Book Review

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt [REVIEW]


If this book did one thing it made me not look down on psychology as much as I had before. Haidt presents morality in a way the kept my eyes on the page and although like most social scientists he goes crazy with naming things, the ideas embedded in the book keep you interested. I decided to read this book after reading an article in Reason magazine, I’m happy to say that that article was not a microcosm of the whole book but only of his moral foundations theory. The rest of the book covered a whole array of areas: group evolution, politics, religion and some of his own personal story.

With the book jumping around relating moral theory to so many other areas of science and society it kept the book fresh but also made me feel very differently about different sections. The silliness with which he goes at New Atheists is one area that I’ve grown tired of intellectuals attacking. I’ll write more about that some other time but I am bored of atheist writers and professors claiming to be atheist but then going on about how wonderful or necessary religion is. If that were the case then these accommodationist writers are themselves less evolved for claiming to be atheists. It’s either true or it isn’t, that’s the argument.

The only other problem I had was that Haidt was clearly a liberal writer trying to be a bridge builder between the left and the right. A lot of his leftiness shined through in the last chapter of the book when he was trying to argue where the left was correct where the social conservatives were correct and where libertarians were correct. The writing on the areas where he believed social conservatives and libertarians were correct read like something copied and pasted from a blog on the internet.

The book is worth reading, like anything by a psychologist you learn a lot about yourself and there are chapters that I wish I could make required reading for those that want to talk politics over beer. I’ve been headed towards a post-partisan viewpoint for a long time; I didn’t always have the words or the time to develop the thought behind it and now that I’ve discovered Jonathan Haidt I can fill in some of those blanks and use his work to color my own ideas in the future. It was a very fulfilling read and even more refreshing was that I didn’t have to agree with everything he wrote.