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Book Review The Righteous Mind

What is the book The Righteous Mind about?

In his student years, the author has developed an interest in human ethics, its origins, and evolution. His book called Righteous Mind is also dedicated to ethics. Where do human ethics come from? Is it an intrinsic quality of humankind? How does it influence our relations with other people? Or, perhaps, morality is not imprinted in our genes, but rather is developed during upbringing?

Haidt studies all conceptions of ethics in detail. In particular, the writer addresses Jene Piaget’s theory. According to it, children are born with an innate sense of justice. Studies by Elliot Turiel have shown that children can disapprove of the destructive behaviour of an aggressive kid without relying on the moral judgments of their parents. Lawrence Kohlberg proved that teenagers assimilate moral norms from their environment. Studies conducted by many modern ethics specialists indicate that young people tend to find excuses for their actions, which they condemned not so long ago.

During graduate school, Haidt has studied many works by scientists mentioned above and got interested in ethics psychology. Eventually, he concluded that all these scientific works had one flaw in common: they never suggested such a significant factor as human emotions. Haidt realized that there is a connection between the moral and religious views of some undeveloped cultures and opinions of modern Western society. While studying the research work conducted by many modern anthropologists, Haidt came to the conclusion that for the most part human ethics is designed to maintain a balance between the needs of the group and the individual.

Haidt has put a lot of effort into studying ethics starting with ancient times, including the works of Plato and his brother Glaucon. Drawing on these actions, Haidt describes the metaphor about the rider and the elephant, where the rider stands for the rational and motivational part of the brain that is used to create the logic of our behaviour, and the elephant in the emotional and intuitive part of us. The rider has to guide the elephant in the right direction; however, if the elephant disagrees with this and wants to go somewhere else, the rider can’t do anything about it.

The rider is our intelligence, and the elephant is our instincts, developed over thousands of years of evolution. The sole purpose of the rider is to take our emotions under control, however, and, according to Heidt, this is a hopeless task, and we shouldn’t use logic and rational thinking in solving ethical problems as often as we do in everyday life.

The writer says that all religions are appealing to the basic instinct of being a part of the group. At the instinctive level, group ethics is more important than individual ethics. Thus, teams develop better when they’re composed of altruistic and conflicting-free members.

After studying modern political tendencies, Haidt concluded that the existence of both liberal and conservative policies is a prerequisite for a stable and developing society. Having a good understanding of ethics adopted by a group with different political and religious views can help us reach a reasonable compromise even in spite of disagreements.

Haidt claims that human beings are much more intuitive than rational. The elephant is stronger than the rider, and this can’t be changed. That’s why we should appeal to emotions rather than to the mind. This is precisely what many successful politicians do. However, real politics should not only manipulate the feelings of pure folk but also try to learn something from them.

Summary and 10 Ideas of The Righteous Mind

  1. Moral judgment is based on intuition rather than on the voice of reason.
  2. Most people will continue to follow moral norms, even despite their possible destructive nature.
  3. Our mind can’t work to its fullest without emotions being involved.
  4. Our moral judgments largely depend on our sensory organs.
  5. We are more concerned with public opinion rather than with the pursuit of truth.
  6. Our inner voice tends to make excuses for our actions and beliefs due to confirmation bias.
  7. Reasoning with yourself can lead you to any convenient conclusion that suits you.
  8. When we live in a group, our individual ethics is eventually replaced by group ethics.
  9. The righteous mind is similar to the tongue with six taste buds.
  10. Modern society should work towards achieving a balance between logic and intuition so that the rider and the elephant could finally find mutual understanding.

Review The Righteous Mind

For some, Haidt’s book may seem a bit cynical. It’s no wonder since the author dissects our self-righteous mind and breaks down human ethics piece by piece. Moreover, he claims that our ethics come from the primal past, and it’s nothing more than distant echoes of our animal instincts.

However, Heidt is by no means a misanthrope. He loves humanity with all its flaws and truly believes in it. All he wishes for is that we started to listen not only to our intuition but also to the intuition of other people belonging to different cultures, which are strange and unfamiliar to us. Haidt says that we all depend on each other, and it’s up to us what our society looks like.

Pros and Cons:

The book has some curious ideas and compelling examples. It will make you think about the driving force behind human behaviour, and doubt your own beliefs.

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It’s not an easy read, as it’s full of all sorts of information.
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