Conflicting Moralities

The Wall Street Journal:

The work of Jonathan Haidt often infuriates his fellow liberals. A professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, he has focused in recent years on trying to understand the range and variety of our moral intuitions, especially as they relate to the most polarizing issues of the day. What he sees across the dividing line of American politics is a battle of unequals: Republicans who “understand moral psychology” arrayed against Democrats who “don’t.”

Mr. Haidt is not simply parroting the familiar charge that the party of Lee Atwater and Karl Rove is more adept at the dark arts of political manipulation. He means something far more shocking to liberal sensibilities: that conservatives possess “a broader set of moral tastes” and are able, in appealing to the public, to tap a richer moral lexicon.

But don’t mistake “The Righteous Mind” for yet another guide to how liberals can revive their rhetoric and electoral appeal. Mr. Haidt is not a partisan with an agenda. He is a social scientist who appreciates America’s tribalism, our “groupishness.” He worries, though, that our divisions are hardening into mutual incomprehension and dysfunction. His practical aim is modest: not to bridge the divide between left and right, atheist and believer, cosmopolite and patriot, but to make Americans, in all their diversity, more intelligible to one another.

Read the whole story: The Wall Street Journal

See Jonathan Haidt at the 24th APS Annual Convention

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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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