See Also: Book Notes, (me), Happiness Hypothesis, Consciousness: Confessions, Blank Slate, Info Viz & Perception, On Intelligence, The Quest for Consciousness, The Stuff of Thought, Neuroscience of Human Relationships, Human: Makes Us Unique, Thinking, Fast and Slow

The Righteous Mind

Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

Jonathan Haidt <>


Pantheon (March 13, 2012), ISBN-13: 978-0307377906,
338 pages of text, 84 pages of notes,
30 pages of references, 12 pages index.

Favorite Metaphor: Humans are 90% Chimpanzee and 10% Bee
with the "Hive Switch" (p.223). We are mostly selfish individuals,
but, when triggered, we can be very altruistic.

Chimp And Bees image

There are three parts to the book: [[ NOTE : These are notes about what I found interesting - not a summary. Read It. Jonathan Haidt is a great writer and even when you disagree with what he is saying, it is still great. This easily digested - with a great intro (online) and summary bullets at the end of each chapter for reference. ]

1) Intuitions Come First, Strategic Reasoning Second
2) There's More to Morality than Harm and Fairness. Introduces the six moral foundations
3) Morality Binds and Blinds

Part 1 - Intuitions Come First, Strategic Reasoning Second. Chapter 1: Where Does Morality Come From? Darwin, Piaget, Kohlberg, Details of Haidt's research asking people about Moral Reasoning is mostly confabulation. Moral Dumbfounding.. Asserting that morality is innate and that our moral intuitions judge way before the moral reasoning sets in. Chapter 2: The Intuitive Dog and its Rational Tail. Chapter 3: Elephants Rule!!! Much more on the Elephant and Rider Metaphor, introduced in The Happiness Hypothesis.

Figure 2.4 image

p.47 - Figure 2.4. The social intuitionist model (Figures from Book) about how we can influence the Moral Intuition, Moral Judgement, and the Moral Reasoning of another - and how they influence us. Moral reasoning is a skill we use to manipulate the tribe's opinion in our favor.

Elephant Side Note: If part of the elephant is the subconscious/preconsious human to human communication we do, then Cozolino's descriptions are apt: "Gaze, pupil dilation, facial expressions, posture, proximity, touch, and mirror systems are all reflexive and obligatory systems that work below conscious awareness."

Part 2: There's More to Morality than Harm and Fairness

p.125 The five moral foundation chart - this serves as a bridge between the Haidt's five modules (see below) and the six foundations. Discussion of lessons learned from, where you learn about your own predisposition by answering sets of questions. The six, from are:

1) Care/harm:
  This foundation is related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. It underlies virtues of kindness, gentleness, and nurturance.

2) Fairness/cheating:
  This foundation is related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism. It generates ideas of justice, rights, and autonomy. [Note: In our original conception, Fairness included concerns about equality, which are more strongly endorsed by political liberals. However, as we reformulated the theory in 2011 based on new data, we emphasize proportionality, which is endorsed by everyone, but is more strongly endorsed by conservatives]

3) Liberty/oppression:
  This foundation is about the feelings of reactance and resentment people feel toward those who dominate them and restrict their liberty. Its intuitions are often in tension with those of the authority foundation. The hatred of bullies and dominators motivates people to come together, in solidarity, to oppose or take down the oppressor.

4) Loyalty/betrayal:
  This foundation is related to our long history as tribal creatures able to form shifting coalitions. It underlies virtues of patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group. It is active anytime people feel that it's "one for all, and all for one."

5) Authority/subversion:
  This foundation was shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. It underlies virtues of leadership and followership, including deference to legitimate authority and respect for traditions.

6) Sanctity/degradation:
  This foundation was shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. It underlies religious notions of striving to live in an elevated, less carnal, more noble way. It underlies the widespread idea that the body is a temple which can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants (an idea not unique to religious traditions).

The use of the term Foundation as opposed to Module bugs me. I have no problem with the notion of these six being axes of value systems, or "moral matrices". I have some issues with the exact formulations, which I will get to below. But Haidt seems to be claiming that these are more than just "modules" and that they are more like mathematical truths about human morality. For me to buy into that, I would want to see six distinct patterns show up in fMRI scans. I have some links below showing that there is a constellation of brains regions that light up when we wrestle with moral issues, but, no support for Six Foundations, yet.

Also, I am not sure The Purity Module is really the same axis as being God's vessel. Are these 6 Foundations really orthogonal? My guess is that there is a lot of cross talk between Liberty and Authority. Also, are these the only ones? My Yankee roots treated frugality as a moral issue: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without". And Climate Change? Is that a moral issue, or is that just my wish because then it might get more traction.

Beyond W.E.I.R.D. Morality. Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic (p.96) In Sum: WEIRD cultures focus on individuals; Eastern cultures focus on relationships. Morals domains vary across cultures. WEIRDs have a narrower definition of morals.

Chapter 7 Moral Foundations of politics - why we are not Homo Economicus - Our emotions and values and kin override our self interest at the ballot box. Chapter 8. The Conservative Advantage is to appeal to all six moral foundations.

[jch: Is Morality an abstract quality, or can it only be meaningful within the context of a specific human community?]

Part 3: Morality Binds and Blinds

Chapter 8: What Are we so Groupish. [ Why avoid the term Tribal ?? ]

Multilevel Selection, aka, Group Selection Discussion of Pinker's critique on the Edge.

While it might be hard to conclude that a given behavior has been selected for through multilevel selection, there physical human traits that seem to benefit the tribe: white sclera, blushing as discussed by Cozolino in The Neuroscience of Human Relationships

Free Rider Problem

Chapter 10: The Hive Switch. I love the metaphor that we are 90% Chimpanzee and 10% Bee and the "Hive Switch" (p.223). We are mostly selfish individuals, but, we can be very altruistic. Haidt believes we get triggered to be altruistic under special conditions.

p. 227 - The Awe of Nature is a Hive Switch - inspires me to see that I am part of something larger, but, it is not clear that is social. However, the first three people I asked about this all agreed with Haidt. It is still a question to me. Chapter 11: Religion is a Team Sport - many pages of description about the whole campus experience of the buildup to, experience of and the aftermath of a UVA football game.

p. 225 - Emile Durkheim - Homo Duplex - a creature that lives at two levels: an individual and as part of a larger society.

You cannot reason about morals with someone else's elephant. Each of you will look at the same facts and interpret them differently. Therefore, if you really want to influence someone, you need to engage them as another human being and establish a relationship. Get their elephant to trust you elephant and vice versa. Then, when you really understand what they actually believe and why they believe it, you might have a little leverage to change it. Of course, in this process, you might have to adjust your own beliefs. I was a little disappointed to find out this is the pearl of wisdom of the chapter titled: Can't We All Disagree More Constructively? sigh. No magic bullet.

p. 309 - Liberals and Conservatives are the Yin and Yang of politics. Humans are genetically predisposed to be liberal or conservative. Let's assume evolution decided we need each other.

p.294 - Bertrand Russell then explained why both sides are partially right, using terms that are about as close a match to moral capital as I could ever hope to find:

It is clear that each party to this dispute - as to all that persist through long periods of time - is partly right and partly wrong. Social cohesion is a necessity, and mankind has never yet succeeded in enforcing cohesion by merely rational arguments. Every community is two opposite dangers: ossification through too much discipline and reverence for tradition, on the one hand; on the other hand, dissolution, or subjection to foreign conquest, through the growth of an individualism and personal independence that makes cooperation impossible.

p. 277 - From Genes to Moral Matrices
  Step 1: Genes Make Brains - lots of genes - two themes 1) threat sensitivity and 2) openness to new experiences
  Step 2: Traits Guide Children Along Different Paths - McAdams 3 levels of personalty traits (disposition, adaptations, narrative)
  Step 3: People Construct Life Narratives
No specifics in the book, but I like DRD4 (++dopamine), the "liberal gene", which needs an active social life during the teen years to correlate with a liberal political view. Or 5-HT (--serotonin) which correlates to conservative views.

p. 296 - Two liberal points "essential for the health of a society":
  Point #1: Governments Can and Should Restraint Corporate Superorganisms - fix Citizens Unitied
  Point #2: Some Problems Really Can Be Solved by Regulation - taking lead out of gas in 1973 led to reduced crime in 1990s
  Counterpoint #3: Markets are Miraculous - (Free Markets!) - Goldhill on Health Insurance is great!
  Counterpoint #4: You Can't Help the Bees by Destroying the Hive - AFDC led to teen pregnancy?

Chimp And Bees image

p. 306 Moral Matrix (Conservative) See image to the right ==>>
See Liberal and Libertarian in Figures and notes on

p. 312 - Pitch #1?
If you want to understand another group, follow the sacredness. As a first step, think about the six moral foundations and try to figure out which one or two are carrying the most weight in a particular controversy. And if you really want to open your mind, open your heart first.

p. 312 Summarize genes effect,
People don't adopt their ideologies at random, or by soaking up whatever ideas are around them. People whose genes gave them brains that get a special pleasure from novelty, variety, and diversity, while simultaneously being less sensitive to signs of threat, are predisposed (but not predestined) to become liberals. They tend to develop certain "characteristic adaptations" and "life narratives" that make them resonate˜unconsciously and intuitively˜with the grand narratives told by political movements on the left (such as the liberal progress narrative). People whose genes give them brains with the opposite settings are predisposed, for the same reasons, to resonate with the grand narratives of the right (such as the Reagan narrative).

What is especially confusing is to use the term sacred as if it is orthogonal to sanctity. On page 312, you entreat me to "follow the sacredness" to figure out which of the moral foundations has been sanctified by that group. Isn't sanctity always sacred?

Done with my Notes

This book on chimps and bees has stirred up at least two hornets nests: multilevel/group selection (above) and atheists (below).

NY Times Review captures the book beautifully and articulates the "unspoken tension" well.

But to whom is Haidt directing his advice? If intuitions are unreflective, and if reason is self-serving, then what part of us does he expect to regulate and orchestrate these faculties? This is the unspoken tension in Haidt's book. As a scientist, he takes a passive, empirical view of human nature. He describes us as we have been, expecting no more. Based on evolution, he argues, universal love is implausible: "Parochial love . . . amplified by similarity" and a "sense of shared fate . . . may be the most we can accomplish." But as an author and advocate, Haidt speaks to us rationally and universally, as though we're capable of something greater. He seems unable to help himself, as though it's in his nature to call on our capacity for reason and our sense of common humanity - and in our nature to understand it.
. . .
If we can harness that power - wisdom - our substantive project will be to reconcile our national and international differences. Is income inequality immoral? Should government favor religion? Can we tolerate cultures of female subjugation? And how far should we trust our instincts? Should people who find homosexuality repugnant overcome that reaction?

Haidt's faith in moral taste receptors may not survive this scrutiny. Our taste for sanctity or authority, like our taste for sugar, could turn out to be a dangerous relic. But Haidt is right that we must learn what we have been, even if our nature is to transcend it.

Atheists and Haidt

Criticism on Haidt's WikiPedia Page got me poking around at Sam Harris and the New Atheists reaction to Haidt's claim

A militant form of atheism that claims the backing of science and encourages "brights" to take up arms may perhaps advance atheism. But it may also backfire, polluting the scientific study of religion with moralistic dogma and damaging the prestige of science in the process.

Religion means different things to different people. For the New Atheists, it seems that all religions have the attributes of a Messianic religion, from the AHD5 "2. Belief that a particular cause or movement is destined to triumph or save the world." I love what Forrest Church would say to ardent atheists "Don't worry, I don't believe in the same God that you don't believe in".

Note: I consider myself religious, but what I mean by that is not really covered in the AHD definition of religion. WikiPedia is good: "Religion is an organized collection of belief systems, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values." - For me (jch), religion is about the etymology - re-liggance - to rebind. It is a constellation of shared beliefs, rituals and activities that bind a community together. I am a Unitarian Universalist - and, if I am asked to be more specific, a Pagan - but really, I am agnostic, which is the only reasonable thing one can be. See also: Why I Am UU.

I find it very ironic that Haidt is accused of being an apologist for religion. He does not seem to be religious and there are some passages that indicate he just does not get religion.

The Science Of Religion . INFO

Earlier Five Moral Modules:

These preceded the 6 moral foundations. (notes from Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique, by Michael S. Gazzaniga. -based on Haidt, J. and Joseph, C. (2007). These resonate with me more than the 6 moral foundations.

1) Reciprocity Module
- moral emotions: sympathy, anger, guilt, shame, and gratitude.
- virtues: sense of fairness, justice, trustworthiness, and patience.
2) Suffering Module
- moral emotions: sympathy, compassion, empathy
- moral virtues: compassion, kindness, righteous anger
3) Hierarchy Module - navigating social world where status matters
- moral emotions: guilt, shame, embarrassment, respect, awe, and resentment
- moral virtues: respect, loyalty and obedience
4) In-Group/Out-Group Coalition Module -
- moral emotions: compassion, contempt, guilt, embarrassment, and gratitude.
- moral virtues: trust cooperation, self-sacrifice, loyalty, patriotism, and heroism.
5) Purity Module - roots in defending against disease. Long discussion on disgust which is uniquely human and probably developed when we started eating meat ( p.137 )

Earlier 4 - Four moral modules and the emotions and virtues associated with them - from Jonathan Haidt & Craig Joseph (2004)
Suffering Hierarchy Reciprocity Purity
Proper domain
(original triggers)
Suffering and
(vulnerability of
(one's children
Physical size and
strength, domination,
and protection
Cheating vs. cooperation
in joint ventures,
food sharing
People with diseases
(or parasites, waste
Actual domain
(modern examples)
Baby seals,
cartoon characters
Bosses, gods Marital fidelity,
broken vending
Taboo ideas
Compassion Resentment vs.
Anger/guilt vs.
Relevant virtues Kindness,
Obedience, deference,
Fairness, justice,
Cleanliness, purity,


The last chapter of Haidt's Happiness Hypothesis foreshadow's this book about our innate sense of morals and how we are not all the same.

p.55 Note: Great paraphrase of Wilhelm Wundt's "affective primacy", which are small flashes of positive or negative feeling that prepare us to approach or avoid something. While this is in the discussion of the Elephant, as these flashes are preconscious, I am interested in Positive Affect and Negative Affect. The little positive flashes are probably dopamine. WikiPedia:Dispositional_affect and Two Independent Axes of Depression

p.217 - Humans went thru a cataclysmic event 70KYA - 140K Years Ago, in which the number of genetic contributors may have gone down to 600, according to National Geographic's What Does it Mean to be Human?

1990's crime drop due to unleaded gas??

Succinctly?, the Elephant is our all of our intuitions, emotions, vagus nerve, and all other unconscious forces that guide our behavior. The rider is our conscious mind, which, according to (most?) neuroscientists is just along for the ride most of the time.

Band of Brothers.

Links on Neuroscience of Morals

I have not read these, but, the do indicate brain regions for moral decisions, but, not six of them.
An fMRI Investigation of Emotional Engagement in Moral Judgment . 2001 Greene Press Release
An fMRI study of simple ethical decision-making. 2003 Heekeren
The Neural Correlates of Moral Decision-Making in Psychopathy . 2009 Glenn

Are atheists angry with the claim that religion might have something to do with our success as a species. [disclaimer: Sam Harris's book on Free Will is the only book I have bought in recent memory where I felt totally ripped off :-)].

Notes from Pinker's Better Angel's

p.629 - Most norms have moral content. Each moralized norm is a compartment containing:
1) a relational model, [communal, [jch adding (Alan Fiske) Communal Sharing, Authority Ranking, Equality Matching, Rational/Legal ]
2) one or more social roles (parent, child, teacher, student, husband, wife, supervisor, employee, customer, neighbor, stranger),
3) a context (home, street, school, workplace), and
4) a resource (food, money, land, housing, time, advice, sex, labor).

To be a socially competent member of a culture is to have assimilated a large set of these norms.

p.639 - What exogenous causes are shifting the allocation of moral intuitions away from community, authority, and purity and toward fairness, autonomy, and rationality?

2013.01.21 YON <> 2015.12.29.