The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt was a book I wanted to read for a while and I’m glad I did, despite what looks like a low rating from me. I think the book covers some pretty interesting ideas and concepts and I liked reading them. I was less happy to read how he, as a social psychologist, was so biased. I was surprised (a bit) to read that teachers at American universities are making fun of right-wing politicians in their classes. It’s not a surprise that in a few decades the society turned out to be so divided.

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

One of the concepts he talks in the book is the care/fairness aspect of morality. He says that the left cares more about care while the right cares more about fairness. This is the framework they work with and these are the questions they ask in their interviews and research. That is not a good way to do research. We all have own biases and, when we do our research, we should keep an open mind and question even the questions we ask.

Most of the book is focused on US politics and views. Saying that right-wing voters do not care because they don’t want to give support to unemployed is too narrow. Will all (most) democrats (from the party) believe that is caring to give welfare to an unemployed mother of two? Will they still agree with welfare even if 5 years have passed and she is still not trying to find a job? Will they still agree even if her welfare is paid, in part, with the taxes paid by a cleaner with two jobs and children of her own? Morality is complex and dividing it by care/fairness is a bit too narrow. Those were my examples by the way.

Also, I was less impressed with the religious views. As an atheist, he tried not to be too dismissive of religion and didn’t go far enough into analysing why some things happen. For example he said that religious people give more money to charity than non-religious do, also they donate to religious organisations primarily. Good, that’s a fantastic starting point. Why does this happen? Is it because religious people congregate at church where they find out about people in need and donate because they care or because it is a sort of peer pressure? What is done with their donations? Are those charities buying medicine or bibles? There are charities that do not help women to get access to contraception, so hardly can be considered care. He is not touching on these aspects which is a missed opportunity, especially as he made quite a long insight into evolution, which could have been missed completely in my view.

Overall it is a good book and I recommend it. I was bothered by these two things because I think they were the main focus on the argument and they were not presented good enough. I might be to harsh and too demanding of the book. You can read and make your own assessment, if you fancy that.

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

Details about the picture: –
My rating: 3.5/5 Stars
Would I recommend it: yes
Published by: Penguin Books
Year it was published: 2013 (first published in 2012)
Format: Paperback
Genre(s): Psychology
Pages: 500

About the author: Jonathan Haidt is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He is the author of The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion and The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. He lives in New York City.
Website & Social Media Links: –

2 thoughts on “The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt”

  • I don’t think I would like this book. It sounds like there is too much bias on the author’s part. I think in this country (and maybe in others) there is too much assumption and lumping together of groups. Not all religious people (Christian or otherwise) have the same beliefs. I would say the same for liberals and conservatives, as well. As far at that goes, the specifics of morality can vary by culture. Of course that’s just my opinion. 😉
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    • Lumping together is common everywhere, which is something that a psychologist should be aware of and fight against, same as his bias.
      He looked at religion in general, comparing them with non-religious people. For me he missed the opportunity of investigating why people donate, for example. He could have looked at volunteering too, what drives people to do that. I wrote some questions on donations and even more could have been asked and researched. His book is called why people are divided by religion, so it should have been more about that instead of a vanilla: some people blow themselves up and that’s bad, but religious people donate 3-4 times more than non-religious.

      He talks a lot about culture though and how morality differs. He went to India and that part is good. Also how morality is understood was interesting, he writes that there are 5 foundations to morality:

      Despite my criticism, the book has a lot of interesting things and it’s a good read, I’m glad I read it.

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