The Righteous Mind

  • by Jonathan Haidt
  • Narrated by Jonathan Haidt
  • 11 hrs and 0 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Why can’t our political leaders work together as threats loom and problems mount? Why do people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens?
In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding. His starting point is moral intuition - the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do. These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are wrong.
Haidt shows us how these intuitions differ across cultures, including the cultures of the political left and right. He blends his own research findings with those of anthropologists, historians, and other psychologists to draw a map of the moral domain, and he explains why conservatives can navigate that map more skillfully than can liberals. He then examines the origins of morality, overturning the view that evolution made us fundamentally selfish creatures.
But rather than arguing that we are innately altruistic, he makes a more subtle claim - that we are fundamentally groupish. It is our groupishness, he explains, that leads to our greatest joys, our religious divisions, and our political affiliations. In a stunning final chapter on ideology and civility, Haidt shows what each side is right about, and why we need the insights of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to flourish as a nation.


What the Critics Say

"Haidt is looking for more than victory. He's looking for wisdom. That's what makes The Righteous Mind well worth reading…. a landmark contribution to humanity’s understanding of itself.” (The New York Times Book Review)


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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Required reading... with one caveat.

What did you love best about The Righteous Mind?

Broad, scientific approach to understanding the biology of human behavior.

What other book might you compare The Righteous Mind to and why?

"Thinking Fast and Slow" by Kahneman and "The Believing Brain" by Shermer in terms of understanding neuroscience and the way our brains, opinions and behaviors come about.

Any additional comments?

We've created a culture where we all operate under the illusion that we need to be right. We convince ourselves that our thoughts and actions stem from some innate ability to realize and appreciate a guiding, transcendent truth, whether it be social, spiritual or logical. The humbling reality is that we have selfish genes which utilize complex modules to ensure their survival. Haidt cogently describes our biology with both scientific and symbolic aplomb.

As a biologist and physician, I have great appreciation for this perspective. I particularly appreciate the analogy between our ethical "taste" modules and our literal gustatory senses. We cannot fight the fact that we are hardwired to respond to these tastes and indulging them initiates the neurochemical cascade which, if deprived, would leave us bereft of the true experience of humanness.

Continuing this analogy, I would attempt to demonstrate where Haidt possibly falls short in helping both himself and his reader best apply their enhanced understanding of human and cultural biology.

As our ethical "tastes" for sanctity, loyalty and authority have a place in maintaining safety and wellness, our taste for sugar and fat has served our species greatly in times of scarcity. The utility of these modules is entirely contextual though. In the United States (my very divided country), we live in relative abundance. The vast majority has an excess of calories as well as social safety. The context has changed and indulging our hunger for fat and sugar as well as symbolic tribal loyalty, sanctity and authoritarian acquiescence has very negative consequences. We benefit when we recognize mal-adaptive application of natural tendencies. There is little risk that we will go hungry if we forgo calories and there is little risk that the fabric of our society (and our own differential survivability) will fall apart if we question authority, symbolism or factionism.

We live in a country of abundance and safety. Indulging these tastes is causing an epidemic of obesity, hypertension, diabetes and heart disease. Could not the same be happening when insisting on applying unnecessary ethical modules? I enjoy being clean AND my understanding of germs and public health tells me I don't need to be continually vigilant. I enjoy my groups of shared interest AND I don't need to denigrate or vilify any groups to which I do not belong. I appreciate order AND I know rules and laws exist to serve a social purpose but my eternal soul is not at risk should I fail to worship compliance.

Haidt is correct in that Conservatives indulge their ethical tastes more broadly. Their message is an ethical meal that satisfies many of our cravings. The Liberterian and Liberal ideologies are less appealing to a broad population... but dining at their table more often may be the only way of preventing the epidemic of ethical indulgence?

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Why Good People Are Divided - Good for whom?

By and large, I think this is a good and even an important book. In it, Haidt very clearly lays out the research that supports the view that human beings have been endowed by evolution with 6 moral intuitions, or foundations. The moral intuitions are innate, which Haidt clearly explains does not mean fixed and immutable, but, rather, arranged in advance of experience. We don't all have a fixed set of moral intuitions, but there is a limited palate from which experience may paint the picture of how we perceive the world.

The most important part of Haidt's research and the argument of this book is that liberal and conservatives share these moral intuitions but tend to emphasize them very differently, and it is the different emphases that cause the divisions among us. In brief, liberals tend to assign moral weight to issues of justice (is it fair - does everyone have an equal chance) and harm/care (does it cause harm to another - bad; or does it help another - good). Conservatives share these intuitions, but their take on justice is different. For a conservative, justice is determined by proportionality. Each according to his/ her contribution, not his/ her need. In addition, everyone, but conservatives to a much greater extent than liberals, also feel that questions of loyalty (to one's group/family/country), authority (obedience), and purity/ sanctity (as in not mixing this with that) are moral issues. A sixth intuition concerns liberty. Here again, however, liberals and conservatives differ in how they think about liberty. Liberals wish to be free of constraints applied by other members of the group, while conservatives think of liberty as freedom from government.

As a framework for parsing arguments between liberals and conservatives, I think this is extraordinarily helpful. What Haidt and colleagues argue is that when we disagree with our ideological counterparts, the disagreements arise from differences in the weight we apply to these moral intuitions. For liberals, there really are just two primary moral issues, fairness and harm/care, while conservatives also value authority, loyalty, purity and liberty to a great extent.

Importantly, Haidt argues that each of the moral intuitions has been vital to the evolution of human culture. While those among us who are liberals care more about justice and care, without the other intuitions, we would never have achieved the groupishness and hence the culture that separates humans from other animals. It is primarily the conservative intuitions that have been responsible for providing the glue that held groups together over our evolutionary history, and it is as groups that human beings have generated a culture that has distanced us from our primitive ape cousins.

Not much to take issue with there.

Ultimately, however, Haidt explains that his study of morality produced in him a sort of conversion from liberal to moderately conservative, having discovered the value of groupish moral intuitions. He also cites research showing that conservatives are better able to take the view of a liberal into account that vice versa, and invites liberals to try to broaden their view to include these other intuitions. His suggestion in this book and elsewhere is that more conservative voices should be added to the intellectual debate over the role of moral intuitions in society.

So here's my problem with that. 1) I am liberal and have a hard time, as he says, understanding how the groupish intuitions might continue to retain their value as moral intuitions in the modern world. It seems to me that many of our greatest problems today have to do with the oversized role of these moral intuitions in buttressing parochial concerns (issues of importance to my group only), leading to inter-group conflict.
2) I am a member of a group (gays) that has been and still is legally disenfranchised in this country, and that disenfranchisement is largely justified by referral to the moral intuition purity. I can't marry my partner, because too many people in this country believe that to allow me to do so would somehow violate the purity/sanctity of heterosexual marriage. So, I can't get behind it. Of course, that is my parochial concern, but I can point to similar concerns that would affect nearly everyone. Purity/Sanctity, in my view, is a moral intuition that has outlived its useful life.
3) Too much of Haidt's argument has the flavor of a naturalistic fallacy. One is committing the naturalistic fallacy when one deems something to be good on the basis of it being natural. Another way it is expressed is when a person assumes that something ought or should be a certain way solely on the basis that it is that way in nature. Haidt's argument is more subtle than saying that because people are endowed with six moral intuitions, therefore all six ought to be valued equally. But, for may taste, his argument still relies mostly on the argument that because these six moral foundations were all critical for the development of what we consider to be civilized society, that they are all to be consulted in policy- and decision-making now. Much of our civilization consists of norms and rules for curbing natural instincts. The instincts that continually reify parochial groupishness, ie, the conservative moral intuitions, are among the natural instincts that I believe must be curbed. An alternative take is that the moral foundations are fine as is, but the groups to which they are applied must be continually enlarged to include everyone, and then perhaps everything. Clearly, this circle-enlarging has been occurring and will likely continue. That's great. But, shouldn't we also work to limit the sway of the intuitions that, while historically vital, are presently harmful or at best of dubious value for large swathes (i.e., anyone not in the majority) of our society today?
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- K. Cunningham

Book Details

  • Release Date: 07-24-2012
  • Publisher: Gildan Media, LLC