful, and the conscious mind the "rider," because it is only nominally able to steer the beast. All this makes for interesting, and somewhat convincing, information, although Haidt's habit of turning the narrative into a semi-memoir by relating his own progression through various theories ("First I thought this, and then I saw different research, so then I thought that.") was distracting to me.

As Haidt describes it (and again, he also details his research), most humans' perceptions of the world are based on five factors, what he calls "foundational concepts," but in different proportions for different people. He identifies these as "Care/Harm," "Fairness/Cheating," "Loyalty/Betrayal," "Authority/Subversion," "Sanctity/Degradation." He says that a major difference between how liberals and conservatives view the world is that Conservatives react strongly to all five of these foundations, but that liberals are driven chiefly by only two: Care/Harm and Fairness/Cheating.

All that's all fine, and there are other interesting points made, as well, especially Haidt's description of the idea that group/societal evolution has gone hand in hand with individual human evolution. His ideas about the benefits of religion seem much more forced, however. And in the book's second half, he seems more to be trying to force all of the foregoing information over his own ideas of politics and culture. He begins doing things like describing another researcher's theory and then proceeding to further conclusions based on that theory as if we had reason to accept the theory as fact. Towards the end, I must admit, I began skimming. So I give the first half of this book 3.5 stars, and the second half 2 stars. I do give Haidt credit for clear writing, relatively free of doze-inducing scientific jargon.
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LibraryThing member gbsallery
This book was, for me, enlightening. Covering with broad sweeps (and fascinating detail) the latest thinking in moral psychology from an evolutionary perspective, Haidt proposes a theory of Moral Foundations. These (it is claimed) sit beneath the observable moral systems, and provide a framework
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which guides the development of the social manifestations of morality.
As is the intent of the author, this elucidation of the drives behind people's feelings of right and wrong offers tremendous insight into actions which might otherwise be written off as incomprehensible, or driven by "tribalism" or "the wrong sort of politics". An understanding of Haidt's ideas may genuinely increase empathy and the ability to communicate across religious and political divides - strong stuff!
In addition to the bigger-picture theory, there is copious and fascinating data on the experimental results which motivated it. This makes the book one of the most thought-provoking works I have recently seen, where even peripheral concerns are worthy of a great deal of reflection.
Recommended for anyone who has ever felt human.
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LibraryThing member ecw0647
One of the Most Important Books of the Last Decade "This book is about why it’s so hard for us to get along. We are indeed all stuck here for a while, so let’s at least do what we can to understand why we are so easily divided into hostile groups, . . Politics and religion are both expressions
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of our underlying moral psychology, and an understanding of that psychology can help to bring people together. My goal in this book is to drain some of the heat, anger, and divisiveness out of these topics and replace them with awe, wonder, and curiosity. We are downright lucky that we evolved this complex moral psychology that allowed our species to burst out of the forests and savannas and into the delights, comforts, and extraordinary peacefulness of modern societies in just a few thousand years. . . I want to show you that an obsession with righteousness (leading inevitably to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition. It is a feature of our evolutionary design, not a bug or error that crept into minds that would otherwise be objective and rational."I hardly feel qualified to make any kind of judgments on this book having little background in philosophy, especially moral philosophy, so I especially appreciate Haidt's lucid summary of the development of moral philosophy through examples and hypotheticals.I remember several years ago having a visit from the local anti-abortion denizens, nice people, very concerned about youth, etc. They steered the conversation to abortion, their favorite topic. Being of a liberal and hopefully rational and reasoned mindset myself, I described a book I had recently read,The Facts of Life: Science and the Abortion Controversy by Harold J. Morowitz, James Trefil, a small, excellent analysis of the abortion debate that contains a plea for looking at the issue rationally. I described their suggestion that we need to decide what constitutes "human" and then see when the fetus acquires the capability (cerebral cortex) to be human, etc. etc. To which the response was, "well, I don't believe that." All debate and discussions ceases when that statement arrives. Now, I could have said, well, you old biddy, I don't give a fuck what you believe, I'm trying to find some common ground here." But, my mother having raised me as a good little boy who is always polite to old people, I merely sat there rather stunned. That's the problem. How do you create a discussion of issues when either side can just say, well, I don't believe that.This is not just a conservative or right-wing problem. Try having a rational or reasonable discussion about the merits of circumcision, climate. autism, raw milk or veganism. I guarantee the true believers will immediately assemble with truckloads of vitriol. We all suffer from what Haidt calls "confirmation bias," that is, our gut tells us what to believe first and then we seek out justifications for that belief.Haidt's book reaffirms what has become fairly obvious: we divide ourselves into tribes and those tribes consist of like-minded people which we use to validate our intuitive predispositions. His stated goal is to attempt to find a way to bridge the divide between two different moral world views., and to find a way for each side to at least understand the other's perspective.Both left and right are motivated by the moral foundations of care, fairness, liberty, loyalty, authority and sanctity. But they differ qualitatively: liberals tend to care more about suffering and violence; conservatives care about harm done to others but not as intensely. Conservatives, on the other hand, place more emphasis on fairness, i.e. getting what you deserve. Both sides value liberty but have differing definition as to what constitutes the oppressor. Similarly, with fairness, each side values it but define it differently: liberals view it from the standpoint of equality while conservatives look to proportionality, i.e. fairness is being rewarded for your accomplishments and if you work harder you should be rewarded proportionally. The biggest divisions relate to sanctity, authority and loyalty. You can easily guess where the preferences of conservatives and liberals lie. Haidt suggests that liberals will fail to gain wider acceptance until they come to terms with those three moral values and find someway to create their own vocabulary validating them. I would add that liberals will have to be more accepting of groups, particularly religious ones (as much as I despise them,) which serve an evolutionary need to discount selfishness and promote group adherence and benefits.To some extent that's why I am so puzzled by the right's celebration of Ayn Rand who promoted the antithesis of group-think by celebrating independence and selfishness, i.e. think of yourself first and what benefits accrue to yourself through your actions. She hated coercion both governmental and religious, in particular, yet both encourage group adherence and loyalty.I just wonder how much of what Haidt says come from his intuitive side (the elephant) and how much from the rational or reasoning part (the rider.)Here's a quote that struck me: "And why do so many Westerners, even secular ones, continue to see choices about food and sex as being heavily loaded with moral significance? Liberals sometimes say that religious conservatives are sexual prudes for whom anything other than missionary-position intercourse within marriage is a sin. But conservatives can just as well make fun of liberal struggles to choose a balanced breakfast—balanced among moral concerns about free-range eggs, fair-trade coffee, naturalness, and a variety of toxins, some of which (such as genetically modified corn and soybeans) pose a greater threat spiritually than biologically."
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LibraryThing member Razinha
Okay. I've spent enough time on this one. . I had such hopes, given the title, but I also recalled his Happiness Hypothesis, which despite three stars from me was on the disappointing side of "liked".

The flaws throughout this are far too numerous to list. I have pages of notes that just aren't
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worth reproducing here (nor, really, anywhere else...too many problems). Haidt, despite (weird...using that word twice in one post) spending time in another country, has locked his focus on a bizarrely limited and decidedly western...more US American than just "western" ... cluster of values. Spoiler alert: "conservatives" have a broader moral sense than "liberals". Yeah. Munch on that. And let me remind you that he's stuck on American "conservatives". Well, cooking the books can do that to even the best researcher...which Haidt is not. He left off so many actual virtues, actually worth pursuing, that I wanted to toss this far too many times to remember.

I want SO much to call him an idiot.

I guess I just did.

Bottom line: he doesn't validate the subtitle, and he's so far off base as to render this to fringe theory. Not happy at the time lost on this.
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LibraryThing member jwhenderson
The title of this book suggests that it will contain information about the thoughts, and feelings that we have about what is morally right, and why there exist such a divergence of views about this subject. The author approaches the topic using psychological tools to determine the basis for this
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divergence. After a brief summary of the book I will discuss my misgivings about his project.

In the first section of the book the author discusses the idea that we use our intuition to first identify what is right and afterward apply strategic reasoning. The concept is summarized metaphorically by the image of an elephant and its rider with the elephant representing our intuition or "automatic" processes and the rider our rational deliberative mind. He goes on in the second section to identify five categories (later expanded to six) of moral issues using the metaphor of taste; based in part on the philosophical views of David Hume. In the final section he discusses why humans tend to form groups based around shared approaches toward moral categories. In this case the metaphor is the chimp and the bee, with the chimp representing the individual and the bee the group or "hive". The formation of groups is helpful in understanding the different viewpoints toward issues as each group emphasizes different categories of moral issues. All of this discussion is laced with observations of responses to hypothetical questions and situations by individuals and different groups.

I found Haidt's approach to be fundamentally flawed, yet I also found it fascinating and helpful both in enlarging and refining my thinking about the subjects he discussed. The fundamental flaw is the author's attempt to identify moral principles by using behavior and in the process of doing so eliminating the possibility that some moral principles may be foundational for any other activities. The result of his method is to conclude that good people can hold any combination of moral beliefs the difference between which can only be considered a difference in emphasis. This may be useful for a relatively homogeneous culture but it does little to explain the fundamental differences between cultures for whom there are fundamental differences in moral principles. He also seriously underestimates the power of reason in our moral judgements. While it is true that we sometimes make mistakes in moral judgement due to faulty reasoning; our reasoning can be improved, resulting in better judgement. In either case this is not sufficient ground to claim that there are no right or wrong answers to questions of morality. The psychological approach used by Haidt leads him to these conclusions.

In spite of some specious eristics the book contains much useful information about the nature of the human mind, its development and actions such as decision-making. Reading it stimulated me to consider related works in philosophy, anthropology and evolutionary biology. This is one of the aspects that I value most in reading and The Righteous Mind was successful in this regard.
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LibraryThing member br77rino
This is a great book that culls the best from philosophy, psychology, sociology, political science and anthropology, to come up with a truly original and truly scientific take on morality and politics.

He starts with an insight into people's brains that he likens to an elephant (intuition) with a
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rider (reason), whereby the rider is needed to justify where his elephant is going to the other elephants and riders. No other species is encumbered in this "public relations" way.

He then speaks of six foundations of morality that he found to be universally recognized across cultures, and how the cultures used these foundations differently and used different combinations of different subsets of these foundations, making "the morality" of different cultures seem much more different than they really are.

The third and final part is on the idea that morality is primarily used to make uniquely coherent groups of people out of what would otherwise be ape-like individual actors (two chimps will never cooperatively carry a log together; hunting by chimps is more coincidental than cooperative), bound to each other in a way that's good both for the group and the people in it.
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LibraryThing member maimonedes
This book is written by someone who is clearly an experienced teacher; in each chapter and section, he tells you what he’s going to tell you, then he tells you, and then he tells you what he told you. Apart from anything else, it makes the book almost too easy to review; so – sometimes in the
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author’s own words – here goes.

In part 1 the author reviews five areas of research, showing that moral thinking is more like a politician searching for votes than a scientist searching for truth. Albeit often unconsciously, we are obsessively concerned about what others think of us; the main function of conscious reasoning is to justify moral positions that we have already fixed on; this allows us to lie and cheat so effectively that we ourselves do not realize what is going on; our reasoning thus allows us to reach any conclusion we want to. More often than not, we use our reasoning to support our “team” – affinity groups, such as nation, religion or political party. His key message her is that “(moral) intuitions come first ..reasoning second”

In part 2, the author describes in detail the different “foundations” of moral intuitions. He contrasts the Durkheimian vision of society, based on the family unit rather than the individual, with more liberal Millian vision. The former places more importance on order hierarchy and tradition, while the later is characterized as more open and individualistic. He articulates the three foundations on which Liberals (often identified with Democrats) base their moral intuitions – care for people and do no harm; be fair and root out cheating; oppose any attempt at domination. These are contrasted with the broader base of conservative moral intuitions, which also include loyalty, respect for authority and a sense of sanctity. Conservatives, although not renouncing the moral foundations of Liberals are more prepared to trade them off against the latter three foundations. The author claims to have solved the mystery of why rural and working-class Americans “generally vote Republican when it is the Democratic Party that wants to redistribute money more evenly.” They are voting for their moral interests; apparently it isn’t the economy, stupid.

In the third and final part, the author develops the principle that “morality binds and blinds”. His conclusions are dependent on the thesis that we are the end products of a selection process that operated not just at the level of the individual, but also at the level of the group. The issue of group selection is a very controversial one among evolutionary psychologists and biologists; although mainstream scholarship has put it outside the pale for the last 30 years (led of course by the strident and dogmatic voice of the Oxford Professor of Public Understanding of Science, Richard Dawkins), it is now making a come-back, championed among others by E.O Wilson. I must admit that my intuition – heavily influenced by my contrasting feelings about these two protagonists - leads me much more strongly in the latter direction. Our author suggests that “religion played a crucial role in our evolutionary history – that our religious minds coevolved with our religious practices to create ever-larger moral communities.” We are therefore evolutionarily prepared to join and support groups that have moral standpoints. Thus, he reaches the conclusion expressed in the title of the book; it is not that some people are good and some evil; our minds were designed for “groupish righteousness”; and because our moral intuitions drive our reasoning, it often makes it difficult to connect with people in different groups whose moral intuitions are based on different combinations of the moral foundations. His hope is that – whatever the foundations for our moral intuitions – we try and appreciate that other people’s are based just as strongly and legitimately.

Throughout the book, the author describes the research – his own and others’ – which has guided his thesis and conclusions, and parallels this with an account of his own growing recognition of the legitimacy of moral foundations that are different to his own - those of a typical academic liberal. The science in this book is just about as good as a “soft” social science can get, so it is easy to go along with the author’s conclusions. However, there are undoubtedly many who will find ways of invalidating them. But will their conclusions be based on a search for “truth” or on an attempt to justify their intuitions?
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LibraryThing member LauraJHolt
This book provided me with insight into my own thinking and more understanding of why others make different decisions.
LibraryThing member sparemethecensor
This book started out with two strikes against it for me. The first is the title. A title like that suggests to me that it is either a bad pop social science book I'll be able to poke dozens of holes through, being a social scientist myself, or one of those pathetic middle way politics books about
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how we should all just sing Kumbaya and respect each other.

The first line of this book set me believe it was squarely the second kind: "Can we all get along?"

Fortunately for me, the book wasn't really about this. There was more of this sentiment than I particularly care for, but it wasn't the crux of the book. (Whoever edited and/or titled this book over at Pantheon seriously fell down on the job on this front.) Rather, the bulk of it was spent talking about why we don't get along, rather than imploring us to do so. Definitely better.

I liked that he touched on some of the psychology behind the partisan differences (in America; abroad, your mileage may vary). I've read several studies on this topic, and I've always found them interesting, though I wonder about their generalizability across multiple regions of the country. I wished he would have spent more time on this, particularly the neurology of how worldview affects action/opinion. This is a really fascinating area of research, and I for one don't know nearly enough about it. What he did include was intriguing and insightful. Same with the hive mind information -- this is really interesting and accessible to the lay reader despite being pretty complex psychologically. Give me more of that kind of thing. It's interesting and useful.

Then there was all this moral reasoning business. I appreciated what it was trying to say, but I think -- this will sound pretentious -- for a social scientist, the metaphors did more to cloud the studies at hand than illuminate them. I also questioned the dichotomies he created. I think these dichotomies apply much more clearly to economic conservatives, especially around Fairness/Cheating. Unfortunately, I don't know how relevant that really is. This country barely has economic discussions. There's a lot of lip service played to economic issues, but people mostly talk about -- and vote on -- social issues. Why this book gave little attention to that, I don't know.

I will say that I am certain this book must have outraged equal numbers of far-right and far-left idiots, which is always a good thing. I'm planning to look at the Amazon reviews after finishing this up, and I'm sure that the 1-star reviews will all be things like "This atheist obviously hates conservatives!" and "Total Fox News conservative bias propaganda!"
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LibraryThing member lmcalister
I hope more people read this book so we can try to understand each other and work together. Found it very enlightening. It also helped me understand why lower & middle class people can support the Republican Party and are anti-Obama. Turns out that, in general, this group values loyalty and
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authority more than personal interst which Republicans are more focused on. Hard to get into at first but definately worth the effort
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LibraryThing member open-leadership
If you've been slumped and slymied about how people see the "same" things differently and struggle for common ground, Haidt offers a thoughtful, parseur journey through the seseard of where drives and informs us. Opens the aperture!
LibraryThing member GShuk
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.
LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
Um. Haidt had too much to say, and said it too soon. One thing that didn't work is that there's too much of the ivory tower perspective - yes, Haidt & co. went to the 'ordinary people' to do some of the research, but they didn't really see us. Haidt should've taken a sabbatical to mull this all
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over first and then written it in a MacDonald's in Iowa, to gain some real perspective on the subject.

Another problem is that the book is structured like a lecture course, outlined formally, w/ intro. paragraphs, supporting arguments, conclusions... I got to the point where I was wishing there were review questions at the end of each chapter. An assigned syllabus of related readings would have been helpful, too. Other perspectives to read while studying the book, that is, not additional readings as we can glean from the bibliography.

Most importantly, I could not find answers to my questions on the subject. I admit I did not digest every paragraph, but I already knew (from other evolutionary psychology & related books, and from literature, and from life) all that I did understand from his text here. And I still am baffled by much of moral" human behavior.

I did love his other book, and look forward to his next. I do sorta hope is next is a more coherent visit to the themes of this one."
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LibraryThing member bness2
For the most part I found this a totally fascinating book. I think Haidt truly does make some good points about why we have become so polarized. The ends of the liberal/conservative spectrum truly do operate under different combinations of moral foundations. Getting the two ends of the spectrum to
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see this and thus better understand those that constitute the "other" tribe is what is needed. Not sue that's going to happen easily though. Our politics are more polarized than ever and there is no lessening of this problem apparent on the horizon. Still, great insights, nevertheless.
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LibraryThing member Tower_Bob
Not very helpful at all. The book is full of supposed "scientific Darwinian just so" stories that help lead the author right where he wants to go.
LibraryThing member rosechimera
I was keeping notes as I read this book and started writing more than I was reading. Usually my notes are positive or neutral but with this book I was writing a parallel screed against the text. To a large extent, this is because I loathe philosophy and the text was philosophy rich, points and
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conclusions are pulled out of the air or based on anecdote, moral relativism is taken to dangerous lengths, and/or false comparisons. The title gave me great hope for a dispassionate understanding of certain dynamics, but it did not deliver. One can derive a better understanding from any number of sources: biology and psychology texts that show physiological dynamics that can play a role in determining ideology; religious, athiest, and agnostic positions that encourage tolerance, understanding, or neutrality; and studies that consider more roundly history, demographics, and contextual influences. The best things I have learned from this books is to completely ascertain whether a book can be categorized as philosophy so I can avoid it and to not judge a book by its title.
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Original publication date





0307455777 / 9780307455772


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