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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt is about moral philosophy, and after considerable background discussion the morality, and its modern scientific underpinnings, of this book comes down in favor of Plato’s brother Glaucon in their conversations with Socrates. Plato and Socrates argue that a just society and the one that is the happiest is the one populated with honest people doing their jobs. Glaucon argued that a society functions best when its people are supremely concerned with their reputations. He is for designing an ethical society in which you make sure that everyone’s reputation is on the line all the time, so that bad behavior will always bring bad consequences. If people will be forced to explain and defend their actions they will behave more carefully making sure that their acts can be persuasively justified or excused by others. This book defends, “Our moral thinking is much more like a politician searching for votes than a scientist searching for truth.” p. 76. The book seems to follow its own rule – To make up your mind and then find ways to defend your position, and in our world that means scientific studies to prove your point of view.

Haidt defines six qualities of the moral matrix which can be scaled – Care/harm, Liberty/oppression, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation. American liberals were strong on the first three and weak on the last three. Libertarians’ whole interest was in the Liberty/oppression dimension with a nod to Fairness/cheating but they had little interest in the other qualities. He claims Social Conservatives had the most interest in all of the qualities being in balance. For more on these comparisons go to: yourmorals.org

This book is worth a critical reading and everyone will be broadened by it. I like to come away from a book, or any encounter for that matter, with a specific change of behavior I can practice. The advice coming out of this book would be to avoid contentious subjects of conversation until you have established several points of agreement and trust.

“Be nice to people, pay attention to what they say, see several of their points of view before approaching difficult subjects.”