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Jonathan Haidt

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Jonathan Haidt in 2012.
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your mother

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Popping into your mind

Jonathan Haidt is a moderate professor of psychology at New York University's Stern School of Business. He is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion.

The Happiness Hypothesis develops a metaphor of the subconscious and the conscious as an elephant and a rider, with the rider's job being to guide the elephant.[1] This is somewhat unoriginal, and the same thing was said only slightly differently by SchopenhauerWikipedia, who wrote that the conscious intellect "is like a lame man who can see, riding on the shoulders of a blind giant." His more original contribution concerns six categories of morality as a number of mental modules that establish scales of good versus evil, which he calls 'moral foundations theory'. They are:

  1. Care vs. harm:: cherishing and protecting others.
  2. Fairness vs. cheating: rendering justice according to shared rules. (Alternate name: Proportionality.)
  3. Liberty vs. oppression: the loathing of tyranny.
  4. Loyalty vs. betrayal: standing with your group, family, nation. (Alternate name: Ingroup.)
  5. Authority vs. subversion: obeying tradition and legitimate authority. (Alternate name: Respect.)
  6. Sanctity vs. degradation: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions. (Alternate name: Purity.)[2]

According to Haidt, logic has nothing to do with the negative reactions people have to "evil" actions, and it only comes into play after they've already reacted. Someone who's emotionally against cheating, for instance, may use logic to create arguments for why cheating is wrong, but if they're shown that none of their arguments apply or make sense, they still won't be convinced to change their minds unless subjected to an emotional appeal.

From a variety of polls and studies, Haidt concludes that liberals mostly value care vs. harm and fairness vs. cheating, while conservatives value all six scales. From there, he suddenly jumps from descriptive to normative ethics, declaring that liberal morality is incomplete and all six scales are important. For someone who repeatedly cites David Hume, he's surprisingly willing to abuse the naturalistic fallacy.

He has since devolved into a Very Serious Person after winning a Templeton prize, now spending his efforts on foggy discourse and dissing New Atheism.[3]


  1. The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom; (Basic Books, 2006; ISBN 978-0-465-02802-3.)
  2. See generally Haidt's The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided By Politics and Religion; (Pantheon, 2012; ISBN 978-0-307-37790-6.)