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.
Online registration is closed. Walk-in registrations will be accepted.
If you are unable to attend, we welcome you to watch the event live on this page.
Registration and Lunch
Arthur C. Brooks, AEI
Jonathan Haidt, University of Virginia
Steven F. Hayward, AEI
Jonathan Rauch, Brookings Institution
Sally Satel, AEI
Steven F. Hayward, AEI
Question and Answer Session
Event Contact Information
For more information, please contact Hiwa Alaghebandian at [email protected], 202.862.5820.
Media Contact Information
For media inquiries, please contact Véronique Rodman at [email protected], 202.862.4871.
Arthur C. Brooks is the president of AEI. Until January 1, 2009, he was the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University. He is the author of 10 books and many articles on topics ranging from the economics of the arts to applied mathematics. His most recent books include “The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future” (Basic Books, May 2010), “Gross National Happiness” (Basic Books, 2008), “Social Entrepreneurship” (Prentice-Hall, 2008) and “Who Really Cares” (Basic Books, 2006). Before pursuing his work in public policy, Brooks spent 12 years as a professional French hornist with the City Orchestra of Barcelona and other ensembles. Brooks is also the author of the forthcoming book “The Road to Freedom,” to be released on May 8, 2012.
Jonathan Haidt is a social psychologist at the University of Virginia and a visiting professor of business ethics at the New York University Stern School of Business. Haidt’s research examines the intuitive foundations of morality, and how morality varies across cultures. In recent years, he has examined the moral cultures of liberals, conservatives and libertarians. Haidt is the author of “The Happiness Hypothesis” and of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.”
Steven F. Hayward is the F. K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow in Environmental Studies at AEI and a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute. He is also an adjunct fellow at the John Ashbrook Center and a former Bradley Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Mr. Hayward has written biographies of Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Winston Churchill, and is the author of “Greatness: Reagan, Churchill, and the Making of Extraordinary Leaders” (Crown Forum, 2005) and, most recently, “The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Presidents: From Wilson to Obama” (Regnery Publishing, 2012).
Jonathan Rauch, a contributing editor of National Journal and The Atlantic, is the author of several books and many articles on public policy, culture and economics. He is also a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution, a leading Washington think tank. He is the winner of the 2005 National Magazine Award for columns and commentary and the 2010 National Headliner Award for magazine columns.
Sally Satel. M.D., is a resident scholar at AEI and a psychiatrist at the Parners in Drug Abuse Rehabilitation and Counseling clinic in Washington, D.C. Dr. Satel was an assistant professor of psychiatry at Yale University from 1988 to 1993. From 1993 to 1994 she was a Robert Wood Johnson policy fellow with the Senate Labor and Human Resources Committee. She has written widely in academic journals on topics in psychiatry and medicine, and has published articles on cultural aspects of medicine and science in numerous magazines and journals. Dr. Satel is author of “Drug Treatment: The Case for Coercion” (AEI Press, 1999) and “PC, M.D.: How Political Correctness Is Corrupting Medicine” (Basic Books, 2001). She is coauthor of “One Nation Under Therapy” (St. Martin’s Press, 2005) and co-author of “The Health Disparity Myth” (AEI Press, 2006). She is currently writing a book about neuroscience and society.