Live Blogging The Righteous Mind

The Righteous Mind - By Jon HaidtI’m going to try something a bit different over the next week or so.  I’m going to read Jonathan Haidt’s new book about moral psychology, The Righteous Mind, and blog my thoughts as I read through the book.  Most people write short summaries and critiques of entire books, but I thought it might be interesting to write my thoughts and present them as I read through a new book.  I’ll try to combine as many thoughts as I can into single blog entries in order to avoid inundating people with new blog post notifications.  So without further ado, here are my thoughts on The Righteous Mind:

We start off the book with a quote from Baruch Spinoza from his Tractatus Politicus:

I have striven not to laugh at human actions, not to weep at them, not to hate them, but to understand them.

It’s pretty clear that one of the main themes of the book will be prizing understanding over judgment, something that I’ve become a big fan of recently.  In that regard it appears there might be some concurrence between this book and the last book I read, Sam Harris’ Free Will.  I know that Jon has a large measure of philosophical disagreement with the “New Atheists” so it will be interesting to see how this all pans out.


We start off the introduction with a discussion about Rodney King and his rarely quoted response to the 1992 Los Angeles riots:

Please, we can get along here.  We all can get along.  I mean, we’re all stuck here for a while.  Let’s try to work it out.

And Jon announces that this will be the overarching theme throughout the entire book:

This book is about why it’s so hard for us to get along.  We are indeed all stuck here for a while, so let’s at least do what we can to understand why we are so easily divided into hostile groups, each one certain of its righteousness.

Uh oh, he’s already lost the social conservatives at page three by mentioning evolution.  Maybe he can publish an edited version for social conservatives: no evolution, nothing positive about liberals, no fancy typeface; he’d have to censor half of the book.  Alright, alright, enough judgment, let’s shift back into understanding mode.

One of Jon’s goals here is to get us all talking more about the origins of our divisiveness in morality, politics, and religion.  Unfortunately I don’t think that most of us are wired to do so.

Human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.  Our righteous minds made it possible for human beings-but no other animals-to produce large cooperative groups, tribes, and nations without the glue of kinship.  But at the same time, our righteous minds guarantee that our cooperative groups will be cursed by moralistic strife.

So evolution giveth and evolution taketh away.  He also believes that religion is most likely an evolutionary adaptation for bringing groups together and creating communities with a shared moral narrative.  So in this mode of thinking I guess you could say that religion is an extremely buggy feature of our evolutionary heritage.  Jon believes that the concept of group selection is making a comeback and it looks like it will feature prominently in this book.  E.O. Wilson is also releasing a book soon where group selection is one of the main themes.

Stay tuned for part two where we dive into a discussion about the origins of morality.

About SciAwakening

Blogging about religion, science, psychology, and whatever else is currently on my mind.

Posted on March 19, 2012, in Books, Morality, Politics, Psychology, Religion, Social Psychology and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I think this approach of blogging while in the process of reading is a great idea! Looking forward to tour next post.

  1. Pingback: The Righteous Mind – The Origins of Morality « Scientific Awakening

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