The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

Cover via Goodreads.

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 4/5 stars.

From a psychological standpoint, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion earns five stars. The book loses some of its appeal when Jonathan Haidt veers into political philosophy, however – especially when he raises the biased question “why are religious people better neighbors and citizens?”

Let me backtrack. The Righteous Mind is split into three sections. The first focuses on how intuitions come first and are followed by strategic reasoning, the second shows that there are six moral foundations (Care/Harm, Fairness/Cheating, Liberty/Oppression, Loyalty/Betrayal, Authority/Subversion, and Sanctity/Degradation), and the third hones in on the belief that morality binds and blinds. By the end each part made sense in relation to one another and came together to pack a strong moral philosophy punch. Though the book had some dense sections – like the history and biology of moral philosophy – Haidt included interesting scenarios, research, and anecdotes to alleviate the doldrums.

My favorite aspect of the book was how Haidt looked at morality in many different ways; by the end, he writes that one thing he hopes readers will take away from his book is that there is not just one form of morality that applies to everyone. While I learned about some of the subject matter in my AP Psychology class last year, I had never heard of the six moral foundations before. The 100 pages of notes at the back of the book reveals how much work he put into his research.

But I didn’t particularly agree with or admire how he framed conservatism as the better ideology in terms of incorporating all six moral foundations. Liberals also understand that if “you destroy all groups and dissolve all internal structure, you destroy your moral capital.” Though he does a good job of stating that we need the opinions of both sides to form a more cohesive nation, he fails to elaborate on whether it’s really possible to operate on a perfectly equal blend of every moral foundation. If we force people to obey authority and to submit to whatever is deemed sacred in that particular society, are we not therefore harming certain individuals and cheating others out of their rights? He praises religion and refutes New Atheism, but doesn’t present the chaos religion can cause. What if we have a religion that operates to some extent on all six moral foundations, but endorses the extermination of Jews and prejudice against gays? Then what?

Overall, I recommend The Righteous Mind for anyone searching for a thought-provoking book regarding psychology, politics, philosophy, and religion. Jonathan Haidt did a great job of remaining almost absolutely neutral, though with a book like this I can’t blame him for leaning toward one side instead of the other.

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Filed under 4 stars, Book Reviews, Books

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