Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Interesting essay on morality and religion

with 2 comments

The essay is linked in this post:

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has written a thought-provoking essay for Edge which charts the recent revolution in the psychology and neuroscience of moral reasoning and suggests that the current critiques of religion have mischaracterised its true nature, based on these new findings.

Haidt summarises the main tenants of the new science of morality as four main principles:

1) Intuitive primacy but not dictatorship. This is the idea, going back to Wilhelm Wundt and channeled through Robert Zajonc and John Bargh, that the mind is driven by constant flashes of affect in response to everything we see and hear.

2) Moral thinking is for social doing. This is a play on William James‘ pragmatist dictum that thinking is for doing, updated by newer work on Machiavellian intelligence. The basic idea is that we did not evolve language and reasoning because they helped us to find truth; we evolved these skills because they were useful to their bearers, and among their greatest benefits were reputation management and manipulation.

3) Morality binds and builds. This is the idea stated most forcefully by Emile Durkheim that morality is a set of constraints that binds people together into an emergent collective entity.

4) Morality is about more than harm and fairness. In moral psychology and moral philosophy, morality is almost always about how people treat each other. Here’s an influential definition from the Berkeley psychologist Elliot Turiel: morality refers to “prescriptive judgments of justice, rights, and welfare pertaining to how people ought to relate to each other.”

The essay then goes on to discuss how the recent findings in then area apply to the ongoing debate between the ‘new atheists‘ (Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and the like) and religion.

In particular, Haidt suggests that the recent criticisms of religion don’t always reflect the best psychological understanding of what are primarily social, rather than ideological, institutions, and notes research findings showing that religious people tend to be happier and more altruistic than others.

As a self-professed non-believer and high-profile social psychologist, Haidt makes some interesting points that are bound to cause controversy.

Written by Leisureguy

13 September 2007 at 2:55 pm

2 Responses

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  1. God will crush an Atheist with his law/morality.

    Do you like liars, murderers, adulterers and thieves?

    Of course not. Who does?

    Then by their own mouth they would agree that God’s law – The Ten Commandments are good and just. If there is no law then there is no punishment for law breakers. The law is what convicts.

    So how is it that you break man’s laws and you are punished yet you break God’s laws everyday and think he will not punish you at death?

    “God is a righteous judge” – 2 Tim 4:8

    A righteous judge enforces punishment on law breakers without thee attorney. Saying I am sorry doesn’t do any good in a court of law.

    Romans 3:19 Now we know that what things soever the law says, it says to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.



    13 September 2007 at 11:36 pm

  2. “…primarily social, rather than ideological, institutions, and notes research findings showing that religious people tend to be happier and more altruistic than others.”

    This was interesting to me. My family is Catholic; I’m an atheist. When it came out, it was a rather unpleasant day (coming out for a homosexual would be a good parallel). I remember one thing my dad said as we were winding down, “I’m just sad that you’re going to miss out on the church. It’s a big part of our lives—the friends we’ve made and…well, I’m just sad that you aren’t going to have that.” It seems to support the above quite well.


    * and if you are wondering, my parents and I get along really well now.



    14 September 2007 at 7:28 am

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