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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion [Hardcover]

Jonathan Haidt
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)

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Book Description

29 Mar 2012

Why can it sometimes feel as though half the population is living in a different moral universe from you? Why do ideas such as 'fairness' and 'freedom' mean such different things to different people? Why is it so easy to see the flaws in others' arguments, and less in our own?

Jonathan Haidt, one of the world's most influential psychologists, reveals that the reason we find it so hard to get along is because our minds are designed to be moral. Not only that, we are hardwired to be moralistic, judgemental and self-righteous too. Our intrinsic morality enabled us to form communities and create civilization, and it is the key to understanding political and religious divisions. It explains why some of us are liberal, others conservative. It is often the difference between war and peace. It is also why we are the only species that will kill for an ideal. Drawing on moral psychology, ancient philosophy, modern politics, advertising and the semantics of bumper stickers, Haidt's incredibly wise and enjoyable book examines how morality evolved; why we are predisposed to believe certain things; how our surroundings can affect our morality; and how moral values are not just about justice and fairness - for some people authority, sanctity or loyalty are more important.

Morality binds and blinds, but with new evidence from his own empirical research, Haidt shows that it is possible to liberate ourselves from the disputes that divide good people and cooperate with those whose morals differ from our own. After all, they might just have something to say.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (29 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846141818
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846141812
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 24.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (64 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 201,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A truly seminal book (Prospect)

A fascinating voyage of discovery through the social psychology of politics (Simon Jenkins Guardian)

This elegantly written book has far-reaching implications for anyone interested in politics, religion, or the many controversies that divide modern societies. If you want to know why you hold your moral beliefs and why many people disagree with you, read this book (Simon Baron-Cohen)

A remarkable and original synthesis of social psychology, political analysis, and moral reasoning that reflects the best of sciences in these fields (Edward O. Wilson)

A tour de force - a brave, brilliant, and eloquent exploration of the most important issues of our time. It will challenge the way you think about liberals and conservatives, atheism and religion, good and evil. This is the book that everyone will be talking about (Paul Bloom)

For the reader who seeks to understand happiness, my advice is: Begin with Haidt (Martin E P Seligman, professor of psychology, University of Pennsylvania)

[Haidt's] arguments are lucid and thought-provoking. They deserve to be widely read (The Sunday Times)

About the Author

Jonathan Haidt is a social and cultural psychologist. He has been on the faculty of the University of Virginia since 1995 and is currently a visiting professor of business ethics at New York University's Stern School of Business. He is the co-editor of Flourishing: Positive Psychology and the Life Well Lived, and is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 42 people found the following review helpful
By Alan Pavelin VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
I think this is a very important book, which politicians (among others) will be advised to read, and which will teach you something about yourself.
The author, a social and cultural psychologist, declares himself to be a straight-down-the-line liberal (in the American sense) atheist, but seems to have changed his mind in the course of writing the book, or at least in the course of researching for it. The book is in three parts, each with its own conclusion. Part I is headed "Intuitions Come First, Strategic Reasoning Second", and demonstrates how, rather than using evidence and reasoning to reach a conclusion about what our opinions ought to be, we almost invariably start with our instinctive conclusion and then search around for arguments to fit that conclusion, ignoring counter-arguments. This is why debates, whether about politics, religion, or anything else, so often degenerate to shouting matches.
Part II is called "There's More to Morality than Harm and Fairness", and this is where the author seems to have undergone a personal conversion from his straight-down-the-line liberalism. He identifies five strands of morality, and finds that liberals (again, in the American sense) tend to concentrate on just one or two strands, such as fighting oppression, while conservatives embrace all five, including respect for authority which is low in the liberal priority list. He concludes that the Democratic Party (which he supports) needs to learn important lessons from this research. If I can emphasise one key point: everybody claims to agree with "fairness", but they mean different things by it. The Left tends to mean equality, the Right to mean getting what you deserve. I cringe every time I hear a politician call for "fairness", without defining what they mean.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
The Righteous Mind is a discussion of how the moral sense works through contemporary research in cognitive psychology. Written for an American audience, it has a tendency to over-explain things that many British readers will already take for granted. Little of the material is new, though there are some interesting sidelights, and the author is very good at challenging accepted theories. Ultimately, this book is an account of work-in-progress: we now have a much better understanding of how the moral sense works, but questions about why it works are still answered in an essentially speculative way.

A part of me fails to get excited about this book. Coming after The Political Brain The Role Of Emotion In Deciding The Fate Of The Nation, it doesn't add a great deal to the notion that many of the decision we believe we are making on a moral or logical basis are, in fact, neither. Equally, the more British-oriented Flipnosis: The Art of Split-Second Persuasion covers most of the material rather more concisely and entertainingly.

On the other hand, The Righteous Mind challenges the research much more than many other books, including pointing out that the vast majority of cognitive and moral psychological research is WEIRD -- which is to say, done among White Educated Industrial Rich and Democratic people, which creates a strong systematic research bias. The forensic questioning of research is the real value in this book for me: it's easy to exchange one set of unsupported certainties (Western Capitalist Democratic morality) with another set of unsupported certainties (psychological research).
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This review has taken longer to write than some, because there is a lot of material in this book and I wanted to do it justice. All those with polarised views should read this to see how we can live together better.

The basic idea of the book is that we are divided by our own moral codes which can make us self-righteous and judgemental. Jonathan Haidt sets out how we can live together without forgetting that the moral codes (or matrices to use his term) of others are equally valid and we do well to seek commonality and understanding before jumping in with our own absolute view of morality. Very much food for thought for those engaged in politics or religion.

Well laid out with summaries of each chapter (headed "in sum") if you want to get the gist of what has been said readily before getting down to the detail. There is an introduction which sets out his aims and a conclusion which means he has three goes at getting his views across!

More academic in tone with 50 plus pages of notes, 28 pages of references and 13 page index. The author is American and thus some of the comments and examples relate to USA but are applicable to UK as well. I found it readable but some parts heavier than others - this is where the "in sum" sections are helpful.
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31 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Starts well but falls off toward the end 5 Jun 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Haidt says we use reason to justify the values we instinctively hold, and seldom arrive at a set of values through reason. In his metaphor we are elephant riders whose purpose is to serve the elephant, and to justify its actions. I find this a very attractive idea. If someone argues strongly for beliefs you cannot possibly accept, yet does not appear to be mad or bad, perhaps this is why. He is riding a different elephant.

He explains how honest folk can never agree about ethics. I think this also explains how mutually exclusive arguments can be used to justify (NOT reach) shared conclusions. Consider Singer and Regan on vegetarianism (this is my example, not in the book). Singer's utilitarian beliefs explicitly reject natural rights, and Regan's natural rights based approach explicitly rejects utilitarianism. Yet they are colleagues, friends and vegetarians - despite the reasoning of each rejecting that of the other.

He also claims that conservatives value the same things that liberals value (caring, fairness, liberty), but also value other things which liberals value less (loyalty, authority, and sacredness). Liberals who don't realise this wrongly suppose that conservatives don't value the first three things, which can result in a dialogue of the deaf. He gives a description of the psychological questionnaire based techniques which led him to this conclusion. It all seems very persuasive. If you want to influence people politically you need to understand their feelings, because you will get nowhere if you rely on arguments alone.

He also makes the point that religion is mostly what people do, not what they believe, and its benefits are in social integration. Support for football teams etc has similar benefits.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding analysis of origins of political attitudes
Scholarly but also lively and accessible. Written by someone who, despite living in other cultures, still cannot quite break out of what he calls the WEIRD [western, educated,... Read more
Published 1 month ago by B. Cavell
4.0 out of 5 stars Not his best
I didn't like this as much as his book The Happiness Hypothesis but I still found it worth the read.
Published 1 month ago by Noerle
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary and insightful
It's not often that a book comes along that makes you see the world a different way. This is one of those books. Read more
Published 3 months ago by David
4.0 out of 5 stars Morality binds but it also blinds
Jonathan Haidt offers a credible explanation of the role of morality as being the extraordinary human capacity which has made human civilisation possible. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Makes me Feel Uncomfortable
Jonathan Haidt has written a very accessible book that skewers some of the noble reasoning behind our political and religious beliefs. Read more
Published 4 months ago by William Cohen
4.0 out of 5 stars very interesting set of ideas and research - but not always persuasive
Once upon a time Lawrence Kohlberg found that children of different ages responded in very different ways to moral dilemmas; then Elliot Turiel found that younger children had... Read more
Published 5 months ago by William Jordan
5.0 out of 5 stars wow what great book
I had read Nudge and Thinking Fast and Slow prior to this book (both excellent books). This book was the missing piece in my perceptual jigsaw. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Peter
4.0 out of 5 stars a converted liberal ?? Great read !
I loved Heait's first book ;the happiness hypothesis in which he lays out his idea that the ancient brain/mind is the elephant and the new brain/mind the rider . Read more
Published 9 months ago by Pedroza
5.0 out of 5 stars Mind blowing
A very well written book around the source of beliefs and values. It can be a slow read due to the depth of the subject, but nonetheless very well researched book. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Shopperninja
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent description of how and why we think morally, and how it...
The first part of the book is an excellent overview of the history of the psychology of morality, covering various competing schools of thought. Read more
Published 11 months ago by A. Noble
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