Tuesday, October 7, 2008


What’s wrong with a brother a sister having protected sex if no-one ever finds out? What about cooking and eating roadkill? How about drinking apple juice that’s had a sterilized cockroach dipped in it?

These are the issues of moral dumbfounding - when people feel strongly that something is wrong but cannot explain why.

Jonathan Haidt’s work describes how emotional responses occur instantaneously — we have primitive gut reactions that evolved to generate split-second decisions and enhance survival in a dangerous world. Moral judgment, on the other hand, comes later, as our conscious mind develops a plausible rationalization for the decision already arrived at through moral intuition.

Haidt uses his theory of morality to explain why Liberals and Conservatives disagree on so much and why they cannot even see how others could view a moral issue differently. He explains how Liberals use two strong moral foundations. They value the individual and fairness (or reciprocity). You are free to exercise your free-will just don’t harm anyone and don’t cheat on anyone. On the other hand while Conservatives do value these two foundations they also place value on three others: In-group loyalty, Authority and Purity. For most people in the world the unit of society is not the individual but the family or broader community.

If you want to know where you stand go on the political spectrum to
http://www.yourmorals.org/ There’s an article describing it from the NY Times but better is a 5mins a video from the New Yorker conference 2007. Not great production quality but good enough http://www.newyorker.com/online/video/conference/2007/haidt

By the way his book, The Happiness Hypothesis is one of the best written accounts on what really makes people happy today. An accessible and fascinating read (but not self-help).

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