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Ch. 6: Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind 
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 Ch. 6: Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind
Ch. 6: Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind



Tue Dec 10, 2019 3:28 pm
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Post Re: Ch. 6: Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind
Trying not to fall too far behind the conversation here. I found the taste bud analogy interesting, but not completely convincing. One of the problems Haidt faces is that he recognizes that the interpretation of these dimensions of moral instinct are culture-dependent, and yet he is going to end up arguing that conservatives have "more taste buds". Or, "recognize more flavors".

We know that a big part of the phenomenon he is analyzing is that liberals have probed the cultural interpretations more, and ended up saying, for example, that lack of loyalty in burning the flag is a problem to the extent that it causes harm. Is this a denial of a primitive, evolutionarily determined flavor of morality, or is it a systematizing way of reflecting on the judgments that are all too easy to get wrong? One senses from his arguments that Haidt has in mind an "obvious" call in the direction of the first interpretation, and that's why he has gone to so much trouble to put the elephant in control and to consider the rider as an afterthought. And I am willing to hear him out.

But when he has claimed an instrumentality behind the basic flavors of moral judgment, a purpose baked (presumably biologically) into our sensibilities about morality, he has offered up quite a petard in the form of the question whether these supposed biological inclinations are up to the job of assessing current cultural tensions. If, for example, everybody knows that a sexual double-standard is baked into the nature of manhood and womanhood, might it be worth raising the question whether this fits a world in which raising the kids well dominates the biological number of kids in determining outcomes? And once we have raised such questions, do we really have an alternative to the "rider" of philosophical criteria as a way of judging whether moral principles are "really" principles of morality as opposed to culltural conventions?



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Post Re: Ch. 6: Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind
Harry Marks wrote:
Trying not to fall too far behind the conversation here. I found the taste bud analogy interesting, but not completely convincing. One of the problems Haidt faces is that he recognizes that the interpretation of these dimensions of moral instinct are culture-dependent, and yet he is going to end up arguing that conservatives have "more taste buds". Or, "recognize more flavors".

Finally getting around to making some comment. I guess the first time we talked about the book here, this chapter got skipped. It might have helped me to cheat off my earlier thoughts. I did have the eerie experience of glancing at my old musings and not quite grasping what I was getting at. Have you ever come across a book, such as one in philosophy, you had in college, with your furious marginal scriblings, a bit head-scratching now? Well, moving on. Your comments seem subtle, so I hope I don't miss their point.

Do you accept Haidt's mission to describe what's going on when we moralize? I was wondering if that might address any of your objections to Haidt's neglect of the implications of his classification. We see in this chapter that he insists on the setback to moral psychology inflicted by the systematizers who found such an eager audience in the educated classes. So Haidt's mantle is that of a latter-day Hume. I wonder if his approach is a little bit similar to the old, reviled educational one of values clarification--just understanding that there's a wider range to right and wrong than we may operate under. Haidt is pushing the boundaries further.
Quote:
We know that a big part of the phenomenon he is analyzing is that liberals have probed the cultural interpretations more, and ended up saying, for example, that lack of loyalty in burning the flag is a problem to the extent that it causes harm. Is this a denial of a primitive, evolutionarily determined flavor of morality, or is it a systematizing way of reflecting on the judgments that are all too easy to get wrong?

I'm a little stuck on the fact that WEIRD morality must include a good many conservatives--taking each letter of the acronym in succession--which can make sense if we give liberal a libertarian slant. Your point, though, is not that, but it's an intriguing one. It is perhaps easy to reduce actions related to a few of these moral tastes, to see to the bottom of them, as with your example of flag-burning. This reduces to a harmless act as long as in burning the flag, no one is hurt. But that may be true only with the value of individualism and autonomy added in, a value that Haidt tells us is so central to WEIRD morality (so should the "I" stand for "individualistic" instead?). In sociocentric cultures, or sociocentric pockets, in which the individual is assumed to be less at liberty to act as he sees fit, such an act is a in injury regardless of its physical harmlessness. Haidt might say that the pull of autonomy is what has led many liberals/libertarians to adopt a fairly minimalist attitude toward morality. They have switched off the modules that were baked in to consolidate groups in our early evolution. They could be using that loyalty module in different ways, though.
Quote:
One senses from his arguments that Haidt has in mind an "obvious" call in the direction of the first interpretation, and that's why he has gone to so much trouble to put the elephant in control and to consider the rider as an afterthought. And I am willing to hear him out.

You're proposing, I think, that the rider can really have done elephant-steering work and, further, that there wouldn't be any post-hoc rationalizing involved. If the rider is doing that work in an active way, that would seem to undercut Haidt's thesis.
Quote:
But when he has claimed an instrumentality behind the basic flavors of moral judgment, a purpose baked (presumably biologically) into our sensibilities about morality, he has offered up quite a petard in the form of the question whether these supposed biological inclinations are up to the job of assessing current cultural tensions. If, for example, everybody knows that a sexual double-standard is baked into the nature of manhood and womanhood, might it be worth raising the question whether this fits a world in which raising the kids well dominates the biological number of kids in determining outcomes? And once we have raised such questions, do we really have an alternative to the "rider" of philosophical criteria as a way of judging whether moral principles are "really" principles of morality as opposed to cultural conventions?

Are you thinking that Haidt makes any claim regarding the adequacy of our purpose baked sensibilities? I've missed that if he does. How far he goes beyond description of how humans really act, I'm not sure. He began the book by recalling Rodney King's plea, "Can't we all just get along?" His prescription, such as it is, seems to be that if we all recognize the unconscious drive of our righteous minds, we'll be more able to bridge gaps between our perspectives and those of others.



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Harry Marks
Fri Mar 13, 2020 9:51 am
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Post Re: Ch. 6: Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind
DWill wrote:
Do you accept Haidt's mission to describe what's going on when we moralize? I was wondering if that might address any of your objections to Haidt's neglect of the implications of his classification. We see in this chapter that he insists on the setback to moral psychology inflicted by the systematizers who found such an eager audience in the educated classes. So Haidt's mantle is that of a latter-day Hume. I wonder if his approach is a little bit similar to the old, reviled educational one of values clarification--just understanding that there's a wider range to right and wrong than we may operate under. Haidt is pushing the boundaries further.

There's a lot going on in that paragraph. Yes, I think Haidt's effort to understand moral intuition is legitimate. In some ways I think he has improved on Hume's skepticism, by connecting the sense of "moral instinct" to evolution (which Hume did not have available to work with). But I still think he is working hard to sell his experimental results to the point of neglecting the other pole of thought about morality, which I will think of as Kantian. I am convinced by Haidt that it is worth acknowledging individual and cultural "leanings" toward particular versions of what seems moral.

I have argued for a long time now that morality is an incomplete system, in the sense that you cannot always tell which of two values gives correct moral guidance when they are in conflict. So even though morality has meaning, and actual truth, it has the confusing property that many different interpretations of it fundamental principle can seem to conflict but still both qualify as moral. That is, I suppose, the nature of moral dilemmas.

What I think Haidt is confused about is the ability of reason to modify the leanings of the elephant. He interprets Kant and Mill as straitjacketing instinct, and thus lopping off some of the basis for moral feeling. While there is some truth to that, it isn't subtle enough to make sense of the connection process by which we consider our instincts and correct them. I would argue that the suppression of some moral dimensions by liberalism is a "demotion" to these instincts, interpreting them as second order priorities, and interpreting their automatic validation as closer to superstition than wisdom. Even that may be problematic, but adjudicating the matter is a question for reason, not for "moral instinct". Yet, to sell his research, Haidt wants us to think of evolution as adjudicating the matter through our received instincts. If we were completely unable to process these instincts through reason I might buy that, but even Haidt acknowledges that we are. He just wants us to look at the back side of the embroidery and treat it as decisive. No, sorry, the picture on the front is the point.

Furthermore, Mill's demotion is about method in deciding between different people's moral priorities. He wants to restrict particular ends (such as burning people at the stake for not giving sufficient priority to authority and divinity) as much as to promote particular instinctive bases for moral inclination. Haidt does not even acknowledge the distinction between adjudicating means and adjudicating values, since he is selling research about intuition.
Quote:
We know that a big part of the phenomenon he is analyzing is that liberals have probed the cultural interpretations more, and ended up saying, for example, that lack of loyalty in burning the flag is a problem to the extent that it causes harm. Is this a denial of a primitive, evolutionarily determined flavor of morality, or is it a systematizing way of reflecting on the judgments that are all too easy to get wrong?

Note that many liberals, like myself, are still offended by the burning of Old Glory, but we also recognize that freedom of speech is an important rule about means. So we process the act through WEIRD categories and let the flag-burners, like the neo-Nazi marchers through Skokie, go unmolested. Perhaps challenged with other speech, but not confronted with violent enforcement.

DWill wrote:
I'm a little stuck on the fact that WEIRD morality must include a good many conservatives--taking each letter of the acronym in succession--which can make sense if we give liberal a libertarian slant. Your point, though, is not that, but it's an intriguing one. It is perhaps easy to reduce actions related to a few of these moral tastes, to see to the bottom of them, as with your example of flag-burning. This reduces to a harmless act as long as in burning the flag, no one is hurt. But that may be true only with the value of individualism and autonomy added in, a value that Haidt tells us is so central to WEIRD morality (so should the "I" stand for "individualistic" instead?). In sociocentric cultures, or sociocentric pockets, in which the individual is assumed to be less at liberty to act as he sees fit, such an act is a in injury regardless of its physical harmlessness. Haidt might say that the pull of autonomy is what has led many liberals/libertarians to adopt a fairly minimalist attitude toward morality. They have switched off the modules that were baked in to consolidate groups in our early evolution. They could be using that loyalty module in different ways, though.

Yes, that is the toughest part for me to sort out. I believe in communitarian values, and the meshing of "my" individuality with the structures that shape it. But the question of what is necessary for the group is not an easy one to sort out, and if social requirements are changing (as they surely are with the primacy of education and the option of birth control) then we have to accept at least a very large role for reason in interpreting clashes of values.
DWill wrote:
Quote:
One senses from his arguments that Haidt has in mind an "obvious" call in the direction of the first interpretation, and that's why he has gone to so much trouble to put the elephant in control and to consider the rider as an afterthought. And I am willing to hear him out.

You're proposing, I think, that the rider can really have done elephant-steering work and, further, that there wouldn't be any post-hoc rationalizing involved. If the rider is doing that work in an active way, that would seem to undercut Haidt's thesis.
Following Kahneman, I think there is a dynamic process by which reason influences interpretations of instinct and even "constructs" instinct. My favorite example of "instinct" was the day I swerved around a car that suddenly stopped in front of me before I was even aware that it was stopping. The instincts that took over and guided that action were most definitely not put there by biology - cars have not been around long enough, though we have maybe some instincts for not running full tilt into a tree branch. So yes, the rider "trains" the elephant. There is plenty of rationalizing. I accept Haidt's interpretation that most moral reasoning is self-justification. But not all.

DWill wrote:
Are you thinking that Haidt makes any claim regarding the adequacy of our purpose baked sensibilities? I've missed that if he does. How far he goes beyond description of how humans really act, I'm not sure. He began the book by recalling Rodney King's plea, "Can't we all just get along?" His prescription, such as it is, seems to be that if we all recognize the unconscious drive of our righteous minds, we'll be more able to bridge gaps between our perspectives and those of others.
Yes, that is the best outcome of such mind-broadening opening to other interpretations. We don't have to agree with those who believe in honor killing to communicate with them and accept that they have views we consider repugnant for reasons they consider worthy and pro-social. But I do think Haidt by-passes the question of adequacy, and thus of adjudication by reason, far too easily, going so far as to talk about the "advantage" of conservatives (as if they somehow are better at crossing the empathy divide, which has certainly not been my observation.)



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DWill
Tue Mar 17, 2020 10:57 pm
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