Finalist #10 in the Book Review Contest
Rating for the review = 1 / (Wordcount of Review * number of times reviewer pats his own back) = 0
It's true that Haidt may have exaggerated how much the moral intuitions actually drive the political leanings, but that doesn't mean these moral intuitions are completely fake either. He pointed to how widespread they are in different cultures and claimed they can serve some purposes sometimes.
Is it against the spirit (and/or the actual rules) of the contest to start researching and working on a review for next year's contest, in advance (like up to a year in advance)?
If anyone was wondering about Lambesis, reading https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Lambesis it sounds like the steroids probably had more to do with him trying to recruit a hitman at his gym than any atheism, and he may've converted back after rejoining his band post-release (apparently they didn't mind)? In any case, good luck to his second wife.
There's something to Haidt's thesis, but the better psychological explanation of conservatism vs. liberalism comes from looking at how people score on openness to experience and conscientiousness. https://ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6867614/#:~:text=In%20line%20with%20research%20in,a%20sibling%20fixed-effects%20specification.
It honestly explains a lot. People who like new experiences are likelier to go to college, likelier to move to a big city, etc. so it's not surprising that's correlated with liberalism. It's also not surprising that people who feel a strong sense of duty and have a high level of self-discipline would skew conservative.
I also read this book, and came to a somewhat similar conclusion to the reviewer, although I think I was somewhat more sympathetic to Haidt's idea that these 5/6/7+ pillars are what the rest of morality is built upon, in part because they are flexible - you can play to any or all of them, and your argument can still work if you phrase it right. Kind of hard to prove though when it's that weak a connection, but I'm reminded of the old quote about everyone being a libertarian, and a liberal, and a conservative, and a communist, ect.
I do think it's worth noting that people seem to have a revulsion to "might makes right" reasoning, and prefer to have things framed in flattering moral terms rather than just openly declaring that they'll do whatever makes their tribe win. Sure, Trump was crass and boorish, but he also talked a lot about "draining the swamp" and "making America great again", depends on how cynical you are but at the very least that was the stated reason for why you should vote for him, and not because he was gratuitously offensive. I'm sure we could construct a group selection just-so story to explain this quirk of in-group identification, but I think that's one of the weaker elements of Haidt's work, it's much more compelling when it's just observing and describing how different people have different approaches to morality.
I also think that the observation that "people have values other than pleasure/pain" is both obvious and very important not to forget, if only because it makes a lot of utilitarian arguments fall flat when you try to persuade normies. That's a shame, isn't strengthening our tribe at the expense of the Kantians the whole reason why we developed moral reasoning in the first place?
The reviewer doth protest too much, methinks.
Strange that only a portion of the review is about the book and most of it is about the reviewer, but oh, well. His rider must be struggling with his elephant.
Haidt actually lays out that his findings came from his data, not from any theory. His first book was finding ancient wisdom around the world and finding commonality.
Haidt also notes that he began as an atheist leftist. He was surprised by his research. He kept exploring and let his research find the answers rather than impose a framework.
Haidt puts socialists with left/liberals, so it is odd the reviewer couldn't understand that. That is Haidt's own area.. And again, he let his data guide where each side went rather than impose it.
The 5 MFT model isn't as good as his 6. He breaks out Libertarians from left/liberals. And it works pretty well.
You can take a Moral Foundations Test online for free. From my experience, everyone lines up pretty well according to their political nature.
The key takeaway really is that left/liberals/socialists really struggle to understand what drives conservatives and usually project false motives on others. "Look, this statement was a secret dog-whistle for hatred". Or maybe the person believes it is the moral choice....
Is the book a little dated? Sure. This was written before the Woke took over the world, when the phrase "trans rights" could more likely relate to transportation issues that anything else. And like so much else, it was pre Trump and pre BLM. That doesn't mean the theories are incorrect.
It's been several years since I've read the book, but my reaction then is the same as it is now: it's a really interesting idea that has impacted the way I look at the world, and, hey, it might even be true!
What I mean by that is that I'm fairly agnostic as to whether Haidt's arguments about natural selection and the heritability of morality are correct. The value for me was in thinking of morality (others and my own) in terms of different axes and how those might express themselves in different individuals and cultures.
I don't really understand your objection to the way Haidt discusses conservatives. Isn't he just applying intuitionism, an idea you seem to agree with? And doesn't he do that across the board, not just with religious conservatives?
My review from a half decade ago largely agrees with you, though in a lot less detail. Actually it's almost scary how many of the same beats we hit, down to referencing Hume's is/ought distinction as a problem for Haidt.
I'd just add that in social Darwinist terms the parts of the west that are cosmopolitan and produce new technology have done pretty darn well at conquering stuff when they put their minds to it. And while Haidt showed that while the Harm foundation is what liberals use to justify moral decisions that's adaptive because in a cosmopolitan society you can't count on other people agreeing with you about what's Clean or Sacred or whatever. Heinrich's "The WEIRDest People in the World" is useful here.
Also, for all his calls in the book for a thicker, less rational version of liberal thought Haidt sure failed to appreciate "wokeism" as exactly what he was hoping for when it came to prominence.
That was really excellent. I read Haidt's book twice, a few years apart and loved the first section showing that our moral intuition isn’t some reasoned idea. I could never quite explain what felt wrong about the moral foundations aspect, which is kind of his main premise. The reviewer lays it bare. Especially the sacred values of the left after Trump arrived. That has intrigued me since he jumped out of the clown car in 2016. But it didn’t register that this was a death blow to Haidt's theories, perhaps because I’d already put the book away by then.
Kudos for the explanations.
I liked this review a lot. It's the only review so far that is sharply critical of the book it's reviewing. I think it's really helpful that it even says how the book tends to go wrong.
I do think the review could have benefitted from being rewritten a month or two after this draft was put together, so that it could be in a more distilled form.
His descriptions of the moral foundations of political sides in America in the 90s/00s are obviously subject to change as the politics do. If anything, the re-discovery of sanctity, group loyalty, and authority within wholly liberal enclaves in the last decade* (ie wokeness) reifies Haidt’s argument. And shows how wobbly certain moral orders can be if they don’t hit the taste buds in the right way.
*haven’t seen any data on this but it seems apparent
I found the writing style here fairly painful, and repetitive.
"I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter."
– Blaise Pascal
That should be Ariely.
"People genuinely thought that at a base, normative level, there could be no morality without explicit instruction from God"
I used to be religious and now as an atheist still think there's no objective morality without a God to impose it. Hume's is-ought gap just seems unbridgeable.
This review was too long. That said, as a Catholic who has read some of Haidt's work (but not this whole book) I sort of agree with the author in the sense that I think a lot of what Haidt was doing was stumbling backwards into Catholicism.
Evangelical Christians and Protestants generally derive morality from scripture: if it's in the Bible, it must be so. Catholic ethics operate differently - of course there's the whole idea of scripture and tradition. But if you read Summa Theologica, you'll notice that St. Thomas Aquinas repeatedly draws not only on scripture, but also on work by pagan Romans and Muslims. This is because Catholic morality derives from natural law, which is presumed to be "written on the hearts of men." Of course the natural law does not dictate exact outcomes in every case, but like a vector, it points in generally acceptable moral directions. And because natural law is intuitively known to everyone, it is accessible to all: Pagans, Muslims, and even Protestants.
So sure, the Evangelicals don't denounce murder for the same reason as Catholics or Muslims or Jews or atheists. But we all know murder is wrong because "everything naturally loves itself, the result being that everything naturally keeps itself in being, and resists corruptions so far as it can." (ST II Q.64 A.5). One doesn't need to be an evolutionary psychologist to know that our natural inclination is to remain alive, and this insight provides a foundation for moral reasoning that is accessible to everyone. Of course, there are exceptions and outliers (sin exists) but the same moral intuition is available to all.
Similarly, Catholic teaching avoids the tired capitalism/socialism debate with the idea of just price. We are all social beings - no man is an island - and justice is about rendering to each man his due. When we speak of what each man is due, we of course consider the value that transacting parties places on obtaining or providing an item or service (which is why socialism is against CST) but that is not the only consideration. The common good dictates that you are in fact your brother's keeper, even if he is across the bargaining table. Unconscionable contracts, unjust wages, and the like offend the idea of natural justice, but the mere existence of private property does not.
I also found Haidt to be doing genteel scientific astrology. With that said, I think socialists fit into his model of liberals easily, without much hacking needed at all.
Socialists highly value free-rider punishment, but the free riders are the greedy "millionaires and billionaires" who take more than their share - more than they could possibly deserve. They also highly value care, in wanting to redistribute their ill-gotten gains to the needy. Aren't these the foundations he attributes to liberals? Couldn't he just say that socialists are people with liberal foundations, who take them up to 11?
>Where are the socialists?
>There are just no socialists in Haidt’s world.
Haidt was born in 1963. Very few socialists existed in the USA until about a decade ago, and this book is a decade old. Bernie Sanders is a freakish aberration who resides in a miniature, desolate state. He appears to have, however, inspired many young people in recent years.
It’s been a while since I read The Righteous Mind, but I found the review helpful to think through some things. Certainly the changes to the world since c. 2014 make the book look quite dated. I wonder what Haidt has to say about it now.
I don’t think that reasoning from tribe to foundations exactly works. The social-justice–adjacent folks that I know do seem to feel the violation of sanctity deeply, which Haidt did not predict, but their treatment of authority is less heartfelt and more tactical.
The reflections on Haidt’s utilitarianism are interesting, because I mostly ignored it when I read the book. Unlike Haidt, I am not a utilitarian myself. I understood the possible range of discussion to be limited by the norms of social science. I think that a pretty interesting attempt at a moral–moral-psychological synthesis could be made by a natural law theorist; but if a natural law theorist were discovered at a social psychology conference, would anyone respect him enough to hear him out? He’d be tarred and feathered, then run out of town on a rail.
Similarly, it’s true that Haidt treats religious conservatives as non-agents, but he treats pretty much everyone as a non-agent, so as a conservative evangelical I didn’t feel particularly singled out. It’s also true that we don’t ordinarily reason morally from game theory, but most of the people I consider to be conservative intellectuals don’t either. That’s more common among neoreactionaries and among rationalists trying to steelman conservativism.
I’m only halfway through this review but so far it’s making my day (for boring, complex reasons). So this might be credit the review doesn’t deserve but right now I think it’s great.
Liberals concerned with care, fairness & liberty, libertarians with liberty, and conservatives with all of the foundations - that resonates with me. I think liberalism was concerned with all of them at one point, but care taken to extremes conflicts with every policy position, so they had to keep jettisoning foundations (if that’s even possible). Hence any rebalancing looks like reducing care (anathema).
The group evolution bit is also interesting. Thank you to this writer.
I actually just started reading this book recently myself, though I've known about Haidt's Moral Foundations Theory for years now and I've largely internalized some basic version of it into my overall political worldview. I've finished reading the first two sections of the book, but I haven't made it to the third one yet, and so far I don't see much indication of the motte-and-bailey you're describing. Maybe that's something that mostly comes through in the last third of the book?
In any case, I feel like you're being rather hard on Haidt for not taking the beliefs of devoutly religious conservatives at face value. Unless you're an actual religious fundamentalist yourself and believe that all of the commands in the Bible are the literal Word of God, it's basically impossible to take those beliefs at face value. At most, you can point out that religious conservatives earnestly believe those ideas, but that still just begs the question of *why* those particular ideas are the ones that became central to conservative religious dogma. Maybe Haidt's answer isn't the correct one, but your argument here would apply just as much to any other attempt to answer this question. If these cultural norms aren't a result of individual selection, but they aren't a result of group selection either (and presumably aren't the result of actual divine intervention like the fundies believe), then where did they come from? Random chance? That seems even more dismissive toward conservative beliefs. If you think "these norms were once adaptive, but aren't adaptive any longer" is insulting to the people who hold those ideas, then "these norms were never adaptive, they're arbitrary cultural artifacts that stuck around through pure inertia" is even more insulting.
"Aspects of a social group that make it [...] more reproductively fit at the social level are often aspects that make that social group incredibly unpleasant for almost all or even all of its constituent individuals."
Considering that much of human history was "incredibly unpleasant" for people who weren't part of the ruling class, and in many cases even for the people who were part of the ruling class, I don't feel like this is a good argument against group selection effects on culture. If anything it's all the more proof that cultural evolution all too often wins out against what would be best for individuals.
One iteration on moral foundations theory that seems a bit more compelling is the game-theory based Morality-as-Cooperation proposal: https://behavioralscientist.org/whats-wrong-with-moral-foundations-theory-and-how-to-get-moral-psychology-right/
They break down moral intuitions into 7 dimensions based on certain biological strategies:
Family - Kin selection / Kin Altruism
Group - Coordination / Mutualism
Reciprocity - Social Dilemma / Reciprocal Altruism
Heroism - Conflict Resolution (Contest) / Hawkish Displays
Deference - Conflict Resolution (Contest) / Dove-ish Displays
Fairness - Conflict Resolution (Bargaining) / Division
Property - Conflict Resolution (Possession) / Ownership
Half-baked, five-minute thinking thoughts incoming:
"I think that political differences are what drive our differences in moral intuition."
Could it perhaps be some kind of generational question, where people have their moral intuition and stick with it, but e.g. are liberal in their teens and gradually change until they code conservative in their 40s (not because of the changing landscape, but because of actual changed beliefs), and possibly a corresponding conversative-in-their-teens becoming liberal in their 40s?
So (for example) people who had strong 'purity' desires in their teens back then are now liberally-minded. The people disagreeing with them are 'pushed' into the conversative camp, because they don't find commonality with the liberal camp.
To be clear, this is extremely shooting from the hip (for added context: I am not even from the US, so I have far less data to work with than most commenters here). I certainly don't think this is plausible enough to save Haidt's categorisation, certainly not in any meaningful way - it breaks the association between the moral foundations and the political camps, even if it would rescue the permanence of the moral foundations - but it was a third option that came to mind as I read the review.
I don't believe this (currently), but I could imagine a world where someone further iterates on this idea and then steelmans it, in which I might be led to believe it.
I disagree with the central criticism of Haidt here based on a normative read of Adam Smith. You can't pigeonhole Smith as making exlcusively normative claims and accuse Haidt of mistaking those for descriptive claims. Smith was in part describing a social phenomenon: people contributing to the common good by following self-interest in cooperation with others.
This is *not* the same as exalting laissez-faire as the "right" economic principle, although Smith may have done some of that as well. A wide range of economic systems are compatible with the insight that the profit motive keeps societies running. The only systems it really excludes are economies that attempt to remove that motive entirely, and these economies have flopped every time they've been tried (to my knowledge).
Haidt is right to criticize some liberals and leftists for demonizing and dismissing the profit motive as a fundamental economic force. It is not merely normatively wrong but descriptively ignorant, and quite comparable to rejection of evolution. Even the Chinese Communists figured this out after their disastrous experience with Maoist economics.
I have yet to read through the whole review but I am extremely concerned that there are only two hits when I ctrl+f for the word "death". As Scott has written about a little in the past, moral intuitions regarding existence vs. non-existence are different from intuitions regarding suffering vs. happiness — in fact they are orthogonal axes and it is possible for people to value one radically more than the other. A lot of moral disagreements rest there.
Great review! Liked your straightforward, slow, methodical style.
Though I didn't read all of it. The atom/boson/RH/LH metaphor got a bit too complex and tedious to follow and didn't get to the point fast enough, so I skimmed to the juicier bits and conclusion.
Especially liked the idea that EA altruists only cared about one foundation. That's exactly my problem with them, that I did not have the right words for:
They care too much and value too little :)
It's a shame that you didn't have time for steelmanning this view. Why do people only care about care? You sorta hinted at "group traits that punish subversion and stabilize hierarchy and grow the group make individuals miserable". Helpful to a degree.
But it gives me a good frame to read up on Singer and such.
Dear Anonymous Reviewer,
I believe you will enjoy watching this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZAdl6hS0bjw and then of course this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-jS4e3zacI
I haven't read the book, but I have seen a lot of Haidt interviews. I always got the impression that what he was saying was neither "conservatives come to their beliefs through careful thought about the way heuristics can mold utilitarian outcomes" nor "conservative beliefs include powerful heuristics that might be better for utilitarian outcomes." It always seemed that what he was saying was actually "here is how conservatives think of their morals, and liberal failure to engage with this way of thinking makes it impossible for liberals and conservatives to communicate."
Haidt talking about wiping his butt with the wrong hand and discovering sacredness, silly though it may be, isn't supposed to be justification of the sacredness principle, and it's not supposed to be an explanation of why conservatives believe in the sacredness principle. It's supposed to be a bridge into sacredness for people who justify their morals exclusively through care. So that liberals can win some arguments.
I don't find this as compelling as I did when I first heard it, to be honest: why not take it a step further and just start disingenuously claiming that God wants Medicare for All. But it is absolutely true that even as liberals become more obsessed with "sacredness" in the form of cultural taboos, if you have a conversation with most liberals about why they think Mexican food is cultural appropriation or whatever they're on about this week, they'll give you a care/harm answer. And if you have a conversation with a conservative on how Donald Trump can possibly represent them, they'll tell you that ol' Donny Boy was sent by God Almighty and His Son, Jesus, to own the Godless libs. Don't believe me? Check out this absolutely unhinged article on Prophecy Reform, meant to reign in this impulse (Scott linked something about this like a year ago): https://religionunplugged.com/news/2021/4/28/charismatics-issue-prophetic-standards-to-address-false-trump-prophecies
I tend to be skeptical that this talk is coming from an honest place: I think it's likely that it's more of a cultural passphrase than it is a genuine expression of values. But also, that's me assuming a vast coverup instead of taking the literal messages at face value. I might think it's insane to think that a vaguely China-inspired prom dress is doing harm, and that any outcry is obviously some sort of base revulsion masquerading as utilitarian concern, but that's not what the people doing the outcry are saying. And I might think it's insane that anyone could view Trump as a messenger of God, and not a tool sharpened to a fine point to serve conservative interests, but that's not what the people supporting Trump are saying. I may not be completely qualified to comment on their motives for saying it.
I think anything that tries to argue “conservatives are like THIS while liberals are like THIS” is going to fail to understand political differences, because politics is a messy system of alliances, not an expression of underlying moral values.
You might as well try to understand the moral similarities between Japanese and Finnish worldviews in WW2 to decipher why they fought on the same side.
Another issue I have with this review is the "Where is the Socialists?" section. You wrote: "Where in his six foundations would fit the now very commonly expressed, and historically somewhat influential idea that it’s a good idea for everyone to roughly have the same level of wealth, [etc.]? It either has to show up the same as welfare-queen-punishment, which is its polar opposite, in the fairness foundation..."
First off, I'd question your claim that socialist ideas are "now very commonly expressed." At least here in the Western world, socialism is a fringe ideology. (And no, the Nordic states are not socialist, that's a misconception. The Nordic states are welfare capitalist nations, and while they may have very high taxes and very generous social programs, they also have freer markets than the U.S. does overall.) Sure, socialism is a few orders of magnitude less fringe than Yarvin's bizarre neo-reactionary nonsense, but that's not saying much: it just means that socialists comprise 1% of the population, in contrast to the 0.001% of the population that subscribes to Yarvinism. Certainly, there are far fewer socialists than there are conservatives, liberals, or libertarians, so I can't blame Haidt for excluding them, even taking the last 10 years into account.
But I do agree that socialist ideas were "historically somewhat influential," which brings me to my second and far more important point: The fact that Haidt's framework puts socialism and opposition to welfare queens in the same category is a *feature*, not a bug. Historically, socialism was an ideology for workers, particularly blue-collar manual laborers, and it largely appealed to them for the same reasons that anti-welfare conservatism appeals to the blue-collar crowd today. In both cases, the workers are upset that they're stuck doing hard labor while another group is seemingly getting stuff for free at their expense; the only difference between the old-school labor leftists and modern anti-welfare conservatives is that the former directed their anger upwards at the bourgeoisie for "stealing" the surplus value of their labor, while the latter direct their anger downwards at the lumpenproletariat for "stealing" their wages via government taxation and redistribution.
In other words, while socialism and opposition to welfare queens might appear to be polar opposites on the object level, they both have a similar psychological impetus driving them, which is the fundamental idea that the people who did the work of picking the apples are the ones who deserve to eat the apples. It's important to remember that the core idea of socialism is not "everyone deserves free stuff," but rather "workers are entitled to the full value of the results of their labor." It's an ideology for proletarians who take pride in their work, not for lumpenproles looking for a handout. Socialists opposed the bourgeoisie precisely because wealthy property owners were perceived as the ultimate free riders, making money off the labor of the working class without doing any real labor themselves. This fits in very well with Haidt's emphasis on fairness and proportionality.
I have my own political framework theory based on 3 axes: conservatism, socialism, and liberalism. After reading this review though I realise it could be adapted to a moral framework theory too: trust, fairness, and freedom. I will briefly try to see if I can rescue Haidt's idea that morals drive politics rather than the other way around by changing what the moral groups are.
A high trust society is useful because it massively reduces transaction costs and has a greater chance of ensuring long term group survival (group evolution theory). High trust is obtained through expressing the group's religious statements, low immigration, conformity, etc.
A high fairness society is useful because everyone gets their basic needs tended to, everyone gets a chance to "make it" (individual evolution theory). High fairness is obtained through major redistribution by government and building infrastructure.
A high freedom society is useful because people can do what they want to, either in their personal life or in business (individual evolution theory). High fairness is obtained by having a strong and independent judicial system and clear property rights.
Each moral is useful, sometimes more useful in one situation versus another (think rural versus urban or ex-slave states versus not), but when one is emphasised far beyond the others in politics it makes for an inefficient system of governance.
I have no idea if these categories fit the data, this is just observational.
As for does it fit the US? The world is complex, there is more than one thing going on. In the case of the US the main issue I see is that, despite the name, it is a state of nations and everyone would be a lot happier if it was broken up. The political structure there is very dualist but I see political (and maybe moral?) theory as trialist is nature, at least in the industrial epoch. This would predict an unstable party system in the US.
Thank you! I've been reading Haidt for nearly 20 years, and "The Righteous Mind" is amazingly bad (with some good points, as you've noted). It's incredibly gratifying to have someone identify many of the same points that have bugged the sh!t out of me.....
I really enjoyed this review, I loved and recommended the book when I'd read it long ago and this helped me reappraise many of my naive reactions to its (to me) very persuasive prose. Looking forward to finding out who the author of this review is as I'd like to read more.
About the objection to omitting socialism, I found that after reading the book I actually started understanding socialism more easily within a moral emotion framework. When socialists say things like "obscene wealth" or "billionaires should not exist," I understand those most easily as irrationally strong emotional responses to an evolved fairness sensitivity. That's the only thing for me that justifies the intensity of those positions as expressed, they're associated not with a cool assessment of the correct distribution of resources but a visceral disgust at the outliers. Having not read it in some time I'm sure you're right that Haidt doesn't make this interpretation explicit, and it may be a case where his framework can be bent to 'explain' anything you like, but it sounds basically right to me. Am I missing something that disqualifies socialists completely from his framework, even if he groups them with other seemingly opposing factions?
Maybe it's worth pointing to some later academic takes on MFT:
A 2021 review (https://t.co/JWRKwVMCKR):
> With 89 samples, 605 effect sizes, and 33,804 independent participants, in addition to 192,870 participants from the widely used YourMorals.org website, the basic differences about conservatives and liberals are supported. Yet, heterogeneity is moderate, and the results may be less generalizable across samples and political cultures than previously thought. The effect sizes obtained from the YourMorals.org data appear inflated compared with independent samples, which is partly related to political interest and may be because of self-selection. The association of moral foundations to political orientation varies culturally (between regions and countries) and subculturally (between White and Black respondents and in response to political interest). The associations also differ depending on the choice of the social or economic dimension and its labeling, supporting both the bidimensional model of political orientation and the findings that the dimensions are often strongly correlated.
A 2015 theoretical critique focused on purity (https://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.833.8295&rep=rep1&type=pdf):
> The main evidence for these claims [of the MFT model of (potentially evolved) discrete cognitive modules] comes from researcher-constructed scenarios of ‘‘harm’’ (e.g., murder) and ‘‘purity’’ (e.g., chicken masturbation) that reveal different patterns of judgment (Graham et al., 2013). However, our research finds that these scenarios fundamentally confound moral content (harm vs. purity) with domain-general dimensions, including severity and weirdness (among potential others; Gray & Wegner, 2011). In our controlled studies, purity per se demonstrates no special effect on moral cognition, nor does it appear to be distinct from harm—or even pass manipulation checks—all arguing against MFT modularity (Gray & Keeney, 2015).
2014 finding that authoritarianism and social dominance orientation mediate liberal-conservative differences in moral intuitions (https://t.co/y7g1xuZDKj):
> We demonstrate that liberal-conservative differences in moral intuitions are statistically mediated by authoritarianism and social dominance orientation, so that conservatives’ greater valuation of ingroup, authority, and purity concerns is attributable to higher levels of authoritarianism, whereas liberals’ greater valuation of fairness and harm avoidance is attributable to lower levels of social dominance. We also find that ingroup, authority, and purity concerns are positively associated with intergroup hostility and support for discrimination, whereas concerns about fairness and harm avoidance are negatively associated with these variables.
My impression as an outsider is that MFT isn't really holding up scientifically, partly for reasons the reviewer identifies—it's anchored in contingent politics, very much a product of its time, and the model is theoretically and philosophically incoherent. I like this review (it's my favorite among all the submissions I read, alongside Albion: In Twelve Books), but I think it goes too easy on Haidt.
"sanctity"? wtf? my own ethics center on aesthetics. I write beautiful programs. I try to lead a balanced life. &tc. you can go from aesthetics to sanctity, but not the other way around. talk about loading the dice before rolling.
Love the authorial voice.
Too long; needs an editor.
Learned things about the book I didn’t expect and were relevant to my interests.
Many of these reviews have erred on the side of being a synopsis rather than a review. This one errs a bit too much on the other side, seeming to be mostly designed for people who have already read the book, or are at least familiar with its arguments.
On a more general note, I feel like 80% of the book reviews (both from Scott and the competition) I read on this site come down to "This book has the right sort of general idea about a lot of things, but the details are all wack".
As others have said, Haidt is onto something important here, but his ability to understand the right is limited by not actually being on the right. As such, let me offer my (probably equally blinkered) view of what things look like from the right of what he's missing: I've always thought of the main difference between the moral frameworks of the right and the left is that the left has what I'd call an unreasonable and pathological sympathy for losers, at the expense of treating people by consistent rules.
“ human beings don’t naturally reason their way to moral decisions, but make them pretty much based on instinct”
I think “instinct” is a mistake here. I interpreted Haidt to be talking about something like system I and system II, which does not map onto instinct and reason. Instinct is genetic and static, system I can learn.
I just wanted to comment that I found this review extremely pleasurable to read. I was literally laughing with happiness in a few places. I also think it made a lot of solid arguments, but I was very struck by how much I enjoyed it... The author reveals (I think?) that they are British, and maybe that has something to do with it: perhaps it's just that style of Britishness that feels like home to me.
Anyway, I loved it. Also, have always thought Haidt sounded like he was talking complete nonsense, but could never be bothered to read the book, so it's nice to have some hooks to hang my distaste on now.
That correctly identified much of what I found frustrating about the book too.
To be charitable to Haidt, I'd say that his goal is to *actually* inspire more liberals to be sympathetic to conservatives not necessarily make the ideal rational argument that one should be so sympathetic. Explaining the descriptive reasons why having certain kinds of moral foundations might lead to better behavior in a number of situations probably is a way to make people who don't think about it too carefully to feel more sympathetic to those who take those moral foundations as normative. They shouldn't and it didn't work for me but I do think lots of people tend to be more sympathetic to behavior when they can understand why it might have arisen and see it as at least useful in *some* situation.
I'd add that I thought Haidt's crits of the new Atheists were a bit unfair as well. Many of the new atheists were very open to the beneficial aspects of ritual and other religious behavior. Indeed, some of them seem quite keen on the idea of replicating some of that ritual etc.. in a non-religious context.
The problem is (just as the review describes) that Haidt is often very sloppy about defining the questions/arguments. The new atheists would say: yay yah, all those rituals and stuff are great but the addition of the actual belief in the theological claims is completely harmful. However, Haidt is too eager to label them as small-minded to appreciate that they are answering a different question that he never addresses head on. Maybe you can argue that the rituals are completely impossible without actual belief (I don't think the new atheists would deny that it's harder...religious belief is pretty universal) but, absent such a demonstration, he doesn't actually reject the new atheist's argument. He merely points to something else that's good which goes along with what the new atheists are criticizing.
If you believe in Haidt's moral foundations, and you squeeze socialism into one clear definition, and you insist on tying the motivation people have for preferring that definition to one moral foundation, what makes the care foundation a bad fit for socialism?
Assume that socialists want to do something like this: plan a carefully managed society that replaces the suffering caused by other political-economic systems with equality of outcome. Full equality of outcome, seen as a state of fairness, is what would happen if all harmful things were eliminated.
Compare this with conservationists, who sometimes bring critically endangered animals into refuges, so that the animals can live in managed safety instead of going extinct due to hunting/farming/climate change. Doesn't the basic action seems like a less ambitious version of socialism, i.e. fewer harms are targeted?
If so, maybe they are both motivated primarily by the care foundation.
There are two big things I could be misunderstanding, one being what a simplified preferred socialist outcome looks like, and the other being why the reviewer wants to tie the motivation for socialism to one foundation in particular.
<<nor the intellectual conservative tradition of “what is good for the masses to believe is not identical to what’s fundamentally true, please consult my 60,000 word essay on decision theory, game theory, computational load, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire for details, therefore Catholicism”.>>
Lol! I’d like to read that essay. Can anyone point me in the direction of something like that? Thanks
While I found much of this convincing I think you are recasting Haidt's moral foundation's theory as a theory of partisan politics. Yes, he argues that differences in moral foundations explain differences in partisan affiliation but it's not directly a theory about political ideology.
Haidt's theory is directly predicting moral reactions, not theories. They aren't the same. The data that Haidt's moral foundations are designed to explain are direct emotional responses to situations. He has done empirical work showing that you can predict answers to questions about things like "is it wrong for an adult brother and sister to have consensual sex once using protection." Whether or not he has shown that those 5 categories are somehow special or if there are other basises that you could re-express those categories in terms of doesn't change the fact that discovering these five/six elements are very helpful in predicting what people say are their immediate moral reactions is an important insight.
Now the claims about politics are no different than an analysis of how race affects politics or other features. The political effects of differences in these traits aren't themselves what's supposed to justify them as useful concepts.
A boring, but I think accurate, way of summarizing things is that Haidt is good at psychology, which is his field, but he's bad at political science and ethical philosophy, which are not his fields. In this regard, he's like most scientists who sometimes write outside their fields.
I'm left confused about what we're trying to measure.
Given that we know people have strong tribal affiliation, we should expect that who/what people nominally support in the political sphere will be strongly colored by their tribal affiliations. But the overwhelming majority of human moral decision making/reasoning doesn't happen in the political sphere, it happens in day-to-day interactions at jobs, around neighbors, and with family.
My great aunt's facebook page suggests she's a rabid partisan, but knowing her in real life, the actual moral intuitions that drive her behavior and the behavior she expects from others look totally different. She is, to use the cliché, a kind sweet old lady. She would vehemently disapprove of anyone behaving at her dinner table or the grocery store the way politicians she supports routinely behave. And any knowledge of tribalism would suggest *we should expect this contradiction*. Saying "the tribal intuition overwhelms the moral intuition" in no way invalidates the existence of the moral intuition.
I have no particular views about Haidt's findings, but I'm not sure how the political landscape could be expected to confirm or disprove them.
It's interesting to note how polarized the reviews of the review are.
Anyway, I'm going to be the voice of reason and moderation in this rancorous debate between two sides that I cordially despise and take no great pains to understand, and give it a score that should satisfy both parties:
5/10, perfectly unremarkable.
Many of the studies Haidt talks about have since failed replication. The Macbeth effect failed replication. The Helzer & Pizzaro one failed replication. And so on. The failure of those to replicate makes it hard to know what to take away from several chapters. Are the chapters extraneous to his main point, so the failures mean little? Then why where they included in the first place? Or is his theory fatally wounded?
Also on the question of "why these particular foundations", Haidt has subsequently acknowledged they don't rest on anything. Haidt and his various co-authors "accept that the original list of foundations was 'arbitrary,' based on a limited review of only 'five books and articles,' and never intended to be 'exhaustive.'."
"The way most people make most moral decisions most of the time is on instinct, and then retrospectively justified by argument if necessary. "
I think there's a fundamental mistake here - it's not instinct but emotion (or feeling - what Hume called 'The passions') that underpins most moral positions. Instinct is really something completely different.
Like your final judgement.
Typo -- "The scientific would could do with a lot more of": "would" => "world"?
On the Christians you talked to not being able to get the difference between being gay is wrong because it just is and gayness is wrong because God said so: I think you are forgetting the part where God made us (according to them) to function in a certain way. It’s a divine design decision and so it can ‘reasonably’ be thought of as both.
> I would never recommend The Righteous Mind to someone who wanted to know what I think is the state of the art in thought on moral psychology, ethics, or politics.
What *are* the state of the art recommendations here?
"Some people under 6 foot are closer in height to some people over 6 foot than they are to some other people under 6 foot. That doesn’t mean height is a myth or even that the particular threshold of 6 foot isn’t sometimes really important (for instance in determining whether you’ll fit through a certain doorway without having to duck)" < thank you for this example!
This review is one of my top 3 favorite contest finalists. “by far the best largely wrong book I’ve read” is an interesting take!
I agree that the last decade poses a challenge for Haidt's model, but I don't think it's nearly as bad as you make it out to be.
Some of my family and family friends are Trump supporters. In my experience they value loyalty a lot. They are extremely loyal to Trump and want to punish anyone who goes against him. And they like Trump, in part, because he seems loyal them. They also seem to be deferential to authority. What's changed is that they no longer trust the processes and procedures that have traditionally conferred authority in the US. In place of that they have turned to Trump specifically, who derives his authority from strength and loyalty to his supporters. As for sanctity...OK, I'll admit that's harder to square with Trumps open vulgarity. But I'll say this -- a lot of the Trump supporters I know are middle class Catholics, and when pressed, they'll admit that they don't like Trump's infidelities and meanness. They justify it as necessary for "defending America" from "socialists" who want to destroy the values and traditions that made America great, which they view as sacred. They view Trump as a true patriot (like them), and what's patriotism if not a belief in the sanctity of one's country? They also justify looking past Trump's personal behavior by pointing to his SCOTUS picks. They feel like they made a trade-off to protect the sanctity of life, and you know what? They came out on top of that trade-off.
As for liberals, it's true that they've become more deferential to authority in the era of Trump and the pandemic, but I think it's really a subset of upper class, professional liberals that are in positions of authority themselves. I don't think Haidt would claim that moral foundations always trump (no pun intended) self-interest. But also, over the last decade we've seen perceived harms weaponized to take down people in positions of authority so often that it has a name -- cancel culture. We've also seen victimhood (i.e., being on the wrong side of care/harm) become a type of social capital within the left, so much so that whole hierarchies of intersecting victimhood have emerged.
Moral foundations may not be quite as foundational as Haidt thinks, but it seems like they still explain the last decade of American politics reasonably well. If anything is missing, it's an analysis of what happens when trust breaks down between groups with different foundations, and how inter-group conflict influences the applications of moral foundations theory. (Maybe there is some of that in the book...it's been a while since I read it).
I'm extremely confident in the opposite of your belief about the handedness thing. There is absolutely no way, in my view, that the left and right hand thing didn't start as a practical consideration that then got codified into a religious practice.
Would like to read more about the philosophical concept of “category” and how that relates to things like conservative, liberal, progressive, socialist, right, left, libertarian, etc and how that varies by place and time. All these words seem somewhat meaningful but oh so misleading so often. Book recommendations?
>>Liberals were anti-authority freedom fighters until they controlled a whole bunch of prestigious institutions and sources of authority...(and Conservatives) somehow ended up headed by a brash, shock-and-disgust-to-dominate real estate brawler with a disreputable sex life...<<
The above implies a third layer of causation. (1) Liberals and Conservatives changed their moral intuitions because of (2) the sorts of institutions and politicians they found representing them. Okay. But how did Liberals end up running the universities? How did Conservatives end up voting for Trump? Didn't their moral intuitions influence the political positions in which they found themselves? If not, then what did?
"Perhaps the real lesson is that, viewed tribally rather than nationally, the loyalty foundation actually rules all?"
My just-so evo-psych story is that there are two foundations of morality, one for intra-tribal affairs (kinship and the game-theoretical stuff), and one for dealing with enemy tribes (all's fair in war). But once tribes started to get replaced with entities far larger than the Dunbar number, this framework began to require all sorts of epicycles about who counts as in-tribe or enemy and to what extent. Which isn't polite to admit out loud (or, apparently, even quietly to themselves for many), and so the endless vacillations between the proclaimed ideal of total human brotherhood (which underpins Christianity and Utilitarianism, among others) and the reality of hatred for the outgroup of the day.
Was the cover image for this created by DALL-E? The mahout's face and feet both look a bit off.
At least this is an attempt at a review rather than a summary of the book. Proud of his "socialism," this lad. If he'd lived with Wilson and Callaghan he'd be a little less sure of his political virtue. The reason Haidt declines to analyse socialism is that it is a failed ideology that has always made a mess wherever and whenever it has been tried.
With four pillars I can fit an elephant. With five I can make it wiggle its trunk.
I have recently posted negatively on my substack about Haidt's current stance, but I think this review of his book is unfair. The short way of putting this is that I think that the reviewer goes out of his way to remember ideas in the book that have not held up and to forget the ideas that were most durable. The latter include the phrases "90 percent chimp, 10 percent bee" and "elephant and rider." If what these phrases evoke now seem redundant for today's reader, it is only because they influenced so many pundits that the ideas are now "in the air."
Maybe what is coming next from this reviewer is a dismissal of Isaac Newton. After all, Newton tried to practice alchemy, failed to anticipate quantum mechanics, and nobody has to read Newton to learn calculus.
This statement in the review is very perceptive:
“Aspects of a social group that make it compete well with other groups for resources, win wars with other groups, resist internal takeover or subversion by individuals within the group, and therefore be more reproductively fit at the social level are often aspects that make that social group incredibly unpleasant for almost all or even all of its constituent individuals.”
This is certainly true, in particular of close-knit groups. "Hell is other people", as Jean-Paul Sartre noticed. But these groups are here (and there are many of them), so there must none the less have been “something in it” for the individual group members, from their individual inclusive-fitness points of view.
Not least the risk of social ostracism – the fate of Spinoza comes to mind.
Framed differently: “Human happiness” is not the ultimate human desire, as airy-fairy utilitarians think. Survival is. For that reason, humans are “moral” – but only according to the norms of their group. If their perception of these group norms change, their moral change.
To pick one of thousands of examples: If you had survey’d Germans in 1935 if it was right to kill all European Jews, you are unlikely to have got many “agree party/agree fully” responses. Ten years later…
The social order, including our morals, is frail.
I think our reviewer both makes and misses the point when talking about group dynamic driving moral intuitions. He uses Trump as a primary counterexample to argue that conservatives and liberals essentially flipped on the sanctity dimension. He correctly picks up that the arguments changed, but that doesn’t necessarily imply that deeply held beliefs did as well. The left hated Trump for many reasons, but I don’t think they suddenly changed their minds on sanctity. They used those arguments against him because they thought it would be effective because that’s what conservatives actually DO care about. Same thing with regards to loyalty/patriotism. Using Russia Russia Russia as a line of attack was effective with some conservatives until it was debunked.
Did some people change their minds? Of course. I just don’t see evidence it was the wholesale shift posited by the reviewer. I just see lots of situational arguments for or against particular politicians.
As someone who has not read the book, this was such a helpful review for me. I too tend to fall into the same trap Haidt does when he confuses the explanation of why a belief may exist and the actual reality of the belief. Attributing logic when other explanations make more sense moves me further from reality than I want to be, so thanks for challenging that.
I like Haidt a lot now, but he was still very confused when he wrote Righteous Mind and especially when he did the research imo. I think his writing and talks from that time are most useful for seeing someone work through their own political and tribal biases to realize that other people have different values. This experience is what makes Haidt so great today. I first became aware of him when he would annoyingly anti-New Atheist, but he proved himself as someone who wants to know the truth by making very socially difficult updates, and I respect him immensely for how he handled that. I like what he has to say about Durkheim *now* because he’s an expert and he’s able to give the best nuggets that he still believes, but he used to be a total lackey for Durkheim and basically everything he ever said as far as I could tell, including human group selection. I’m curious what he thinks about that now, or if he even thinks he needs to explain why humans form tribes to note that they do…
I read some of Haidt's earlier stuff in philosophy grad school (way back in 2008!), and yeah, the normative/descriptive confusion was just infuriating. I blogged about it at the time, here: https://www.philosophyetc.net/2008/09/psychologists-mangle-philosophy.html
First, I think this is a terrific review. About half of it could be cut--and you can tell where, because the reviewer tells us how excessively he's going on--but I think it's extremely interesting analysis of a very influential book. I'm posting this after just having read the review, and I may post again, because I kept thinking, "I'm into this; I should be taking notes," but I didn't.
I read Haidt's book a few years ago. I thought it was very interesting but over-formulaic (and, like the review, too wordy). But I came to Haidt's book prepared to recognize a basic validity. I had spent a couple of years as a member of a group called "Better Angels" (now "Braver Angels" . . . copyright issues, I think), which uses Haidt's ideas (knowingly, but not explicitly) to "train" liberal and conservative people to talk and listen to one another, and discover ways to communicate by acknowledging basic differences in worldview. That background convinced me to be open to the idea that cognitive and affective styles across political lines were, as Haidt suggests, more "foundational" than political.
For reasons that aren't germane I didn't read Haidt's book till after I withdrew from that cross-polar group, but when I read it I felt it threw light on my experiences there in 2018-19, well after our political situation further deteriorated (as it has been doing most of my life). So although I also found problems in the research and theories, I was more impressed by the way they seemed functionally helpful. But I did conclude that this was more a rough first draft of a model along "foundations" lines. And, after all, I'm not sure you can get much further anchored in survey research. I see this review as bringing me back to these issues by acknowledging just that: it's a fine first shot, but here's a start at how we challenge it and look for Foundations 2.0 (of course, other reviews may have done this too, but I haven't read them). I found plenty of good ideas, wading through the prose.
I also found ways in which I thought some of the reviewers interesting ideas might, in fact, be rather facile. For instance, he notes that progressive discourse frequently seems to reflect a "Sanctity" foundation--the sort of thing that leads Anna Applebaum to refer to the woke as "new Puritans." But I think that's a misunderstanding of Haidt's idea. Haidt's Sanctity, as I recall it, draws heavily on the affect of physical disgust--a repulsion from anything but functional sex and bodily excretions. The ideological puritanism of progressive discourse is industrial grade intolerance, but not based on the same notion of purity that Haidt was using. When it comes to the Trump "pee tape," I don't think liberals were disgusted by the idea at all: they expected conservatives to be. Some may have been, but most simply didn't believe it existed (which looks like a good bet now), so if they were disgusted by the idea, that disgust attached to liberal use of it. Trump, for a large number of them, is the man in the "Apprentice." (In my time with "Better Angels," this was deeply apparent--the "profane" man that liberals could plainly see didn't exist for most of the conservatives, and our rarely expressed disgust was clearly viewed as a product of our liberal political biases. So I'd say that what may present as "sacredness" in the liberal profusion of shibboleths and taboos is in fact something quite different from the foundational category Haidt posited. (I also think it's something Haidt did not deal with in his book.) Sacredness needs to be grounded in, "Eww--gross!" (Of course, that's precisely how I, and I presume most liberals, view Trump . . . If only we could open their eyes! Or noses.)
Liberals, on the other hand, are seen as championing recreational sex without consequences, "deviant" sexual enjoyment of Eww--gross! body parts, underarm hair and God knows what other smelly human practices. The beautifully (?) coiffed Master of the Apprentice (who apparently doesn't share many of these prejudices, but is happy to advertise that he's a germaphobe) physically hugs the American flag (Hillary never went that far, thank goodness--and it would have repelled her base if she had), promises anti-abortion justices (and delivers, as they hope all who are pregnant will). When it comes to the review comments about 2016 and the Loyalty foundation, I think the reviewer has it all wrong: we all knew the flags were there to protect Hillary from attack as a damn Marx-loving socialist-communist--Trump was the one tootling the Wall, military spending, and that more-than-symbolic symbol of American order: guns.
I also think the reviewer stretches the "Authority" category when he claims that progressives exhibit its expression. In the academy, certain left authorities may be revered by liberals, but it's not because of their rank as professors, it's because their writings have been widely accepted on the left--and are almost sure to be rapidly superseded by the next authority, in a way that God's writings have yet to be for religious conservatives. (And professors on the right aren't authorities at all, unless you're in their class and worry about your grade--prudentially motivated conformist behavior crosses Haidt's foundations; it's on a different axis.) The Authority foundation is expressed in readiness to buy into hierarchy as just, especially in institutions framed by Sacredness, such as, traditionally, the military and the church.
Uh oh. I'm running on. And I started by criticizing that in the review. I'll stop with this: I wouldn't be running on if the review hadn't pumped up my enthusiasm. I think it's terrific.
The "laughable graphic that adds nothing": https://64.media.tumblr.com/7aeecf0f285034d81d8d049d2e9d23c5/tumblr_inline_nyly9wAXNd1r2wwh3_400.png
<i>Probably the biggest difference between conservatives and liberals in Haidt’s view is that the former value sanctity, loyalty, and authority, whereas liberals don’t really care about these at all. So, explain Trump, please!. Trump is the embodiment of the profane. He offends basic notions of the sacred, of dignity in political debate and in human conduct in general, and of respect and decorum, at such a rate that the outrage just can’t keep up.</i>
Isn't the obvious explanation simply that people generally care for *specific* holy things, authorities, etc.? Think of St. Boniface cutting down the pagan sacred tree, or a Jacobite joining in the '45. In a sense, they're offending against senses of the sacred (in St. Boniface's case) or of loyalty and authority (in the Jacobite case), but since they don't recognise the tree as actually sacred, or George II's government as a legitimate authority, it would be fallacious to conclude that they don't care for sanctity or authority per se. In the case of Trump, he was (rightly or wrongly) widely perceived as offending against specifically liberal sacred values, so there was no real contradiction for a conservative to support him whilst also supporting the values that conservatives tend to find sacred.
So generally I would agree with the reviewer that I like Haidt, and where he is coming from in this, but didn't really feel he did a good job exploring/justifying the actual choices for his foundations, and didn't really make a good/comprehensible case for them. Even when I first read it I could tell he was really bright, but also seemed myopically off track.
All that said the reviewer seems overly enamored with utilitarianism, and I say that as someone who thinks complex versions of it are often a decent way to make policy.
What Haidt is right about is our moral intuitions, and in some sense much of our very sense of morality, is just a haphazard cobbled together set of psychological kludges, predispositions, maybe social norms from group selection, historical happenstance, game theoretical considerations to social problems, and 15 other things.
Ethics is a heterodox and in no way consistent sets of beliefs/facts (hell many of them aren't even strictly speaking beliefs. And attempts to treat it as such are doomed to failure.
Which is also why utilitarianism as so many in the EA want to practice it doesn't really work. They want to count up hedons (or anti-hedons), and when you point out that isn't what large portions of morality/ethics are about they just want to say "well that is just stupid holdovers from all the above heterodox crud of our individual/psychological/social/historical evolution". Except that is all any of it is, including utilitarianism, and if you are going to throw out the rest of ethics, there is zero reason to keep utilitarianism either.
This is the point I think Haidt was groping towards.
Telling someone it is more ethical for them to give their surplus wages to starving kids in Africa, than their struggling sister/neighbor isn't just unpersuasive, it is also simply wrong about what ethics is fundamentally. And any attempt to "autistically" excise that from individual moral decision making is doomed to failure. That said complex utilitarianism is still a pretty strong lens to evaluate large scale policy decision making that isn't by individuals, though you always need to be mindful of the context/scope.
TLDR -- well, actually, TL, gave up after a while. I have other things to spend my time on. The author needs to learn the virtue of concision. The review reads like he's just thinking out loud at great length.
(This got long, so here's a TLDR: I am (mostly) a conservative religious person of the type OP is talking about. What OP says about us w/r/t Haidt's book, I agree with. But some other stuff he or she says about us seems very inaccurate to me.)
I come from a very similar upbringing to that of the reviewer; the non-denominational Evangelical churches I favor have a lot of proud Southern Baptists and Pentecostals. There are two paragraphs in this piece that seem to be intended to establish the reviewer's religious conservative upbringing credentials, and I want to offer another perspective on a few things in those paragraphs. But first, let me say that when the reviewer actually draws from their experience of religious conservatives, with reference to Haidt's book, I think they're exactly right. For instance:
"People genuinely thought that at a base, normative level, there could be no morality without explicit instruction from God" -- This ignores what we call "common grace", but nonetheless is definitely something a religious conservative would say to Haidt on this subject.
"I’m pretty sure the average religious conservative feels like these two positions are both pretty offensive ways of just not engaging with their actual beliefs but talking around them like they’re non-agents." -- Yes. The reviewer is exactly right about this.
(And, when I read the Aside on Categories and Axes, I felt like the reviewer was my long-lost brother or sister, and I wanted to sit and have a long conversation with this person who sees things so clearly! Bravo, I say.)
But, on the other hand, the two credential-establishing paragraphs make me feel like the reviewer is some kind of spy or infiltrator, who has learned some of our shibboleths, but not all, and filled in the rest with caricatures taken from enemy propaganda.
For instance, "it did seem that you weren’t really meant to actually read the whole Bible yourself" -- This is insane to me. Spending time reading the Bible on my own is one of the things I've been consistently exhorted to do, from Sunday School right on up to the present! Every pastor always says that one of the most important parts of the Christian life is reading the Bible on your own, for yourself. Like, "read the whole Bible in a year" Bibles are super popular! If there's any activity that Fundamentalist Evangelicals could rightly be said to be obsessed with, it's reading the Bible.
Here's another one: "I could rarely get firm answer as to whether it was intrinsically wrong and God was helpfully letting us know this through providing guidance we could absolutely trust, or that God himself made it wrong by decree."
God made the world by speaking it into existence. Therefore, intrinsic qualities exist by God's decree -- so something being "intrinsically wrong" is not very different from being "wrong by decree". Look at Genesis 1, John 1, Proverbs 3, Proverbs 8, Jeremiah 10. God's law/understanding/wisdom are what create the world. If He decrees that something is bad, then it's bad; "It is" and "He decreed it" are the same thing. So, this question that the reviewer was asking doesn't really make sense from a Christian theological standpoint.
But also, every pastor I know would be immensely pleased to discuss that question with the reviewer. It would send a tingle up their spine to get a theological question like that. They'd recommend podcasts, or lend you a book. This sense of Evangelical authorities as anti-thinking-for-yourself or anti-asking-questions is completely foreign to my experience of them.
I guess there are all sorts of churches in the Evangelical movement, and maybe the reviewer really did land in one where people were like this. But it feels to me much more like the reviewer was already liberal, and had been influenced by liberal theology, when he or she spent time with conservative Evangelicals, and because of that, came away with a pretty biased impression. I'm reading between the lines a bit, so I hope that's not unfair.
Either way, now people reading this have one more data point to consider!
I wrote the other review of The Righteous Mind, which *didn't* make it to the final. So if you want to read a review that is objectively worse (but tracks the book more closely and is more positive about what I got from it, which is a lot), you can find it at this link. :)
People are really being harsh to this review. I thought it made many interesting substantive points, the most important of which is that psychological modalities (disgust, sanctity, etc) can be triggered by successful political messaging (so that contemporary liberals are now in the authority/sanctity modality unlike 30 years ago), rather than politics being downstream of eternally existing psychological types.
I didn't care for this one, though it wasn't the "worst" review either; could have been condensed quite a bit without losing much (yes, I did make myself read the whole thing before commenting. A mostly unpleasant and boring experience.) The entire "Aside on Categories and Axes" was deeply confusing and didn't seem load-bearing for the rest of the review at all; it felt like an answer in search of a question, or maybe an anticipation of a criticism that I did not, in fact, have. It also didn't have to be written by this reviewer in particular - as with many other sections, just linking to a thorough explanation of the concept would have sufficed. No need to reinvent the wheel, my dude - focus on reviewing the book, realize gains from trade and specialization of labour!
(As An Aside, instead of "Where are the socialists?", the unanswered question *I* was most left with was "Where are all the links?" There are literally 0 links or footnotes/references in this review, and it adds so much unnecessary cruft. I get the whole stare-out-the-window-thinking-aloud bit, but...I dunno. I'm just a working-class rube, and for a book about mushy moral philosophy and psychology, there sure was a lot of academia technical jargon/high-minded concepts just casually name-dropped throughout. Needless to say, I often couldn't quite follow along, and I feel like the book reviewer isn't the best person for re-explaining these concepts anyway...
...as for socialism being Kind Of A Big Deal now, I'm not sure I'd agree with that assessment? The Democratic party has indeed moved left a lot since 2012, but I see a lot of conflation between "social democracy" and "socialism" going on. Still a fringe ideology with dim electoral hopes at all levels, although it punches above its weight class for sure. People love buying Free Lunches with Someone Else's Money, in theory.)
As to the book itself: sure sounds like a kludge. Why bother reskinning the Big 5 personality factors, which haven't had the same collapse in predictive power (to my knowledge)? The whole exercise comes across as clout-chasing by an academic gunning to stay relevant and lay the groundwork for future remunerations. If it fails to accurately characterize conservatives *and* socialists, cutting off both distributional tails, then I suppose it's only a useful lens for looking at...what, centrist liberals?
The useful trickle-down Haidtisms are duly noted, and I'm glad to know where some of the Big Ideas behind one of my most frequent external links about political culture came from; there's definitely a few diamonds in that rough, and Haidt has some hits to show for his misses. At the same time, I feel like I've gotten way more mileage and future-proof predictive value from one of Haidt's later (and narrower) works, "The Coddling of the American Mind"; in fact I'd gotten the two books confused, and thus was initially very confused by this review. "I don't remember Haidt writing this much Complete Nonsense, what gives?" was the mood. As another commentor noted, he seems to do best on the psychology stuff, and fall down when attempting the politics lane; but even there, he can at least criticize liberals fairly effectively. Sad to see that skill not generalize, those steelmen of conservatism and religion are...just...highschool level.
>Even the demands for justice for oppressed groups have over time taken on less and less of a “reduce material harm” flavour and begun to be expressed more and more in a “give prestige and deference” manner.
>Conservatives luxuriated in violations of the sacred experienced as liberation, like it was a Sex Pistols concert in the 70s.
Not sure I agree with this take. There's certainly been a bit of a motte-and-bailey from the Moral Majority days, but I feel like it's more an appreciation for pugilism and willingness to fight. (Not to be confused with actual results - he *is* a reality-TV showman, after all.) Contrast Trump and Jeb Bush to see the contrast most starkly. I notice that Trump never had to beg his audience to clap bigly. There's a very valid criticism of modern politics as being blithe blandities bantered between biteless barkers while the actual on-the-ground world burns. The left has been kind of slow to catch on (remember when Michelle Obama claimed "when they go low, we go high"? so quaint!), but they've started to adopt similar tactics too.
To conclude, it sure seems like these days, Sacredness and the rest are only instrumental rather than terminal values. Winning is all that matters. If the theory has any weight at all, then I think it follows that it's winners who set the new moral foundations, rather than moral foundations being timeless guardrails that winners must abide by. (I think we agree on this? That at best, moral foundations put the cart in front of the horse. They're derivative, not integral.)
Personally, I found the writing here a bit challenging. There are some extremely dense sentences which also tended to be chock full of terms that I doubt most readers immediately recognize. I get that the author was trying to communicate some complex and nuanced critiques, but if a longtime reader of ACX has to look up multiple terms in one sentence, and do that multiple times, some editing may be in order. Toward the end, the author seemed to find their stride and the writing was actually quite engaging.
“The Righteous Mind” is one of my favorite books, and I’d love to discuss at length why I think its thesis still has merit, but it’s been a while and I should probably reread it first.
Like the reviewer, I really respect what Haidt is trying to do, even though I have some quibbles.
One stubborn issue for me is that political positions are often so contingent. When you look back at past partisan political debates, they can be such a product of their time, weird battles of emphasis, or even reversed later through migrations of groups between parties who form new coalitions. Take any politician and move them 30 years forward or back, they're not going to run the same platform.
So even though some current debates can seem like trench warfare to me, deeply fixed battle lines, when I zoom out, I lose confidence in that. I'm not sure how to know which fronts are stable and which will move radically in the next few years. The reviewer just talked about upheavals and realignments within a decade, for example.
Another issue sneaks up if you keep reading the moral foundations lit. Willer and Feinberg later argue that if you use your opponent's likely priors when advocating object level political positions, it increases persuasiveness (or at least shrinks polling gaps).
Make arguments that build off your audience's priors. That tracks. I'm not sure I needed a study.
But where have we found ourselves now?
If we can reframe political debates along other underlying values, how do foundational values shape our object level views? If values tie to opposite sides in a debate based on whatever framing you happen to bring, how deterministic can foundational values really be?
Ok, maybe we could retreat to foundations-lite: Yes, all political positions can be framed other ways, but one framing is the most natural, so that's the sticky one.
If we make that move though, well, Occam would like a word. Now we need a theory to explain how different framings become dominant to complete the picture.
We're adding a lot of cruft and I worry we've tossed out a lot of predictive power along the way.
What's the naive theory here to fall back on? Just that arguments work some of the time for some people, while most times people just follow tribes? I think something like that should be set as the opportunity cost theory. It's probably horribly deficient, but any new theory needs to get us significantly further than that without too much additional work.
Let’s be real. A modern day socialist in the U.S. is working off on Marx, who was in fact, proposing a history of how the economy had come to be dominated by capital. So the intelligent design analogy holds.
"Equality of opportunity" seems to me to make sense; it's incoherent if you take it to be an attempt to describe a fundamental property of reality, sure — no individual will have exactly the same opportunities as another — but as an attempt to describe a desirable property of a set of rules for a club or government or whatever, it seems clear to me.
I read this review not having heard of Haidt before, and read the comments as well. My dominant response throughout has remained utter astonishment at the attempt to square evolutionary psychology with the idea of people being driven by anything that could be described as "moral foundations" (unless we define these as "five different colors of papering-over the great wormy mass of bias, blindness, motivated ignorance, and root-level unconscious selfishness that drives human behaviors".
For the reviewer, I heartily recommend Hanson & Simler's "Elephant in the Brain" as at least as interesting as you describe Haidt's book, and certainly less wrong.
Does Haidt mention class? After reading Scott's on Class post, it seems a better explaner for modern politics than these foundational concepts
I feel as though there is a big leap between moral intuitionism: "The way most people make most moral decisions most of the time is on instinct" and the claim that the five/six moral foundations are innate and can be explained using evolutionary biology and group selection.
You could instead have some of the moral foundations embedded in the culture, instead of in genetics. How did these appear in the culture? Someone made an argument that convinced a large number of people, who were able to indoctrinate the next generation (maybe with multiple iterations over multiple generations), so it became part of their intuition. It is possible for 'most moral decisions are made by instinct' and 'rational moral arguments are extremely important for morality' to both be true.
I am a physicist. It is always dangerous to use anything quantum as an example unless you really understand it. And Feynman tells us that nobody understands quantum mechanics.
Protons are well behaved particles. They don't decay - and we've checked a lot.  The number operator (which measures how many protons there are) commutes with most of the other things that we care about. So this is a pretty good example of a natural kind.
This is less true for other particles. Lasers have extremely well specified frequencies, but the number of photons they contain is undefined. 
Neutrinos are even worse. There are three "flavors" of neutrinos, corresponding to the three flavors of charged leptons: electron, muon, and tau. For electrons, muons, and taus, each flavor has a definite mass. Their flavor eigenstates and mass eigenstates are the same. For neutrinos, each flavor does does not have a definite mass. Their flavor eigenstates are superpositions of multiple mass eigenstates. When they interact with matter, they have a specific flavor, but when they're not interacting, they oscillate between (superpositions of) flavors.  We first noticed this because a lot of the neutrinos coming to us from the sun were missing - but actually, some of them had turned into muon neutrinos or tau neutrinos. So fundamental particles do not have to fit into nice categories.
 Some Grand Unified Theories predict that protons do decay, so we've been looking for it since the early 1980s. None of the experiments have observed anything. We can say that, if protons do decay, their halflife must be over 10^34 years. The age of the universe is 10^10 years.
 I don't feel like looking this up in a textbook, so here's something to this effect on StackExchange: https://physics.stackexchange.com/questions/572317/is-number-of-photons-undefined-for-a-classical-em-wave
If Haidt is claiming that people derive their moral judgements from intuition rather than logic, then why do his foundations of intuition sound an awful lot like the foundations for those logic? I was expecting the elephant metaphor to be more what the reviewer concludes in the end: we make up justifications in terms of things like fairness and caring after initial judgements that actually arise from much more ignoble motivations like partisanship. Instead, Haidt is claiming that we intuit fairness and then justify it via an argument from fairness? That sounds remarkably just like saying "humans are rational fairness arbitrators" and is basically what we ought to be doing. Should I really care about the difference between "intuits fairness" and "logically derives fairness"? And for authority/sanctity/loyalty, that sounds a lot like liberal strawmanning of conservatives ("oh you don't actually believe that letting homosexual couples marry harms society on net, you're just following your priest's word"). So how is this model supposed to help me (a liberal) empathize with conservatives?
I do feel like his system describes my liberal morals pretty well and the increasing liberal deviation from the fairness/caring justifications that the reviewer describes have unsettled me. I'd much rather we return to those justifications exclusively as they're the ones that resonate with me and just seem objectively stronger. I also think that some of this deviation was an attempt to persuade conservatives on their own terms rather than adopting those arguments genuinely. For example, adopting patriotic cues against Trump was a pretty transparent attempt to try to take perceived anti-Trump sentiment in Republicans and snowball it into a Democratic landslide. Appeals to sanctity against Trump were even more transparently such. Did Democrats read Haidt and then say, "guess we better start signalling the other three foundations as hard as we can?"
I just jotted some notes as I read this long review...
> There’s absolutely no analogy here and no contradiction or hypocrisy in someone favouring natural selection as the correct explanation for the origin of species, but favouring “intelligent design” via a planned economy as the correct prescription for a flourishing economic future.
There is actually. Today's economies are just as complex as biological entities. It's arrogant to think we understand enough to plan how an economy of today should work, let alone the economy of tomorrow. That's the power of adaptation by natural selection: evolution changes course based on environmental shifts, like what people *actually need* now rather than what they needed before, and not what *you* think they need; what some finite set of people think is factual and is necessarily limited, ignorant, and already outdated, and always will be. Central planning simply cannot work.
Which isn't to say that an economy shouldn't be regulated, any adaptive system can generate divergent or otherwise undesirable feedback loops, but that's the only place regulation belongs.
> he absolutely talks as if he believes that these other five moral foundations are normatively important as ends in themselves, not just instrumental heuristics for care.
They are to *some people*. Also, Care is insufficient for all ethics, so something else is definitely needed. But more practically, what are you going to do, force your obsession with only Care down everyone else's throats? Re-education camps maybe? Our best organizing principle so far has been democratic rule, which means if other people care about those other moral foundations, then you had better understand them, and not just as a proxy for Care or you might just be building a strawman of another's argument and poisoning open dialog.
> Homosexuality was wrong; God said so in the Bible; end of discussion. I could rarely get firm answer as to whether it was intrinsically wrong and God was helpfully letting us know this through providing guidance we could absolutely trust, or that God himself made it wrong by decree. I couldn’t actually get people to understand that these were different concepts.
Because they're not different concepts to a religious conservative. To claim, "X is intrinsically wrong" is synonymous with saying that God decreed something to be wrong. This distinction is one that *you* created because you think morality can plausibly be separated from God's decrees, that something can be right or wrong regardless of what God thinks, but that's not how religious conservatives think. You have probably created this distinction because you don't actually believe in a deity, so of course it naturally follows that morality then *must* be a separate question. This deduction simply does not follow for a conservative.
> The difference between them is pretty technical, and crucially Haidt’s position leads just as surely to the possibility of “and therefore we can discard them as they’re no longer adaptive to the current environment” as does that of his New Atheist foils.
No it doesn't, per the point above that we have democratic rule, and if selection has really shaped these people to think in certain conservative ways, then *conservativism isn't going anywhere*, and you'd best understand and deal with it democratically. In particular, it's well known that conservatives have more children than liberals, where the former are above replacement level and the latter often below, so the very notion "and therefore we can discard them" is literally false, because conservative principles *are* adaptive.
> Liberty is the most obvious example of a related problem in that he sometimes talks about how each foundation gets expressed in conservatives vs in liberals in a way that makes it clear they’re very different things – in this case in conservatives as “get off my lawn” and in liberals as “the government must intervene on behalf of oppressed groups”.
This seems like a weird non-sequitur because it doesn't obviously follow that those conclusions are necessarily entailed by different assumptions. I mean, they imply different circumstances and actions for sure, but not necessarily a different underlying principle.
> Where in his six foundations would fit the now very commonly expressed, and historically somewhat influential idea that it’s a good idea for everyone to roughly have the same level of wealth, or income, or welfare, or something, and that therefore it’s probably good for the government to redistribute wealth pretty aggressively along those lines, or stop anyone from getting too rich or powerful?
It seems clear to me that socialists would score highly on Care, Fairness, Authority, and Loyalty, but lower on Liberty, and very low on Sanctity. There would be some variability in Authority for the various socialist strains (Communism likely high, for instance). It seems clear that Hadit's goal was to bridge the divide between the dominant political sides at the time, and socialism was not a side with any degree of power (and still isn't).
> Trump is the embodiment of the profane. He offends basic notions of the sacred, of dignity in political debate and in human conduct in general, and of respect and decorum, at such a rate that the outrage just can’t keep up.
Trump also motivated a lot of voters that weren't active voters, indicating that there is a segment that wasn't represented before. They obviously don't care about sanctity, but that doesn't mean ordinary conservatives don't care about sanctity.
> And as for how liberals treat sacredness now? I don’t need to go on at this point with a bunch of examples of how the exemplar crime in the eyes of the average liberal is now offence against some sacred taboo, like conservatives of the past when someone swore in a sitcom.
But this is always cast in terms of harm, like certain kinds of speech harming oppressed minorities.
> Liberal discourse is saturated with appeals to hierarchy and demands for deference, with detractors urged to stay in their lane, not question the experts, and respect those with the prestige to demand such respect.
Again, always justified by alleged *harm*. In Haidt's moral foundations and for conservatives, respect for authority is a moral good *in and of itself*, not because it served some other moral principle.
> Even the demands for justice for oppressed groups have over time taken on less and less of a “reduce material harm” flavour and begun to be expressed more and more in a “give prestige and deference” manner.
I don't know what this is referring to.
> but certainly the dynamics he describes, where liberals focus almost all their messaging on utilitarian appeals to the greater welfare, while conservatives deal with a more complex and nuanced approach to morality involving respect for authority, a focus on defending the sacred, and loyalty to the nation and flag, are shot to hell by now.
I disagree. The window dressing has changed but I don't see that the fundamental dynamics have changed much. I agree that each side will deploy certain tactics that resemble the moral foundations in order to garner more support from various bases, but that's different than what Haidt is describing, which is how these people think about the issues themselves.
think he could've been more charitable towards the paragraph comparing attitudes towards evolution and smithian spontaneous order
yes, u may believe evolution descriptively but believe in communism normatively
but u should also believe in markets giving rise to huge complexity, descriptively speaking. many fail to appreciate this (while embracing evolution)
(although haidt does do a bait and switch in the last sentence)
Rule Thinkers In, Not Out.
I think while some of the critiques by the reviewer are justified, it's worth focusing on the good, useful stuff in the book, and not let a few asides color your entire judgment of the thesis.
True, Haidt goes off on a tangent about how Bentham and Kant were maybe a bit autistic, and that is not at all a critical part of the argument.
True, Haidt claims activations of the Moral Foundations distinguish between conservatives and liberals, where really a much more intelligent view (which he expresses at times) is that the Foundations exist in all people, and it's just about finding the right triggers (pristine forests, but not churches, could activate Sanctity in liberals; we've all seen loyalty and betrayal - of the movement, not the nation - become a big pillar of cancel culture on the left).
True, Haidt goes to great lengths to say his account of morality is descriptive rather than normative, and then at some point details his favorite morality, which is utilitarian but takes into account people's moral sentiments and the society-binding aspects of morality and religion.
But I would just discard the small errors, which are sometimes tangents or corollaries, which in my view do not discredit the general thesis, which holds on very well in my opinion.
Moral Intuitionism is very true, enlightening, and applies to more than morality (almost any topic people care about). The elephant making decisions and the rider justifying them post-hoc is an extremely powerful explanatory tool in my experience.
Some Moral Foundations which are not only care/harm exist (descriptively), even if they're not exactly the ones on his list, and even if it might have been better to find them with PCA rather than theory-driven. Though I think his list is also pretty good. I think you miss the point by saying Fairness is about punishing free-riders. Fairness is about punishing cheaters who violate the rules, and the reason this Foundation evolved might be to punish free-riders, or benefit society in other ways.
Humans really have various socially advantageous instincts (like punishing cheaters), which seem to be somewhat innate and pretty universal, and I think he makes a very good case that these evolved through group-selection, and a good case for group-selection in general.
Criticising religion and morality on an epistemiological basis ("The Bible's God exist" is false, therefore religion is useless/harmful and we need to get rid of it) misses the true benefit of religion, and thus does not engage with it fully.
I think there's a LOT of very good stuff in the book, which is worth covering in more detail. Sorry for again self-promoting my review. :)
It's true that Socialists were left out of the book. But I don't think it means they're a challenge to the thesis. People could base Socialism on many Moral Foundations and arguments - one could argue the economic efficiency of the central planner (Care/Harm), another could argue that it's fundamentally unjust for one person to receive substantially more because of accident of birth (Fairness), etc.
Thinking about the summary of tribalism-vs-moral-psychology, and I think Haidt's work didn't accurately describe politics when he first wrote it.
To get to this conclusion, I need to remember a few things about the politics of that time. especially environmentalism.
Environmentalism seems to run strongly on three of Haidt's five categories of moral argument. One of those is care/harm, another is authority/subversion, and the third is purity/disgust.
The usual liberal argument in favor of environment-protecting laws would often depend on the authority of scientific consensus. The emotional punch that led people to protest against pollution was the purity of the unspoiled world. The arguments presented would include care for various endangered species.
Typically, the politically-conservative tribe would discount authority, put up a different calculation of care-vs-harm, and pay more attention to human flourishing than to purity of the environment.
Somehow, Haidt's analysis never noticed these factors.
There are probably other criticisms of Haidt's work, rooted in the way in which Haidt tried to evaluate his categories.
The categories appear to be very useful in understanding political opinion. But it is helpful to remember that categories like purity and authority show up in many different ways on the liberal (or progressive) side of politics.
I was a fan of Haidt's book when I first read it, but have not revisited it and do not particularly care to. I think this is because I see Haidt as essentially doing Jugaad ethics (https://www.thetruthcounts.com/blogtraducciones/2018/11/14/jugaad-ethics/) where he is trying to merge post-Rawlsian political/moral reasoning with classical virtue ethics and just coming up with a worse version of virtue ethics. This is because Haidt's moral foundations map somewhat cleanly onto the seven classical virtues, and the places where Haidt's foundations fail to map onto the virtues are pretty much isomorphic to the places where Haidt's foundations are least substantial and most questionable. So as an attempt to provide empirical moral psychological research supporting virtue ethics, I appreciated Haidt's work, but whether by a misguided attempt to be original or just unfamiliarity with the underlying principles of virtue ethics, Haidt's book came out a lot worse than it would have if it had cited a lot more Aristotle and Aquinas (or even just C. S. Lewis).
Of course, if he'd done so, that raises the question of whether Haidt would have produced anything of value at all which couldn't be gotten from reading Aristotle, Aquinas, or Lewis. I don't think he would have actually produced literally nothing of value, but it would have been the academic paper this book really should be, not a book-length treatment of anything.
Doesn't change your overall point, but, in 2D space, you aren't limited to fermions and bosons. You can also have anyons. (and, quasiparticles with anyonic statistics have been observed.)
There's a clear shared moral foundation between socialism and conservative complaints about welfare queens. In traditional socialist ideology, capitalists are basically parasites: they use their position to capture surpluses created by workers. Thus they're free riders on the system in exactly the same way that welfare abusers are, with the added insult that they live much better than everyone else. I'm surprised that the author didn't see this connection.
Of course, you can also get to socialism purely through a harm framework by arguing that a socialist system would do a better job of maximizing social welfare than a capitalist system, which would make socialism just another type of liberal/leftist moral framework. This also seems to fit well.
I think Haidt actually describes libertarians fairly well. Not in the book (where he, as most people do, ignores libertarians entirely), but in his further research.
I discussed this with him over the interwebs (Haidt responds to e-mails quite reliably by the way) and pointed out that what the people they call liberals in the US also care a lot about sanctity (even prior to social justice and identity politics, e.g. with the way they usually talk about nature and global warming - a lot of almost religious overtones). He admitted that this was the case and that he was looking a bit more into it (this was several years back).
I also mentioned that I believe there is a foundational discinction between different "types" of libertarians. Deontologists of the Austrian school definitely seem to reach the libertarian position from a very different starting point than the more utilitarian-ish libertarians like David Friedman. Haidt found that interesting but I don't think he explored that much further though.
Still, his personality traits correlated with libertarianism seemed quite on point to me. And I don't think much has changed since then. Libertarianism seems remarkably stable compared to the US mainstream. So does socialism. I guess it might be that "conservative" and "liberal" are just labels which are too broad to keep stable and in reality cover a bunch of separate groups...they shift, expand and shrink in several dimensions over time to be able to capture hopefully just above 50 percent of the (voting) population and the only constraint is that the groups that form each of these large coalitions can't hate each other enough to join the other coalition and they need to hate the other coalition enough not to stop voting altogether.
So maybe the 2010 typical liberals are still the 2010 typical liberals and so are the past conservatives but there are other groups which were not captured well by either the US democrats or the US republican sback then but have since raised to prominence. The populist Trumpists on one hand and the identity-politics Jacobins on the other. Perhaps in 2010 both of these groups existed but neither coalition courted them enough to make them a major aspect of their political party. Or in other words, perhaps in 2010 both major US parties depended mostly on the centrists with the extremes mostly disenfranchised whereas nowadays it's the centrists are the (almost) disenfranchised ones.
By the way, the review feels like reading Nassim Taleb (in how it is self-centred) but sadly without his ability to write.
One issue with the author's complaints about the model breaking after 10 years is that American political parties are going through a realignment so one might expect the arguments/policies of each party to swap (but there is a lag due to politicians being slower to change parties). I think both the author and Haidt assume that the parties are more homogeneous as opposed to be coalitional.
"their movement somehow ended up headed by a brash, shock-and-disgust-to-dominate real estate brawler with a disreputable sex life"
Trump enabled conservatives to politically cross-dress, to challenge the liberals (your choice of term, which I use here with that qualification) using their own tools.
"liberals . . . never got the police" Not so fast. If one includes certain district attorneys, who have the power to decline to charge certain individuals or offenses, and the 'mostly peaceful' riots of 2020, one can find that the police have been taken over by the liberal (again, your term) constellation of priorities.
I too was irritated by Haidt's use of scholarship back then, thinking that the categorizations along those axes were suspect, before the replication crisis was reported (acknowledged?).
"Outrage against Trump was often outrage against the violation of the sacred."
The liberal (again, your term) visualizes the sacred, respects authority, and demands loyalty, and always did. Liberals merely locate them elsewhere from where conservatives put them.
I have been a fan of Haidt's from the start, but I also had some criticisms in his perception of the liberal and conservative groups. I had treated them as things he had overlooked but could eventually incorporate into his foundations theory. This review captures what is wrong better than my original thinking. In my meager defense I will note that much of what has happened since had, er, not yet happened to illustrate the points.
Even in 2012 liberals were deeply concerned with purity and authority, and somewhat with loyalty. Those just didn't show up in Haidt's original data because his questionnaire suffered from bias. "Would you use an American flag to clean the toilet if it is all you had?" is designed to measure conservative purity more than liberal. Yet a parallel question of "Would you use a newspaper with a photo of MLK, Obama, or Gandhi as toilet paper if it were all you had?" does the same thing in a liberal direction. Much of environmentalism (and vegetariansim, organic farming) is about purity, even aesthetics rather than measurable harm, in "protecting wilderness" (for what?) or regarding it as sacred. NG liked to use the word cathedral a lot. It has not only been around covid that liberals have appealed to authority, it was quite apparent to me a decade ago and more that university professors were regarded as knowing more about many subjects and got to define such things as whether race was a real category, even when they were nonsensical, and executives overruling legislatures and both overruled by courts was considered the natural order of things.
That was a very informative and enjoyable read. 2 misgivings: a sentence to make the elephant and rider model explicit would be useful, and looking up Dan Ariely's crimes did bring up issues, but not nearly enough to justify making him the exemplar of all that should be dismissed
I think the basic reviewer claim, that tribalism determines morality rather than vice versa, is essentially correct (though god knows we didn't need all that verbiage to get there)!
And the moralism of a particular tribal is historical and contingent; attempts to derive it from some more fundamental bedrock are in the same class as trying to derive the radius of planet orbits from nested platonic solids and similar enterprises.
Nietzsche's master/slave morality inversion is one example of this historical contingency, but it's far from the only one; much more recently, "western" morality was basically reset with WW2, which established a whole set of things that society is and is not allowed to do, no questions asked. We can see how historically contingent this is as soon as we try to justify on any sort of logical or philosophical grounds the details of the new morality.
A particularly useful example is abortion. if you'd asked people in the US in the 1930s, a lot more would have told you that abortion was bad ("killing an innocent life") than forced sterilization ("well, it's not ideal, but as they say, three generations of imbeciles are enough; and it's just preventing a future outcome, it's not killing anyone"). But of course now that polarity has absolutely flipped, and the only reason I see for this is that the Nazis supported one and not the other, so we should do the opposite.
My point is not which of abortion or sterilization are bad (though I fully expect a stream of furious excuses/justifications/reasons why I understand nothing, which I will absolutely ignore); my point is that this is how contingency works: events happen, people are raised in the shadow of those events told to be like X and not like Y, and that determines the shibboleths of their tribe.
You can try to go beyond that to argue that certain behaviors (tolerance) will result in less violence, which almost everyone wants; or that certain types of government will do a better job of aggregating diffuse information and finding talent; or that certain economic structures will generate innovation and wealth faster. But none of these justify particular moral stances ("abortion is wrong", "sterilization is right") and honestly I think attempts to do so are as pointless and no different from proofs for the existence of god -- apparently irrefutable to those who already believe, and just so much nonsense to thsoe who don't.
I'm not even convinced there are especially strong clusters of moral stances going together; I suspect that one mostly sees that when examining a very narrow slice of history (Europe/US since about 1800) and as soon as you go beyond that the cluster fall apart (as they fall apart, even with Europe/US when you start looking at particular items). It's all just historical contigency -> tribal identity!
Thank you very much for the "Aside on Categories and Axes" section. This puts into words a failure mode I feel I see a lot in social science and the humanities, but which I've been largely unsuccessful at communicating to people who don't already have some experience with healthier fields of scholarship and instinctively know that forming useful terminology and categories doesn't work like that.
R.E: The fermion boson distinction, you can have a quantum field configuration in a superposition of being a fermion and being a boson, and that will make some difference to how the field behaves when you measure it, so long as what you're measuring isn't its spin. As you say, that kind of measurement just kicks you into one of two Everett branches with either a fermion or a boson.
As an analogy, think of the Heisenberg uncertainty relation.A particle with a wave function spread out over an area always seems to have one definite position when you measure its position, because you're entangling yourself with the position basis. But when you measure momentum instead, a spread out wave function will have a different average momentum than one peaked at a particular point.
In the same way, there is a difference in behaviour between a field that's in a superposition of having one fermion and one boson, and a field that's either a fermion or a boson, but you're not sure which. You don't see that difference when you're measuring spin or things related to spin, but you do see it in other measurements.
So I'd say conceiving of fermion vs boson as a perfectly pure distinction makes sense in some contexts, but not all.
This is my second- or third-favorite review so far and a dark horse to get my vote in the end. In part I like it because it checks the boxes for what I find interesting: relevant and important topic, stays broadly on the subject of the book but injects its own interpretation and critique. But I especially like how it achieves those goals without resorting to brilliance. Scott and many of the finalists write and reason in ways that make it clear they're super-sharp. This review consciously doesn't, but still manages to make the same kind of approach to the material work. It's the rare "rationalist" analysis that succeeds on the strength of rationalism as a mindset, rather than relying on the unusual levels of talent that rationalist blogging tends to select for.
I don't mean that as a dig at the reviewer, who's clearly capable and intelligent. The review works well and shows a lot of care. It's not perfect; much of the analysis is over-explained or rambling, and the political observations often miss the mark. But these are small quibbles compared to the value of setting up, presenting, and defending a critical position. As always, many thanks for contributing!
This strand of conservative intellectualism ("these are useful things for society to believe and people should just sort of get on as if they’re true and not question them too much lest our shared reality collapse and our social norms with it", and "the intellectual conservative tradition of “what is good for the masses to believe is not identical to what’s fundamentally true, please consult my 60,000 word essay on decision theory, game theory, computational load, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire for details, therefore Catholicism”) sounds really interesting, and I'm not sure I've encountered it before.
To either the original writer or anyone informed in the area: could someone point me towards any articles or books or videos that talk about this? I'd like to understand how relevant it is to the politicised side of American conservatism. Would something like this position be in the backs of the minds of most of the political conservative intellectuals?
Theoretical physicist here: your description of quantum mechanics was brief but fine :)
I liked this review a lot, and I think the criticisms it contains are justified and helpful in thinking through the issues surrounding Moral Foundations. But there are a few places on which I think the author misses the point, or at least I think about things differently:
1. I think critiques of the form "these aren't the right categories" or "these categories are a bit ad-hoc" that think they are takedowns of Haidt's program are missing the central message. Haidt repeatedly (at least in public talks, don't remember about the book) states that he does not put a lot of stock in the specific foundations he outlines, and is very open to new foundations / splitting up existing ones (a la Fairness / Liberty). iirc he explicitly calls for criticisms of this kind in order to strengthen MF, and better identify foundations he missed.
In my reading, his main point is not "these 5 (6) foundations are fundamental; stuff everything into these boxes" but rather "moral intuitions are like tastebuds, things aren't all classified along one axis, and here are some possible (though incomplete) axes on which we tend to have intuitions about things."
Also I was surprised that, in the thousands of words about distributions and categories, the author did mention "factor analysis", which is how most (good) psychometric categories are derived, including (probably) Haidt's (again, I don't remember if it's mentioned in the book but he talks about it in lectures).
Finally on this, I heard Tyler Cowen mention that in his view, social science (including economics) is, at best, descriptive but not predictive. I think about this a lot, because as a natural scientist myself, I tend to think of science as being predictive if it is to be science at all. But maybe a better reading of Haidt, which he may or may not agree with himself, is that the MFs he identifies describe politics / the culture war as of 2010ish, but using it to predict some future political battle is a bridge too far because that's not what social science is for. I don't know, maybe.