Friday, 8 March 2013

The Righteous Mind

I've just finished my first book by Jonathan Haidt, recommended to me by Dr. P.

At first I felt wary of it, the full title (The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion) contains both words that I try to avoid in my readings: religion and politics. That sounds horrifying short sighted. I guess I'm trying to avoid developing partisan views before I understand the debates surrounding each topic.

Haidt makes three major points in Righteous Mind: We are rational 'riders' on intuitive 'elephants', his Moral Foundations Theory and its six faceted view of morality, and our evolutionary disposition (90% chimp and 10% bee).

Conservatives, according to Haidt, use all six of their foundations when making moral judgements. Liberals only use three. These foundations (Care, Justice, Liberty, Sanctity, Loyalty, Authority) evolved to suit us in the stone-age environments. Haidt may be guilty of the naturalistic falacy here if he means to suggest that all of the domains continue to serve us today. What is good may not be associated with all of the domains equally (what if laws were based on sanctity instead of justice?).

However, I'm not sure Haidt is giving a lesson on ethics. What is intuitively right may not be ethically right. If Haidt's intuitive elephant and rider is the reality of our psyche then we have to train the rider to have more decision power. The unconscious associations test referenced has scary associations for a world run by elephants.

Seeing as how the MFT concerns moral intuitions and not sound arguments, what value can we place on them at all? Our first intuitions, often unjustifiable or incorrect, differ based on political preference. It simply doesn't follow that one intuition is preferable to another. The answer is to move past 'tasting' with any number of moral foundations. We have to avoid the elephant altogether.