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Liberal and well informed

Written by: on February 24, 2020

You are intelligent, liberal and well informed. He can’t understand why working-class Americans vote for Republicans. He thinks they have been duped, but he is wrong. This accusation did not see Ne from the right. It is a warning from Jonathan Haidt (New York, 1963), a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who, until 2009, considered himself a fervent liberal. In The Mind of the Righteous, Haidt intends to enrich liberalism with a deeper knowledge of human nature. For starters, he argues that people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational. If you want to persuade others, you have to appeal to their feelings. But Haidt looks for something else. Search for wisdom.

Haidt explains, “why citizens of modern societies live divided by different moral visions of reality that ultimately translate into seemingly insurmountable political tribes.” He analyzes why and how we think, as well as the reasons that lead us to believe, support, or defend certain causes.

Haidt defines moral intuition as a sudden appearance in the consciousness of a moral judgment along with an affective valence of approval or disapproval of the object that causes it. Following the theses defended by other neuroscientists and previous psychologists, Haidt understands that our mind is continually projecting an affective valence of approval or rejection (good-bad) towards everything that happens before us and that raises our attention, depending on the risk or benefit to us. This ability is integrated into the same act of perception so that we do not need to reflect to recognize that an action or person is moral or immoral. Still, we perceive it as something good or bad automatically and act accordingly. Form there that the intuition is produced in a fleeting, unconscious, involuntary, and effortless way, through a hunch that causes in our consciousness the formation of moral judgment. Thus the moral judgment will only be the conscious expression of that valuation of approval or rejection that reaches our consciousness through the process of intuition.

One aspect that we must take into account from the first moment is the cognitive nature of intuitions. Haidt, with his concept of intuition, claims precisely that cognitive dimension of emotions. Thus he affirms that both intuition and reasoning, far from reproducing the rationalist opposition between passion and reason, are two different forms of cognition. Emotions capture information about reality that is transmitted and is reflected in our brain, for example, which Haidt himself takes as one of the pillars of his proposal. This cognitive dimension of emotion is a point not sufficiently stressed by Haidt in his first works on social intuitionism.

Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Random House, 2012.

J. Haidt. «The emotional dog and its rational tail. A social Intuitionist approach to moral judgment,» Psychological Review, vol. 108, 2001, p. 815.

J. Haidt, F. Bjorklund y S. Murphy. «Moral dumfounding: when intuition finds no reason.» Text, p. 2.

J. Haidt. «The emotional dog and its rational tail,» p. 818.

Wilhelm Wunt, Robert Zajonc, Howard Margolis o Daniel Kahneman.

J. Haidt y F. Bjorklund. «Social Intuitionists answer six questions about moral psychology,» en: W. Sinnott-Armstrong (ed.) Moral Psychology, vol. 2, Massachusetts, The MIT Press, 2007, p. 186.

https://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/25/books/review/the-righteous-mind-by-jonathan-haidt.html accessed February 25-2020.  

About the Author

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Joe Castillo

6 responses to “Liberal and well informed”

  1. mm Chris Pollock says:

    Hi Joe, I appreciate how you began an approach on emotions toward the end of your post. I’m very curious about our emotions and the current hype (particularly in the leadership crowd) surrounding ‘Emotional Intelligence’. The ‘cognitive’ dimension of emotion. How do we come to terms with our emotions? Why we are behaving (thinking/responding) the way we are as a result of whatever stimulus? Perhaps before knowing ourselves (ref: Delphic maxim) or, within the process of getting to know ourselves, having the intention to be interested in who we are and why we behave/respond the way we do?

  2. mm Greg Reich says:

    Joe,
    It was obviously Haidt puts a lot of emphasis on pluralism and no absolute right or wrong. When considering we are all born with a sinful nature how beneficial and truly reliable is intuition or reasoning?
    Can we truly understand morality without some form of out side standard?

  3. mm John McLarty says:

    I was fascinated this week by Haidt’s assertion that we use reason like a press secretary- coming up with justifications and explanations for what we’ve already decided based on our intuition. He also places a high emphasis on groups and our “tribal” nature. To what degree do you think our groupishness influences our intuition or is it our intuition that draws us toward certain groups?

  4. mm Darcy Hansen says:

    Joe,
    You noted, “If you want to persuade others, you have to appeal to their feelings.” Often leaders within communities and organizations utilize this approach. When I’ve been present in such setting, I feel manipulated so that someone can achieve a desired end. I was at a conference and a non-profit shared very compelling stories about their work. Hundreds of people began giving resources to then support the organizations endeavors. The work they do is good. But connection and relationship matters, too. As a pastor, how have you navigated the fine line between persuasion and manipulation?

  5. mm Shawn Cramer says:

    Joe, Haidt has a great TED talk where he calls out the whole TED community and said (paraphrased), “Based on your lack of political diversity, you can and never will fulfill your explicit mission of your organization. This is troubling.”

  6. mm Steve Wingate says:

    This cognitive dimension of emotion

    Your comment, those of others, as well as Haidt’s work causes me to better consider how we learn.

    I’m challenged to listen to myself, watch my reactions or responses and ask myself why do I do the things I do?

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