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

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Very rich, good and candid book on moral psychology. Open-minded. Lots of ideas and concepts explained very well and also from different angles. Excellent structure and summaries. Haidt makes a well-rounded case, with empathetic take on views he personally does not hold, echoed very wel in Chapter 12’s title “Can’t we all disagree more constructively?”

Three principles of moral psychology:
I. Intuitions come first, srategic reasoning second
Metaphor: the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant (the elephant is akin to Kahneman Daniel’s Fast-system in Thinking, Fast and Slow and the rider is the Slow system. Also ties in to Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, where the Heath brothers have added “shape the path” (for elephant and rider)).

II. There’s more to morality than harm and fairness
Metaphor: the righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors (six moral intuitions; with different implications for liberals and conservatives. Liberals’ foundations have 3 pillars: care/harm, liberty/oppression and fairness/cheating. To conservatives, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion and sanctity/degradation are also relatively important).

III. Morality binds and blinds
Metaphor: human beings are 90% chimp (egoistic) and 10% bee (social, in need of hive-life).

p26: Morality can be innate and learned. “We’re born righteous, but we have to learn what, exactly, people like us should be righteous about.””

p28: The rationalist delusion: Western philosophy has been worshipping reason and distrusting the passions.
p34: Damasio’s (DAMASIO ANTONIO) patients had damaged vmPFC (pre frontal cortex), so they had no emotions, only rational decisions, but made foolish decisions; “shocking revelation that reasoning requires the passions (…) The head can’t even do head stuff without the heart.”

p37: Scenario: people we are asked to sign: I, ____, hereby sell my soul, after my death, to Scott Murphy for the sum of $2. This form is part of a psycholog experiment. It is NOT a legal or binding contract, in any way. Only 23% were willing to sign, rose to 37% after some goading.

p40 “Moral reasoning was mostly post hoc search for reasons to justify the judgements people had already made”

P42 Howard Margolis 2 cognitive processes: ‘seeing-that’ and ‘reasoning-why’
Moral judgement is a cognitive process. Two different kinds of cognition: intuition and reasoning.

p65 Joshua Greene 20 moral stories (e.g. trolley problem)

p76: “Our moral thinking is much more like a politician searching for votes than a scientist searching for truth”. Haidt was inspired by Glaucon. On his website he writes:

One of the heroes of my book The Righteous Mind is Glaucon. He’s the guy in Plato’s Republic who challenges Socrates with the story of the Ring of Gyges, which makes a man invisible at will. He says that a man with such a ring would behave abominably, once freed from concerns about detection and reputation. I think Glaucon was right, and so we must design “ethical systems” for Glauconian creatures like ourselves.

p89: Schwitzgebel Do ethicists steal more books? (Yes).

p99 Shweder identified 3 clusters of moral themes: ethics of autonomy, community, and divinity. Utilitarian concept of autonomy is prevalent in Western society.

p120-121: “In psychology our goal is descriptive. We want to discover how the moral mind actually works, not how it ought to work, and that can’t be done by reasoning, math, or logic (…) Kant’s rationalism (…) felt wrong to me. It was oversystemized and underempathized.”

p138 Two kinds of fairness; “On the left, fairness often imlies equality, but on the right it means proportionality – people should be rewarded in proportion to what they contribute, even if that guarantees unequal outcomes.”

p204 Tomasello quote: “it is inconceivable that you would ever see 2 chimpanzees carrying a log together.”

p218 Multilevel selection would go a long way toward explaining why people are simultaneously so selfish and so groupish.

p223 Human beings are conditional hive creatures. Hive switch is an adaption for making groups more cohesive, and therefore more succesfull in competition with other groups.

p244 Happiness comes from between (getting the right relationship between you and others).

p248 “Many scientists misunderstand relgion (…) they focus on individuals and their supernatural beliefs, rather than on groups and their binding practices”

p256-257 Richard Sosis studied 200 US communes in 19th century: “just 6 percent of the secular communes were still functioning twenty years after their founding, compared to 39 percent of the religious communes”. What determined success: more costly sacrifices (fasting, dress code) did increase life for religious communces, but not for secular ones. “religion is a solution for cooperation without kinship”

p294 Fundamental blind spot of the left: don’t consider moral capital.
p307 “We need groups, we love groups, and we develop our virtues in groups, even though those groups necessarily exclude nonmembers. If you destroy all groups and dissolve all internal structure, you destroy your moral capital.

p295 Haidt is an Durkeimian Utilitarian. Durkheimian: people need healthy hive to flourish (10% bee). Utilitarian: increase overall good of society.

p303 David Goldhill: How American Health Care Killed My Father

“I find it ironic that liberals generally embrace Darwin and reject “intelligent design” as the explanation for design and adaptation in the natural world, but they don’t embrace Adam Smith as the explanation for design and adaptation in the economic world. They sometimes prefer the “intelligent design” of socialist economies, which often ends in disaster from a utilitarian point of vies.” (p305)

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