The Righteous Mind: How Much of Our Thinking is Moral?
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Author:  DWill [ Tue Jul 10, 2012 7:37 pm ]
Post subject:  The Righteous Mind: How Much of Our Thinking is Moral?

If you've been following the discussion so far, you might have wondered just how much effort we do spend on moral problems, and so also be wondering how Jonathan Haidt can say moral psychology is the key to our making civilizations. Haidt has featured some theoretical moral/ethical scenes that seem pretty far removed from what we think about daily. Add to this the curious phenomenon that when we consider morality we usually think of it as involving other people, not us (at least I do). It's common to hear about people who were doing things that were so obviously wrong, yet they swear that they didn't know this at the time. It seems dubious, but we hear this so often that it must be true. We have an impressive capacity to make exceptions for ourselves, to convince ourselves that what we're doing has a higher purpose, isn't the same as what the bad people are doing, etc. So, how, then, can Haidt say moralizing is so central to our nature? It seems that he expands on morality to include not just right vs. wrong, but a bunch of other dichotomies such as good/bad, worthy/unworthy, valued/not valued, respectable/not respectable, intelligent/stupid, and others. He says that we are continuously making these kind of moral choices every day, so often and so automatically that they don't even rise to the level of true emotions (though they are emotional). A common example would be our reactions to personal attractiveness, how we attribute more positive qualities to attractive people than to unattractive ones. If we were asked whether attractive people are really better than the unattractive, we'd say of course not. But it appears to be scientifically established that we do equate surface attractiveness with worthiness (and act accordingly). We can moralize almost anything, even food, which Haidt says has lately been occurring. I would guess that whatever reasons one might give for, say, the superiority of organic food, Haidt would say that the elephant is speaking. Reason can't fully explain the devotion to food produced without chemical fertilizers.


Author:  Saffron [ Tue Jul 10, 2012 9:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Righteous Mind: How Much of Our Thinking is Moral?

I hate reading books on Google Books. I think that book better come from the library soon so I can catch up! From what DW posted I 'm not sure I understand what Haidt is meaning by moral. I can see the connection between making a positive or negative judgement about something based on one's subconscious emotional response and thinking something is moral and immoral - the process is the same or at least I think that is what Haidt is trying to argue. However, just because we feel or think something is immoral doesn't make it immoral. I don't think this is where Haidt is going.

Author:  DWill [ Tue Jul 10, 2012 9:49 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Righteous Mind: How Much of Our Thinking is Moral?

If I'm not distorting what he's saying, it's that people use their righteous minds on many matters other than those that we usually label specifically as moral/immoral. This must be how he brings in politics, which for all people includes much more than what is commonly understood as morality. What I mean is that a division like "fiscal conservative" vs. "liberal big spender" wouldn't be a case where one side is calling the other immoral. Each will be having strong negative feelings about the other, but I think these will come out as accusations of stupidity, greediness, unAmerican-ness, and so on. And yet Haidt classifies these feelings as moral, broadly speaking, based on their having a strong emotional origin "in the elephant." I can see the sense in that.

To me, a specific action can be labelled as immoral or moral, but it's harder to do this about more general categories, such as types of people or ideologies such as liberal or conservative. We just don't like the other side, but for reasons that are finer-grained than the simple moral/immoral divide. We moralize about more than morality. That's about the best I can do to confuse the issue.

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