According to social psychologist Jonathan Haidt, if political arguments are to be persuasive, they must appeal to moral values. At an AEI event on Friday, a panel of experts gathered to discuss Haidt’s newest book, "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion." Haidt began by summarizing his book in three points: (1) intuitions are automatic and strategic reasoning comes secondarily; (2) there are six foundations to morality; and (3) morality binds and blinds, and is the underlying compass in politics. According to Haidt, each of the six moral foundations — fairness, caring, liberty, loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity — is present in the political platforms of the Left and Right.
Steve Hayward of AEI and Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution both disagreed with Haidt's first point about intuitions, and argued that reason plays a greater role than Haidt contends. Hayward agreed, however, that quick decisions are made instinctually; nonetheless, instincts are rational, and moral reasoning is rooted in nature. Rauch also accepted that intuitions come before reasoning, but suggested that reasoning simply operates more slowly. He used gay marriage as an example of a point at which rational reasoning and society changed individuals' cultural moral matrix (provided that our intuitions are not innate).
Haidt responded that while intuitions themselves are not innate, the moral foundations behind them are. Haidt compared gay marriage to the idea of sushi: a few decades ago, the thought of eating raw fish disgusted Americans, but rather quickly, we have become conditioned to it; however, our taste buds —the moral foundations — have not changed. Sally Satel of AEI discussed moral foundations and intuitions through the lens of her struggles with moral biases when working on an organ donor policy proposal. She agreed with Haidt that it is difficult, if not impossible, to change morally-driven minds with rational arguments. Fortunately, most people possess a broad moral palate and can find their own moral commitments upheld in utilitarian approaches.
-- Hiwa Alaghebandian
Why can't our opponents be reasonable? In his new book, “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explores the origins of morality in our rapid and automatic moral intuitions. In the process, he illuminates our nation’s rifts that are growing even wider in the fervor of the electoral season.
At the heart of Haidt’s argument is his finding that there are six psychological “foundations” of morality, akin to six taste buds: fairness, caring, liberty, loyalty, respect for authority and sanctity. While liberals primarily build their moral worlds on caring (in addition to fairness and liberty), social conservative morality relies more equally on all six foundations.
Much of this dynamic unfolds intuitively, below the level of rational awareness. Thus, Haidt elaborates, if political arguments are to be persuasive, they must appeal strongly to moral values and much less so to logic.
But if morality is largely a matter of intuitions, and these intuitions partially blind us to the viewpoints of others, then many questions arise: What role is there for reasoned debate? How does political persuasion occur? How should public policies be determined and implemented? How might we improve our political institutions to elicit good thinking from a mass of individually flawed and partisan minds?
A panel of experts will address these questions.
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If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page.