The Evolution of Morality - Jonathan Haidt

by cofty 19 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • cofty
    cofty

    The question of how humans came to have a moral sense is one of the more interesting challenges offered by believers against unguided evolution. Even informed christians who accept the reality of evolution feel a need to add an additional step where god imbued man with a conscience.

    Non-supernatural explanations of the origin of morality usually focus on simple examples of reciprocal altruism and the ability to empathise with fellow creatures. Secular moral systems most often rest on the single foundation of the effects actions have on the well-being of conscious creatures. Sam Harris made an excellent case for this position in his book "The Moral Landscape".

    In his book "The Righteous Mind - Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion" Jonathan Haidt objects that Harris is too narrow in treatment of human morality. Haidt lays out six moral intuitions, each of which conferred a significant advantage on our ancestors. These can be illustrated as being like our taste buds. There are a huge range of cuisines around the globe but each of them appeal to the same universal sense of taste. Similarly our various moral codes are built on combinations of the same moral instincts. Further it is Haidt's contention that our culture suffers from a neglect of some of those intuitions.

    In advance I would like to strongly recommend both Harris' and Haidt's books for a very thought provoking treatment of this topic. If you can also find time to add Steven Pinker's recent book "The Blank Slate - The Modern Denial of Human Nature" you not regret the effort.

    I will add more detail later but here is a very brief synopsis of Haidt's six moral intuitions.

    1 - Care/Harm
    Adaptive Challenge - Protect and care for children

    2 - Fairness/Cheating
    Adaptive Challenge - How to benefit from two-way relationships

    3 - Loyalty/Betrayal
    Adaptive Challenge - How to form cohesive coalitions

    4 - Authority/Subversion
    Adaptive Challenge - Forge beneficial relationships within hierarchies

    5 - Sanctity/Degradation
    Adaptive Challenge - Avoid contaminants

    6 - Liberty/Oppression
    Adaptive Challenge - The need to limit the abuse of power in hierarchical societies.

    I will describe some of these in more detail later. I wonder if we have missed a step. I wonder if anybody is doubting whether caring, kindness, loyalty, guilt, fairness, deference and a desire for cleanness really reside in the brain.

    Perhaps that should be the next topic. The experimental evidence is HUGE!


  • sparrowdown
    sparrowdown

    Which begs the question will we ever evolve past it or is "religion" in some form or other here to stay?

    It 's not necessarily the traits themselves but the exploitation of them that bothers me. The only way for humans to not get exploited by other humans is to "know thyself" IOW if we become aware of the way our brain/minds work we are less likely to be victim to the exploits of the humans in religious/political/economic power that do know how the human brain/mind works - if that makes sense.

    Hmmm definitely food for thought.

  • azor
    azor

    Cofty all excellent books for a more coherent understanding of our nature. I know they have all helped me to be less bitter by understanding thyself and others better. Now if I could only get over my baser instincts more often. I know my blood pressure and heart would thank me.

  • azor
    azor

    Sparrow it's interesting how a philosopher from the 19th century nailed it. "Criticism has plucked the imaginary flowers on the chain not in order that man shall continue to bear that chain without fantasy or consolation but so that he shall throw of the chain and pluck the living flower." I never heard this entire quote until I heard Hitchens recite it.

    It appears that the work of our modern scientists are accomplishing this.

  • John_Mann
    John_Mann
    The question of how humans came to have a moral sense is one of the more interesting challenges offered by believers against unguided evolution.

    I keep an open mind about this but I think evolution is unguided.

  • cofty
    cofty

    Slightly off-topic but Haidt's research shows that the liberal left are losing ground because they appeal mostly to the first of those moral intuitions, the concern about care/harm.

    The right appeals to all six moral "taste buds", some of which the left don't even view as virtues.

  • John_Mann
    John_Mann
    Slightly off-topic but Haidt's research shows that the liberal left are losing ground because they appeal mostly to the first of those moral intuitions, the concern about care/harm.
    The right appeals to all six moral "taste buds", some of which the left don't even view as virtues.

    Interesting.

    I think the political left is very crazy.

  • cofty
    cofty
    I think the political left is very crazy

    I can only agree but Haidt's main point is that once we grasp the foundations of morality we can better understand those who see the world very differently.

    The left often refer to the right as if they were moral monsters who lack compassion. The reality is that they too want a just and fair world but they also include other considerations in that moral matrix which the left ignore.

    Our moral intuitions have been shaped by hundreds of thousands of years of evolution. We deny our human nature at out peril. Humans are not blank slates.

    Interestingly experiments suggest that those on the right are far better at accurately understanding the perspective of those on the left than vice-versa.

  • GrreatTeacher
    GrreatTeacher

    Hmm. Interesting. I find the right confusing on the two moral intuitions involving hierarchy: 4)Authority/Subversion and 6)Liberty/Oppression.

    In the case of the first, they seem to find Authority an important value, which seems pro-hierarchy to me.

    In the case of the latter, they seem to find Liberty an important value, which seems anti-hierarchy to me.

    This seems very confusing and hypocritical to me, a liberal, who thinks that the problem is hierarchy itself, and who values a more level, equal/democratic way or organizing society.

    So, yeah, Haidt sounds very prescient and might deserve an order on Amazon from me.

  • GrreatTeacher
    GrreatTeacher

    Cofty- "experiments suggest that those on the right are far better at accurately understanding the perspective of those on the left than vice-versa."

    Links?

    I find this subject exceedingly interesting. Having a scientific explanation in terms of adaptive responses to selective pressures in the arena of morality might be a big help in understanding the political stand-off that the US faces right now.

    I find US politics very distressing. The last 10 years has been absolutely ugly, it's only escalated, and there seems to be no resolution in sight.

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