Nothing new here for regular readers of this blog who remember our past discussion of Jonathan Haidt’s work, but still, a nice interview with Haidt on the Scientific American blog, re: his forthcoming book. Excerpt:
Now, Haidt is putting the finishing touches on his next big project, The Righteous Mind, which is due out in March 2012. He was motivated to write The Righteous Mind after Kerry lost the 2004 election: “I thought he did a terrible job of making moral appeals so I began thinking about how I could apply moral psychology to understand political divisions. I started studying the politics of culture and realized how liberals and conservatives lived in their own closed worlds.” Each of these worlds, as Haidt explains in the book, “provides a complete, unified, and emotionally compelling worldview, easily justified by observable evidence and nearly impregnable to attack by arguments from outsiders.” He describes them as “moral matrices,” and thinks that moral psychology can help him understand them.
To understand what constitutes these moral matrices Haidt teamed with Craig Joseph from the University of Chicago. Building on ideas from the anthropologist Richard Shweder (with whom they both had studied), they developed the idea that humans possess six universal moral modules, or moral “foundations,” that get built upon to varying degrees across culture and time. They are: Care/harm, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation, and Liberty/oppression. Haidt describes these six modules like a “tongue with six taste receptors.” “In this analogy,” he explains in the book, “the moral matrix of a culture is something like its cuisine: it’s a cultural construction, influenced by accidents of environment and history, but it’s not so flexible that anything goes. You can’t have a cuisine based on grass and tree bark, or even one based primarily on bitter tastes. Cuisines vary, but they all must please tongues equipped with the same five taste receptors. Moral matrices vary, but they all must please righteous minds equipped with the same six social receptors.”
Take Haidt’s test and see how your moral matrix is constructed at YourMorals.org. Can’t wait for this book!