22 July 2013

Bridging the Political Gap: Haidt’s Righteous Mind

It is axiomatic that contemporary Americans are divided into two political camps: liberals and conservatives, or leftists and rightists. In recent decades, these tendencies have become more polarized, with each side claiming near redemptive status for itself and demonizing the other as an obvious danger to the republic and its ideals. Each is increasingly eschewing compromise, threatening to paralyze the political process in the midst of continuing economic and other crises.

Enter New York University’s Jonathan Haidt, whose book, The Righteous Mind, shows promise in helping to bridge this yawning chasm, persuasively explaining “why good people are divided by politics and religion,” as the subtitle puts it. Haidt pulls off this seemingly impossible feat by studying the responses to hypothetical moral dilemmas by ordinary people, which yielded unexpected results. In contrast to rationalists of the Kantian variety, who assume that moral judgment follows careful consideration of motives and consequences, Haidt has discovered that people decide right and wrong intuitively. Such decisions are not “a purely cerebral affair in which we weigh concerns about harm, rights, and justice. It’s a kind of rapid, automatic process more akin to the judgments animals make as they move through the world,” responding almost instinctively to aversions and attractions (61).

Read the full article here.

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