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The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error 
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Post The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
Before there was Descartes' error, there was Plato's error, as Jonathan Haidt would have it. Not reluctant to take on the big boys, Haidt in chapter 4 takes his charges against Plato a step further: Plato's assumptions about human nature and psychology are "just plain wrong." Plato insisted that reasoning can and should rule, while JH insists it "is not fit to rule; it was designed to seek justification, not truth." JH sides with Glaucon, a foil in a conversation in The Republic. Glaucon challenged Socrates' ideal of pure, reasoned justice ruling both society and individuals (under the tutelage of philosopher-kings). Glaucon's objection is based on realism, not idealism, as Haidt's are in the book thus far. Glaucon believes that only scrutiny by our fellow citizens, with the possibility of detection followed by shame and penalty, can ensure that people will act properly. JH praises Glaucon as the "guy who got it right--the guy who realized that the most important principle for designing an ethical society is to make sure that everyone's reputation is on the lime all the time, so that bad behavior will always have bad consequences."

Haidt then goes on to review for us the research showing "that moral thinking is more like a politician searching for votes than a scientist searching for truth." Again, no interest in endorsing an ideal, just in pinning down the reality.

I think there might be a significant difference in whether we use the word reason or reasoning. I'm convinced that our intuitions can partake of reason. Our reasoning is the gloss we put on those intuitions. We might then judge that gloss to be good reasoning or bad reasoning.



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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
DWill wrote:
I think there might be a significant difference in whether we use the word reason or reasoning. I'm convinced that our intuitions can partake of reason. Our reasoning is the gloss we put on those intuitions. We might then judge that gloss to be good reasoning or bad reasoning.


I completely agree that we use reason as well as intuition to inform our decisions. Often they're on the same side. But sometimes they're not as with our basic attitude towards those who are different than us. Michael Shermer wrote a great piece a few years back when the comedian who played Kramer on Seinfeld went on his rant. Shermer's point was that we are all racist, but we use our intellect to override our basic evolutionary attitudes in that regard (or should at least).

"The answer is to be found in the difference between our conscious and unconscious attitudes and our public and private thoughts. Consciously and publicly, Richards is probably not a racist. But unconsciously and privately, he is. So am I. So are you."

http://articles.latimes.com/2006/nov/24 ... -shermer24


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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
geo wrote:
I completely agree that we use reason as well as intuition to inform our decisions. Often they're on the same side. But sometimes they're not as with our basic attitude towards those who are different than us. Michael Shermer wrote a great piece a few years back when the comedian who played Kramer on Seinfeld went on his rant. Shermer's point was that we are all racist, but we use our intellect to override our basic evolutionary attitudes in that regard (or should at least).

"The answer is to be found in the difference between our conscious and unconscious attitudes and our public and private thoughts. Consciously and publicly, Richards is probably not a racist. But unconsciously and privately, he is. So am I. So are you."

http://articles.latimes.com/2006/nov/24 ... -shermer24

In that same vein, geo, Haidt has a section on the Implicit Association Test, which measures our "implicit attitudes" regarding different social groups. It's available to take online, but I haven't had the nerve to do it yet. Haidt reports that most people turn out to have negative associations with many groups, even the elderly. If even such an innocuous group could produce such feelings, he says, imagine how much we prejudge when we think about our political enemies.

On the intuition-as-reason topic, there is of course Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, subtitled, "The Power of Thinking Without Thinking." He reinforces Haidt's belief that the elephant can be quite smart about things. Gladwell also shows how a lot can go wrong with the ability he calls "thin slicing," or drawing conclusions sometimes instantly from a tiny sample.



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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
DWill wrote:
In that same vein, geo, Haidt has a section on the Implicit Association Test, which measures our "implicit attitudes" regarding different social groups. It's available to take online, but I haven't had the nerve to do it yet. Haidt reports that most people turn out to have negative associations with many groups, even the elderly. If even such an innocuous group could produce such feelings, he says, imagine how much we prejudge when we think about our political enemies.

I've done this a few months ago, it was my first encounter with Haidt. The outcome maybe not be as bad as you think, although the test itself is kinda hard. You have to press keys as fast as you can and the directions keep changing.



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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
I'm not sure I want to take the test either. Regarding negative associations with the elderly, I'll have to admit that when I lived in Florida, I found myself annoyed with old people quite a bit. It's actually a fairly prevalent attitude down in Florida where there is a high percentage of retirees. Younger folks do get fairly intolerant when they come across a "q-tip" driving slowly on the highway or blocking the grocery store aisles. On Election Day you learn never to vote first thing in the morning because that's when all the retirees show up en masse. I'm certainly not proud of my attitude and see it now for what it is--agism, a prejudicial attitude towards the elderly. The "thin-slicing" you're talking about sounds like intellectual laziness where we tend to form broad generalizations abut a group of people simply because it's our instinctive response. The lazy part is not thinking about it and not challenging ourselves. That's where an awareness of critical thinking and our tendency towards bias can make a big difference.


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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
geo wrote:
I'm not sure I want to take the test either. Regarding negative associations with the elderly, I'll have to admit that when I lived in Florida, I found myself annoyed with old people quite a bit. It's actually a fairly prevalent attitude down in Florida where there is a high percentage of retirees. Younger folks do get fairly intolerant when they come across a "q-tip" driving slowly on the highway or blocking the grocery store aisles. On Election Day you learn never to vote first thing in the morning because that's when all the retirees show up en masse. I'm certainly not proud of my attitude and see it now for what it is--agism, a prejudicial attitude towards the elderly.


I don't see that as some kind of moral failing. Elderly people are in fact slow, and apparently do in fact show up at the voting booth early. It doesn't mean you hate old people.



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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
Dexter wrote:
geo wrote:
I'm not sure I want to take the test either. Regarding negative associations with the elderly, I'll have to admit that when I lived in Florida, I found myself annoyed with old people quite a bit. It's actually a fairly prevalent attitude down in Florida where there is a high percentage of retirees. Younger folks do get fairly intolerant when they come across a "q-tip" driving slowly on the highway or blocking the grocery store aisles. On Election Day you learn never to vote first thing in the morning because that's when all the retirees show up en masse. I'm certainly not proud of my attitude and see it now for what it is--agism, a prejudicial attitude towards the elderly.


I don't see that as some kind of moral failing. Elderly people are in fact slow, and apparently do in fact show up at the voting booth early. It doesn't mean you hate old people.


Thanks, Dexter, that's kind of you to say so. Yeah, I didn't hate old people, more annoyed with them and tending to forget they are individuals with hopes and dreams and aspirations of their own. I didn't like Florida much for a lot of different reasons, mostly the heavy traffic and overdevelopment. The town where I used to live (Fort Myers) did not fare well during this recent economic downturn. A land developer who wrote a column in the local newspaper once said that the economy down there was "development-based." I emailed him after reading that, challenging this notion. I mean, how sustainable can that be? Not very, it turns out.

I remember once reading about an old lady who had to be rescued by helicopter because she turned down the wrong road and just kept driving. Even when the road turned into a dirt road and it must have been so obvious she was lost, she just kept going and ended up deep in the swamp with her car stuck. We kind of joke about that. Like isn't that so typical.

And once I turned up to vote at our local precinct and signed in, but after seeing how long the line was, I decided to come back later. Only when I came back, they wouldn't let me vote because I, in fact, had already signed in. I had a bloody fit ( a Donald Duck moment), but they still would not let me vote. One of the many aggravations of living down there.

I could go on. Don't get me started. I love North Carolina.


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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
"Glaucon believes that only scrutiny by our fellow citizens, with the possibility of detection followed by shame and penalty, can ensure that people will act properly. JH praises Glaucon as the "guy who got it right--the guy who realized that the most important principle for designing an ethical society is to make sure that everyone's reputation is on the lime all the time, so that bad behavior will always have bad consequences."

I disagree with Haidt here and have not ploughed much further into the book because of this. It is not true, as is evidenced by the many acts of kindness and heroism in the world. Because of this reasoning I find Haidt to be fallable and that gives me great pause to be sympathetic to his thesis.



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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
lindad_amato wrote:
"Glaucon believes that only scrutiny by our fellow citizens, with the possibility of detection followed by shame and penalty, can ensure that people will act properly. JH praises Glaucon as the "guy who got it right--the guy who realized that the most important principle for designing an ethical society is to make sure that everyone's reputation is on the lime all the time, so that bad behavior will always have bad consequences."

I disagree with Haidt here and have not ploughed much further into the book because of this. It is not true, as is evidenced by the many acts of kindness and heroism in the world. Because of this reasoning I find Haidt to be fallable and that gives me great pause to be sympathetic to his thesis.

But please do plow on. I think you might find something else to like. After all, any author is fallible. If we look closely, do we find that what Glaucon said about the necessary conditions for an ethical society mean that the kind of acts you mention shouldn't be happening? Acts of kindness or heroism tend to burnish reputation, although they don't need to be motivated by that. What Haidt is talking about is the temptation to do wrong and the brake put on that by the eyes that are upon us. It seems undeniable that normal social functioning means that we do care a great deal about how we look in others' eyes.



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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
lindad_amato wrote:
"Glaucon believes that only scrutiny by our fellow citizens, with the possibility of detection followed by shame and penalty, can ensure that people will act properly. JH praises Glaucon as the "guy who got it right--the guy who realized that the most important principle for designing an ethical society is to make sure that everyone's reputation is on the lime all the time, so that bad behavior will always have bad consequences."

I disagree with Haidt here and have not ploughed much further into the book because of this. It is not true, as is evidenced by the many acts of kindness and heroism in the world. Because of this reasoning I find Haidt to be fallable and that gives me great pause to be sympathetic to his thesis.


I didn't always agree with Haidt either, but I think I learned a lot from the book. I don't think he's making the claim that all kind acts are ultimately selfish. In fact you can say Haidt takes altruism more seriously than in standard Darwinian theory.



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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
As I recall, Haidt does not spend a lot of time examining the neurological underpinnings of moral behavior except in his analysis of the hive vs. chimp evolutionary role of group selection. He seems to assert that such selection must play a significant role in human morality, as evidenced by some of the comments above regarding the significance of this factor in shaping our behavior. I can see that his moral foundations which are closely related to tribal behavior such as loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation could be logically linked to group selection but might be equally easily tied to cultural influences in upbringing. Group selection is still strongly contested (as by Pinker in his Edge comments) and seems only weakly linked to neurological mechanisms other then undefined genetics.

Patricia Churchland in her book Braintrust and her TSN commentary makes a stronger case for the importance of oxytocin and vasopressin in the evolution of "kin and kith" bonding which could serve as the underpinning for the care/harm foundation. Ramachandran argues that our cultural values begin with mirror neuron wiring and their role in empathy. Many unsettled issues and much research is yet to be done here.

The core agreement which includes Haidt though, is that these factors have their roots in unconscious intuitive processes and that rationality is still the rider on the elephant.



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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
scotchbooks wrote:
As I recall, Haidt does not spend a lot of time examining the neurological underpinnings of moral behavior except in his analysis of the hive vs. chimp evolutionary role of group selection. He seems to assert that such selection must play a significant role in human morality, as evidenced by some of the comments above regarding the significance of this factor in shaping our behavior. I can see that his moral foundations which are closely related to tribal behavior such as loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation could be logically linked to group selection but might be equally easily tied to cultural influences in upbringing. Group selection is still strongly contested (as by Pinker in his Edge comments) and seems only weakly linked to neurological mechanisms other then undefined genetics.

Patricia Churchland in her book Braintrust and her TSN commentary makes a stronger case for the importance of oxytocin and vasopressin in the evolution of "kin and kith" bonding which could serve as the underpinning for the care/harm foundation. Ramachandran argues that our cultural values begin with mirror neuron wiring and their role in empathy. Many unsettled issues and much research is yet to be done here.

The core agreement which includes Haidt though, is that these factors have their roots in unconscious intuitive processes and that rationality is still the rider on the elephant.

Well put, scotchbooks. I hope we can revive the discussion of The Righteous Mind, because we've only scratched the surface. Of all the issues he has raised, group selection is the one that gives me the most trouble. I can't wrap my mind around how groups can be selected in a true Darwinian sense, meaning that advantageous genes become prevalent enough in a group that the group gains a differential advantage in reproduction over other groups, which then become extinct. But what is group extinction, after all? Is it every last member of a group physically dying before he/she can reproduce, which would be Darwinian, or is it the group weakening and being overcome by another group, which I think would not be? Were groups ever really stable enough for them to remain intact for the number of generations it would take for the genes for groupishness to manifest such a big difference? And why would such genes fail to get passed along in some groups? I don't understand.



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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
DWill wrote:
scotchbooks wrote:
As I recall, Haidt does not spend a lot of time examining the neurological underpinnings of moral behavior except in his analysis of the hive vs. chimp evolutionary role of group selection. He seems to assert that such selection must play a significant role in human morality, as evidenced by some of the comments above regarding the significance of this factor in shaping our behavior. I can see that his moral foundations which are closely related to tribal behavior such as loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation could be logically linked to group selection but might be equally easily tied to cultural influences in upbringing. Group selection is still strongly contested (as by Pinker in his Edge comments) and seems only weakly linked to neurological mechanisms other then undefined genetics.

Patricia Churchland in her book Braintrust and her TSN commentary makes a stronger case for the importance of oxytocin and vasopressin in the evolution of "kin and kith" bonding which could serve as the underpinning for the care/harm foundation. Ramachandran argues that our cultural values begin with mirror neuron wiring and their role in empathy. Many unsettled issues and much research is yet to be done here.

The core agreement which includes Haidt though, is that these factors have their roots in unconscious intuitive processes and that rationality is still the rider on the elephant.

Well put, scotchbooks. I hope we can revive the discussion of The Righteous Mind, because we've only scratched the surface. Of all the issues he has raised, group selection is the one that gives me the most trouble. I can't wrap my mind around how groups can be selected in a true Darwinian sense, meaning that advantageous genes become prevalent enough in a group that the group gains a differential advantage in reproduction over other groups, which then become extinct. But what is group extinction, after all? Is it every last member of a group physically dying before he/she can reproduce, which would be Darwinian, or is it the group weakening and being overcome by another group, which I think would not be? Were groups ever really stable enough for them to remain intact for the number of generations it would take for the genes for groupishness to manifest such a big difference? And why would such genes fail to get passed along in some groups? I don't understand.

Dawkins uses a great analogy to explain how selection at the individual level can result in apparent selection at a group level. (Dawkins is actually arguing against group selection here.) Imagine teams of rowers, individual rowers selected on the basis of individual fitness (number of victories), leading to a team with group fitness, even if the definition of group fitness is not considered when selecting those rowers.

Quote:
In this analogy boats of mixed left- and right-handed rowers are filled from a common rower pool. Boats compete in heats and it is assumed that a speed advantage exists for boats with more same-handed rowers. The successful rowers are then reassigned to the rower pool for the next round. Over time, a predominantly and then totally single handed rower pool will result. Thus, the selection of boats serves, in effect, to select rowers who therefore may be considered to be competing against each other.

This seems an apt analogy since individual genes on a chromosome are in competition with alleles, but not with other genes in the same body, just as the individual rower is in competition only with those vying for his specific position (aft-port, fore-starboard, cox, etc.), not for other oarsmen positions in the same boat.

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. . . Suppose it is important in a really successful crew that the rowers should coordinate their activities by means of speech. . . Because of the importance of communication, a mixed crew will tend to win fewer races than either a pure English crew or a pure German crew. The coach does not realize this. All he does is shuffle his men around, giving credit points to individuals in winning boats, marking down individuals in losing boats. . . . What will emerge as the overall best crew will be one of the two stable states—pure English or pure German, but not mixed. Superficially, it looks as though the coach is selecting whole language groups as units. This is not what he is doing. He is selecting individual oarsmen for their apparent ability to win races. . . Selection at the low level of the single gene can give the impression of selection at some higher level.


I'm not sure Dawkins is very effective in arguing against group selection. It seems to me that sharing a common language works as selection pressure on a group level. Since fitness is expressed in differences, imagine two cultures, one united by a common language, religion, agricultural practices, etc., and the other with a high immigration rate, where religions and language are in a state of flux. Culture A may provide a more stable long-term environment, causing that culture to have an advantage over Culture B. Over time, the people who are united by language and other customs in Culture A will be more likely to pass their genes to the next generation. Athens developed into one of the world's most highly-evolved nation-states, but were done in by the Spartans. For a time, at least, Spartan genes were more likely to be passed along to the next generation. Our genes benefit from the group we belong to, and even if it's a relatively short-term advantage, it is is still an advantage.

Granted, I'm not really informed enough to know the distinction that Dawkins and others are making against group selection.


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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
As I said, I don't understand the issues,either, but you did a good job of trying to educate me. I just agree with Dawkins that there needs to be rigor whenever we apply natural selection, and that means differential reproduction rates in animals occupying the same niche. Natural selection, or evolution, isn't happening when one human group does well at the expense of another. That's just a competition in which we sometimes arbitrarily decide that one group has "won" over another. Looking back at Jared Daimond, he, of course, would not endorse the idea that one group got the drop on another by virtue of having better genes. It was all the advantages of the environment in Diamond's mind.



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Post Re: The Righteous Mind: Plato's Error
DWill wrote:
. JH praises Glaucon as the "guy who got it right--the guy who realized that the most important principle for designing an ethical society is to make sure that everyone's reputation is on the lime all the time, so that bad behavior will always have bad consequences."

I am stuck on page 74 (very beginning of chap. 4) - the three paragraphs on that page have stimulated so many ideas. The above quote reminded me of what I have always thought about small towns - they keep people honest. Yes, there are definitely - draw backs to living in a small town where everyone knows your business - especially if you are odd in anyway or simply different in a noticeable way. This is the old struggle between the individual and society. I really think it is a balancing act between the two. I suspect that environmental factors play a part in determining the degree to which a society is individualistic or collectivistic at any one moment in time. Some groups go too far in one direction or the other. Take for example the attitudes and practices regarding the value of a woman in India or the Middle East. Women seem to have little or no individual value. They only seem to have value as a necessary part of the larger group. I think this explains why the offense for which women are punished in these cultures are sins against the group or actions that interfere with their socially prescribed roles, such as wanting to get away from an abusive husband or being too western (Indian parents were just convicted in England of murdering their teenaged daughter because she was "too western" in their opinion). The punishments are extreme; death by stoning or setting on fire.

DWill wrote:
Haidt then goes on to review for us the research showing "that moral thinking is more like a politician searching for votes than a scientist searching for truth." Again, no interest in endorsing an ideal, just in pinning down the reality.

I think there might be a significant difference in whether we use the word reason or reasoning. I'm convinced that our intuitions can partake of reason. Our reasoning is the gloss we put on those intuitions. We might then judge that gloss to be good reasoning or bad reasoning.
I like this distinction between reason and reasoning. It clarifies the discussion.



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