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VINE VOICEon 17 October 2015
This is a totally fascinating read.

I bought it on recommendation from my mum, as both of us were thinking about the incredible animosity being shown by the left towards Conservative Party voters in the aftermath of the 2015 General Election. It gave me a whole pile of really interesting insights into that, and far more: deeper understanding of the current state of play in moral psychology, where we came from, how our morals developed and why we behave the way we do.

In some ways, the book has a similar feel to Daniel Kahneman's Thinking Fast and Slow, but focussing on the way we make moral decisions rather than our rationality. In other ways, the book is different: I found it easier going than Kahneman, and it was more evolutionary-focussed. It also felt more current: it's possible that Jonathan Haidt will revise some of this thinking, as some of it is very current. But I would still recommend people who are interested to buy the book: it delivers in interesting ways.

It won't necessarily be comfortable - it's difficult to read about how we make snap moral judgements and rationalise afterwards and then think back on your previous behaviour, and it's difficult to hear your political views dissected in different ways - but it will be fascinating. For me, one of the things was a far greater appreciation for the function of religion in human society, but the moral 'tastebuds' and the post-decision rationalisation are pretty mind blowing too.

If I have a small complaint, it's in the conclusion. I left not quite knowing what to think or what to believe in. Although, I suppose, maybe that is his point. Everyone has something interesting to say, whatever their political and religious backgrounds, and it's always about having a great conversation with people.
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on 27 June 2017
Interesting concepts and ideas. This is not a book for simple entertainment.
You need to be ready to put some thought into it. I personally think it would
be an excellent group discussion book.
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on 5 October 2017
I really enjoyed this book as it gave me a deeper understanding of how people think across the political and religious​ divide.
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on 20 September 2017
Some interesting insights backed by academic research. Gives a new perspective on differing moral values
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on 28 November 2016
Hard work to get through but worth it
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on 3 September 2017
Haidt offers a well researched and presented framework for understanding political and religious differences of opinion; an important work in the current highly polarised climate
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on 7 October 2017
Thought provoking and, in parts, very surprising.
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on 16 May 2012
This is an important book and one that will test readers' objectivity, for it draws conclusions about differences between conservatives and liberals (American sense) in how they make judgements. It reports years of painstaking research in evolutionary psychology, which in itself will put off those conservatives who prefer Genesis to Darwin. Haidt finds that liberals judge things on a narrower basis, which may upset them.
Testing large numbers of subjects with questions such as 'Is it wrong for a brother and sister to have sex as a one-off experiment, using contraceptives?' and 'A man's dog is killed in a road accident; is it wrong for him to cook and eat it?' Subjects were also asked to explain their answers. People did not consciously refer to abstract values when they made their decisions. They reacted instantly to the scenarios and often could not explain their responses. Haidt uses the metaphor of the elephant and its rider for this; our unconscious mind throws up intuitions, which our conscious mind then tries to explain and perhaps redirect.
Analysis of the results found that people use six bases for their judgements, which Haidt likens to a tongue with six taste receptors: care, fairness, loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity; these were the five of the initial hypothesis, but it emerged from the research that there is a sixth - liberty. Each of these is hypothesized to have had survival value for our ancestors, contributing to the flourishing and survival of the individual and the group.
The balance between individual and group has produced a species that behaves 90% like the chimpanzee and 10% like the bee. Haidt found that people's moral views were correlated with their political positions. Liberals were chiefly, though not exclusively concerned with care, fairness and liberty, while conservatives invoked the whole range of bases for their judgements. I imagine that conservatives will like this result, feeling that it makes them more completely human. Liberals may argue that the values they focus on are more highly evolved, emphasizing the well-being of individual more than that of the group. A dispassionate view would argue that both approaches are important.
Haidt himself, an avowed liberal, has been mellowed by his research. His book should help America's increasingly polarized society to cultivate dialogue and mutual respect between its factions. It deserves a wide readership, being clearly written, well structured and full of concrete examples.
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on 28 May 2017
Perhaps we'd be a bit more understanding of each other and less polarised if we did. Compellingly-written, fascinating insights with a regular smattering of "eureka" moments. One of the best books I've read to challenge my perspectives and give me new insights into life and humanity. A must-read!
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on 19 September 2017
This was a book club choice, and one of the best that we have read in recent years. I would recommend it to everyone, but particularly those with strong and confirmed moral or political convictions. It will change your views about religion and politics, and hopefully make you more tolerant of other peoples perspectives. Here are my notes:

Haidt: The Righteous Mind
Overall
This was one of our best recent book club choices. It was well written, clear and thought provoking. The main point of the book to me was to demonstrate that morality has a social purpose, as the foundation on which social capital is constructed. What matters is that people share the same moral values, not whether those values are “right or wrong”. It has changed my thinking, and I have bought copies for friends of mine to see if it can also change theirs.

Synopsis

The book is divided into sections:
• Section 1: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second
The central metaphor is that the mind is like a rider on an elephant, whose job is to serve the elephant without much control of where the elephant is going. Traditionally Western philosophy separated the body and the mind, with the mind being the “ghost in the machine”, but according to Haidt the two are intimately connected. In fact morality is rooted in emotion and not in reason. We act first (the elephant moves), and justify our actions later (the rider).

• Section 2: There’s more to morality than harm and fairness
The central metaphor is like a tongue with six taste receptors. Morality has evolved to bind social groups together. Haidt identifies 6 different moral foundations, each of which has a role to play in addressing specific human behaviours:
Care/Harm: evolved for the protection and care of vulnerable offspring
Fairness/Cheating: evolved to encourage sharing and punish cheating
Loyalty/Betrayal: evolved to bind people together in social groups and to punish defectors
Authority/Subversion: evolved to bind people within a hierarchical social structure within the group
Sanctity/Degradation: evolved to protect health by avoiding unsafe foods and encouraging hygienic practises
Liberty/Oppression: evolved to balance the personal freedom and group loyalty

• Section 3: Morality binds and blinds
The central metaphor we are 90 percent bee and 10 percent chimp. We naturally tend to aggregate into large social groups bound by shared morals. In this context religion should not be seen as a parasitic meme, but as a social tool that binds people together into a cohesive and effective unit. Further, our political inclinations are a function of our individual sensitivities to each of the 6 moral foundations. Socialists are primarily driven by Care/Harm considerations for “social justice” and equality of outcomes. Conservatives are more concerned with maintaining social capital in an imperfect world where people cheat and exploit the system. Neither has a monopoly on righteousness, and each has their place in maintaining a balanced society.

Critique
I thought that this was an excellent book, grounded in science, which succeeds in its main argument that morality is an evolutionary adaptation whose purpose is to behind social groups together. I also very much enjoyed the description of how the field of moral psychology has developed over time. I have only a few points to discuss:

1. Religion as a meme
Haidt argues that the new Atheists are wrong in characterising Religion as a pernicious meme, and that instead it has a social purpose in binding people together into a cohesive whole. I think he overstates his case, and that his argument is not incompatible with that of the new atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens etc). Although the set of religions as a whole may well have a social purpose (religion has spontaneously evolved too often for it not to have some use), each individual religion can also be regarded as a meme that exploits humanity’s social needs to propagate itself. Thus when Haidt states that religions change over time to fit the needs of a changing society, the New Atheists would argue that the meme mutates and evolves with its host to ensure its continued propagation. It is merely a question of perspective.

2. Moral foundations of political views
Although, the conclusion of Haidt’s discussion of the moral foundations for Conservative and Liberal viewpoints is a refreshing call for tolerance, I thought that this was the weakest part of the book. His claim that political beliefs can be traced back to differing sensitivities to the 6 moral foundations mentioned above was justified by social surveys in which people were asked their political orientation and then asked to answer moral questionnaires. Conservatives and Liberals were then found to have different reactions to questions that targeted particular moral foundations. Correlation is not necessarily causation I thought that some of the graphs showed relatively weak relationships. In order for Haidt to be right the questions must be formulated so that the subject interprets them in the way intended, and that each question must target the intended moral foundation correctly. There is significant room for error and ambiguity there. His results seemed strong enough to draw general but not specific conclusions from.

3. I have an old friend whose politics are different from mine (he is a lifelong Socialist), so I bought him a copy of the book in the hope that it would provide some perspective and allow us to better understand each other’s viewpoints. As I handed it over he took one look and said “Not bloody Haidt, I hated that book.” We continue to avoid discussing politics. I am pessimistic that Haidt’s call for political toleration will be heeded.

Overall
I thought that this was a terrific book, and one of the best we have read in a while.
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