Saturday, March 24, 2012

Why don't they listen to reason?

... Haidt argues that people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational. If you want to persuade others, you have to appeal to their sentiments. But Haidt is looking for more than victory. He’s looking for wisdom. That’s what makes “The Righteous Mind” well worth reading. Politics isn’t just about manipulating people who disagree with you. It’s about learning from them. 
Haidt seems to delight in mischief. Drawing on ethnography, evolutionary theory and experimental psychology, he sets out to trash the modern faith in reason. In Haidt’s retelling, all the fools, foils and villains of intellectual history are recast as heroes. David Hume, the Scottish philosopher who notoriously said reason was fit only to be “the slave of the passions,” was largely correct.
This is my favorite intersection: science, politics, philosophy, and theism. That said, reading this review I didn't encounter anything like a fresh take or new insight. Anyone who's spun around the TED videos on YouTube, I'm sure, has heard all this before.

I'm partial to Hume, even when I disagree, so I bristled a little at Saletan's implication that Hume is one of the "fools, foils and villains" of intellectual history.

3 comments:

  1. Jonathan Haidt's new book is so broad in its scope that I can only comment on one aspect: the relationship between conscience and morality. He says that political (secular) and religious views of morality frequently divide people. Many of us may have both. In my free ebook on comparative mysticism, "the greatest achievement in life," is a chapter called "Duel of the dual." Here are four paragraphs from it:

    The Penguin Dictionary of Psychology defines conscience as “a reasonably coherent set of internalized moral principals that provides evaluations of right and wrong with regard to acts either performed or contemplated. Historically, theistic views aligned conscience with the voice of God and hence regarded it as innate. The contemporary view is that the prohibitions and obligations of conscience are learned."

    The Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion lists some interesting historical observations on the word. Socrates said that conscience was the inner warning voice of God. Among Stoics it was a divine spark in man. Throughout the Middle Ages, conscience, synderesis in Greek, was universally binding rules of conduct. Religious interpretations later changed in psychiatry.

    Sigmund Freud had coined a new term for conscience; he called it “superego.” This was self-imposed standards of behavior we learned from parents and our community, rather than from a divine source. People who transgressed those rules felt guilt. Carl Jung, Freud’s famous contemporary, said that conscience was an archetype of a “collective unconscious”; content from society is learned later. Most religions still view conscience as the foundation of morality.

    Perhaps conscience can be viewed as a double-pane window, with the self in between. On one side, it looks toward ego and free will to obey community’s laws. On the other side, it is toward the soul and divine will to follow universal law. They often converge to dictate the same, or a similar, course of conduct…and sometimes not. The moral dilemma is when these two views conflict.

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  2. Ron, thanks so much for commenting, I'm sorry I somehow missed this until now. I appreciate you taking the time leave your thoughts and I have a few questions, but I think the chief one is: on what do you base your conclusion that we have something like soul or that there is divine will?

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  3. Cdog, sorry I just noticed your reply and questions. The words "soul" and "divine will" are just words which are familiar to many people. Ego and individuality, willpower and intention mark us as separate from the rest of existence. No person, no being exists separately except in their own mind. It is not "my soul," but the divine within me (and you). In my ebook, "divine" is not God (or Allah, Brahman, YHVH, et al). Rather it is meant as a superlative adjective for that which cannot be defined or described.

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