Jonathan Haidt Interview
The Utne Reader has an interesting interview with Jonathan Haidt about politics. If you’re not familiar with Jonathan Haidt, he’s a Professor of Social Psychology at the University of Virginia. He’s done a lot of interesting work on the science behind morality. This interview is an interesting introduction to his attempts to apply this research to politics.
The basic idea behind his theories about morality is that people have intuitive ethics in 5 different areas.
And that the differences in morality between cultures or groups can be explained by different weighting of these 5 factors. If you go to his site moralfoundations.org, you can take a quiz which will measure your weighting of these factors.
He’s recently been applying this research to understanding the differences between liberals and conservatives. His premise is that our political stance is driven by these intuitive ethics, but that we’re mostly unconscious of that. He argues that the only way to get past divisions in politics is to understand the driving force between the other person’s point of view, even though they don’t know what that force is themselves.
You can also get his thoughts on these ideas from the Ted talk he gave in 2008.
I would also recommend his book The Happiness Hypothesis. It’s primarily about why we’re so bad at predicting what will or will not make us happy. But it is related to his morality studies because in both cases his research shows that an unconscious part of our mind decides what’s good or bad and then a part closer to the surface makes up a story about why. This leaves the rational part of our brain thinking that it knows the reasons for what we like and dislike when it really doesn’t have a clue.