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GeorgeW

The Righteous Mind - Chapter 1

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This is a very short overview of the Introduction and Chapter 1

 

Introduction

 

Haidt begins by saying, “I am going to make the case that morality is the extraordinary human capacity that made civilization possible.” It was the moral mind that allowed human animals to produce cooperative groups without the necessity of kinship.

 

Chapter 1 – Where Does Morality Come From?

 

Haidt, throughout the book, uses an elephant-rider metaphor. The basic idea is that our intuitive mind is the elephant and our reasoning mind is the driver. The elephant has both a weight and size advantage. He claims that moral intuitions (the elephant) arise automatically and almost instantaneously before our reasoning (the rider) ever kicks in.

 

Another central metaphor is that humans are “90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee.” The chimp, in this case, behaves as a selfish individual satisfying its individual needs. The bee, as a member of a group, works for the welfare of the group. So, according to Haidt, we are some of both. We have our selfish interests (the major portion – 90%) and we have our community interests (the bee, 10%). It is our bee-like nature that “facilitates altruism, heroism, war and genocide.”

 

Haidt refers to various studies that demonstrate that children have innate moral impulses that are not taught. He says, “Children construct their moral understanding on the bedrock of the absolute moral truth that harm is wrong.” But, he goes on to demonstrate that the moral domain involves much more than simple harm and fairness.

 

In various studies, Haidt shows were people will identify ‘wrongs’ and then will rationalize the harm. But, even when the harms they invent, are shown to be wrong, they stick with their intuitive reaction of moral wrong. As he says, “They [the subjects of the study] were working quite hard at reasoning. But, it was not reasoning in search of truth; it was reasoning in support of their emotional reactions.” He concludes that moral intuition is a combination of innateness and social learning. This is why moral values, at some level, are consistent from one culture to another and, at another level, differ from culture to culture.

 

Comments and questions?

 

George

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Ch 1 discusses food taboos, an interesting topic. I remember enjoying some 'Hawaiian style fish' prepared by my aunt as a child. My siblings and I were shocked to be told later that it was raw fish - we would never have eaten it if we had known. Nowadays I can bring myself to consciously eat raw fish (the area where I live in Korea is crowded with restaurants specialising in it), but still prefer not to.

In Korea I've encountered many new foods but many I've only looked at - I'm generally only willing to try them on the recommendations of others, and sometimes refuse. As I understand Haidt, in his terminology the intuitive elephant is running away from threatening or confusing sights /smells and the evidence that other people happily consume these foods is not sufficient to entice me to follow. Another factor is that I identify as 'foreigner' and am probably willing to 'reason' along the lines that Korean people eat these foods, but I don't have to.

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Annie,

 

These taboos, of course, have an evolutionary basis. Imagine if each child had to learn for themselves which things are nutritious and which are poison through through reason. We probably wouldn't be here today as a species. It has been argued that cooking is what distinguishes us as humans ("Catching Fire: How Cooking Made us Human," Richard Wrangham). Among the benefits of cooking is it kills toxins and germs. One is much more likely to get sick from raw foods, particularly meats. Not surprisingly, most food taboos involve meats.

 

George

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I would like to point out that one does not need to be reading this book to comment or pose questions about the author's claims or the subjects discussed. The discussion is open to anyone.

 

George

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In various studies, Haidt shows were people will identify ‘wrongs’ and then will rationalize the harm. But, even when the harms they invent, are shown to be wrong, they stick with their intuitive reaction of moral wrong. As he says, “They [the subjects of the study] were working quite hard at reasoning. But, it was not reasoning in search of truth; it was reasoning in support of their emotional reactions.” He concludes that moral intuition is a combination of innateness and social learning. This is why moral values, at some level, are consistent from one culture to another and, at another level, differ from culture to culture.

 

Comments and questions?

George

 

I believe the thinking mind that reasons is nothing more than a developed ego and it does often work in some to justify its emotional responses. Yet reason also , in my view, when not necessarily applied to justifying emotions, is for many the door to that which brings us to a void that bridges us beyond itself and when let go brings us to a place of non-judgement. Could moral values be consistent from culture to culture more because of the benefits of reasoning than just social learning and innateness? I would think so because to me. reasoning gives understanding as an emotional response which weighs actions more towards a meaningful life view which in time leads us to a more benign view of life and the world.

 

Just some thoughts, (haven't read book)

Joseph.

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For those who have not read the book, Haidt has a webpage dedicated to the subject.

 

http://righteousmind.com/

 

What I like about this work is the entering statement ... "Why good people are divided by Religion and Politics."

 

Myron

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Could moral values be consistent from culture to culture more because of the benefits of reasoning than just social learning and innateness?

 

Haidt would argue not. And, I think his evidence and reasoning are sound. As an example, we don't sit down around the campfire and reason that incest should be taboo. In fact, Haidt has an experiment in which subjects are unable to reason against a hypothetical incestuous situation and still remain revulsed by it. Similar experiments have been done with food taboos.

 

A great example of our moral instinct (vs. reason) is illustrated in the so-called "trolley problem." http://en.wikipedia....Trolley_problem

People, cross culturally, tend to give similar responses, but cannot reason their answers.

 

George

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As Jung pointed out, our moral emotions and intuitions are part of what we call "experience". They are the matrix out of which reason and feeling emerge. Kant, at times, supports this same view when he talks about "bottom up" processing. We experience what evolution gives us and form cognitive appraisals concerning that experience. In other words, cognition "fills in the form" with words. John Searle says much the same thing. Paul Valent has spend a lifetime collecting the typical appraisals we form by interviewing hundreds of trauma victims.

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Haidt claims that reason is used to rationalize our intuitive moral instincts, not to motivate our decisions. I think this is largely correct.

 

A few years ago, I was debating capital punishment with my father (me against, him for). He was claiming that he favored it because it was a deterrent. I pointed out that the evidence did not support this. But, he persisted in his position. Then, I thought, what if the evidence did favor capital punishment as a deterrent, would I change my view? The answer, I concluded was no. We were both invoking a moral values, not rational argument. We were using reason to rationalize our (intuitive) moral values.

 

The one area, that I don't think Haidt discusses, where reason may come into play is is resolving moral conflicts. When there are two rights or two wrongs, I think reason may be invoked to decide a course of action. I would like to know what Haidt would think about this.

 

George

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George wrote:

These [food] taboos, of course, have an evolutionary basis. Imagine if each child had to learn for themselves which things are nutritious and which are poison through through reason. We probably wouldn't be here today as a species.

 

 

 

I agree reason has its limits here too; being told 'vegetables are good for you' rarely if ever convinces a child to eat them. But we don't seem to have evolved to the point where we instinctively know what we should be eating to maximise our chance of survival. The curious infant may experiment with dirt, a bottle of pills... Individual differences in food taboos, even within one culture, and the way these taboos change over time for each person, are curious things too.

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Haidt claims that reason is used to rationalize our intuitive moral instincts, not to motivate our decisions. I think this is largely correct.

 

A few years ago, I was debating capital punishment with my father (me against, him for). He was claiming that he favored it because it was a deterrent. I pointed out that the evidence did not support this. But, he persisted in his position. Then, I thought, what if the evidence did favor capital punishment as a deterrent, would I change my view? The answer, I concluded was no. We were both invoking a moral values, not rational argument. We were using reason to rationalize our (intuitive) moral values.

 

The one area, that I don't think Haidt discusses, where reason may come into play is is resolving moral conflicts. When there are two rights or two wrongs, I think reason may be invoked to decide a course of action. I would like to know what Haidt would think about this.

 

George

 

George,

 

There are different connotations involving the term "rationalize". The negative implies "making excuses" the other is "to make rational". As John Searle notes, you can put 100 people in a room and give them a problem to work out and get 100 different responses, all of which could be rational. I think Haidt is more in line with Searle. Jung also belongs in this group. As Paul Valent points out, cognitive evaluations often come in complementary sets. This is very much in line with Jung.

 

I have used this example before. Suppose you were in the middle of Katrina. Do you go out and rescue others, or is more rational to wait and be rescued?

 

Myron

Edited by minsocal
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There are different connotations involving the term "rationalize". The negative implies "making excuses" the other is "to make rational".

 

Myron, good point. This needed clarification. Yes, Haidt uses the word with the latter meaning - to make rational.

 

George

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Haidt claims that reason is used to rationalize our intuitive moral instincts, not to motivate our decisions. I think this is largely correct.

(snip)

George

Reasoning to me is an abstract process and is used largely to solve useful problems that often have little to do with moral decisions. In my view, reasoning brings understanding and gives meaning rather than justification. To rationalize on the other hand is highly subjective and to me is not a legitimate application of reasoning but rather moral justification based on emotions and ego.rather than seeking to understand or gain wisdom. Personally, i don't see making excuses as a logical faculty of 'reasoning' even though it may be considered as a reason when used as a noun..

 

Joseph

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Myron, good point. This needed clarification. Yes, Haidt uses the word with the latter meaning - to make rational.

 

George

 

George,

 

Haidt, I'm quite certain, is aware of the research done by Antonio Damasio. Is there a benefit to "make rational?" Yes, a very important one. When we make our moral emotions and intuitions rational, we can see in the mode of "as-if", that is, we can anticipate how we might react. Think of the applications and advantages this affords.

 

Myron

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Myron, the problem with our rationalizations are that they are often wrong. In experiments, people give reasons for their moral judgements, but the reasons are often flawed.

 

A good example was one involving incest. A hypothetical situation was posed in which siblings had sex using contraceptives. Subjects would explain that incest is wrong because of adverse genetic effects if a pregnancy results. But, when pointed out that the couple used contraceptives, the subjects would persist in their moral judgement. Similar results have been found in tests of the 'Trolley Problems' (see Moral Minds by Marc Hauser)

 

George

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Myron, the problem with our rationalizations are that they are often wrong. In experiments, people give reasons for their moral judgements, but the reasons are often flawed.

 

A good example was one involving incest. A hypothetical situation was posed in which siblings had sex using contraceptives. Subjects would explain that incest is wrong because of adverse genetic effects if a pregnancy results. But, when pointed out that the couple used contraceptives, the subjects would persist in their moral judgement. Similar results have been found in tests of the 'Trolley Problems' (see Moral Minds by Marc Hauser)

 

George

 

George,

 

Well, yes. But moral emotions and intuitions can be equally wrong due to the effects of condtioning.

 

Myron

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the issue of having a gut feeling then reasoning to defend your instinct made me think of pro-life/choice - those who are pro-life see a 'harm' and reason that the unborn foetus is a person, whereas pro-choice do not consider the feotus to be a person, therefore see no harm.

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the issue of having a gut feeling then reasoning to defend your instinct made me think of pro-life/choice - those who are pro-life see a 'harm' and reason that the unborn foetus is a person, whereas pro-choice do not consider the feotus to be a person, therefore see no harm.

 

This is close to what Haidt is trying to point out. Part of his research technique is to place people in morally ambiguous situations. Evolution left us with a collection of emotions and intuitions, but which do we call moral and not moral? Why?

 

Myron

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I don't see yet how Haidt has made a case for intuitive morality (as yet). The cases he cites with children involve kids around 5 years of age. I would suggest they have had a lot of conditioning by then.

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I do not think Haidt is making the case that emotions and intuitions exhibit instrinic morality. Rather, he is saying that we have innate emotions and intuitions that are the foundation of a rational view of morality. The issue for Haidt, and others like him, is that evolution has given us a foundation for adaptatation and one of those adaptations is the capacity for a moral sense. Capacities are not causal, in the strict sense of the word. They are enabling. The feature of emotions and intuitions that is important is that they exhibit intrinsic intentionality. That is, they direct us to important aspects of our environment that have adaptive significance. What we make of this develops over time and is not fully predictable.

 

Myron

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Upon review, with your comments in mind, Myron, I'd have to agree now. Thanks.

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