cover image The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided By Politics and Religion

Jonathan Haidt. Pantheon, $28.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-307-37790-6

Amid America's tense culture wars, Haidt (The Happiness Hypothesis), a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, has produced this thought-provoking investigation into the innate morality of the human mind. Dismissing the notion that the human mind is fundamentally rational, Haidt briskly guides the reader through decades of psychology research in order to demonstrate that emotion and intuition determine our judgments, while reasoning is created only later to justify these judgments (%C3%A0 la Hume). From there, Haidt dispels the classic notion that morality is based upon concepts of harm or fairness and outlines the variety of moral categories before entering a discussion of how our "righteous minds" "Bind and Blind" us in politics, religion, and nationalism. But Haidt is at his best when using his comprehensive knowledge of moral psychology to explain both sides of American politics with an admirable evenhandedness and sympathy. In his two most insightful chapters, Haidt explains why conservatives have a wider moral foundation and thus, an inherent advantage in politics, and later outlines the necessities of both liberal and conservative moral systems, arguing that the two provide necessary counterbalances to one another. Blending lucid explanations of landmark studies in psychology and sociology with light personal anecdotes, Haidt has produced an eminently readable book about the complexities of moral psychology and the human fixation with righteousness. Illus. (Mar.)