"The Righteous Mind" by Jonathan Haidt. A Review

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and ReligionThe Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Evolutionary biology and psychology, neurobiology, sociology, developmental and moral psychology...it's all in there, along with some artfully crafted chutzpah. Jonathan Haidt, the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University's Stern School of Business, who is ethnically Jewish, religiously atheist, and vocationally a moral psychologist, has pulled together an intriguing read that skillfully and sportively answers - from his perspective - his subtitle "Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion."

Since there are thousands of reviews of the book that have already been broadcast, I'll simply say three things. First, it was fun to read, thought-provoking, instructive and insightful. As a Christian minister I can't, and don't, go along with many of his premises (evolution, utilitarianism, etc.); nevertheless, I found Haidt's analysis useful and it gave my mental muscles a good workout.

Second, I think Haidt is on to something. I'm not sure I always like the way he leans, but I do like his intentions and indications. An example of what he's up to can be found toward the end of the book when he writes, "This book explained why people are divided by politics and religion. The answer is not, as Manicheans would have it, because some people are good and others are evil. Instead, the explanation is that our minds were designed for groupish righteousness. We are deeply intuitive creatures whose gut feelings drive our strategic reasoning. This makes it difficult - but not impossible - to connect with those who live in other [moral] matrices, which are often built on different configurations of the available moral foundations" (370-1). I was happy with much that he aimed for, and disagreeably appreciated much that he reasoned from.

Finally, Haidt, who was once a card-carrying "Liberal," surprises by making a case for political-social conservatism. Mind you, it is a pragmatic, utilitarian case, but it is a well reasoned case (from within his framework that I mentioned in the first paragraph). I think that he is truly worth hearing out. Get the book, read it, draw from it, and engage it. I recommend the book.


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