American Conversations: The Righteous Mind - Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

October 22, 2013 

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion
7 p.m. – L.V. Eberhard Center, Grand Valley State University


Why can’t our political leaders work together as threats loom and problems mount? Why do people so readily assume the worst about the motives of their fellow citizens? In The Righteous Mind, social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explored the origins of our divisions and points the way forward to mutual understanding.

His starting point was moral intuition—the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do. These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who see things differently are wrong. Haidt showed us how these intuitions differ across cultures, including the cultures of the political left and right. He blended his own research findings with those of anthropologists, historians, and other psychologists to draw a map of the moral domain, and he explained why conservatives can navigate that map more skillfully than can liberals. He then examined the origins of morality, overturning the view that evolution made us fundamentally selfish creatures. But rather than arguing that we are innately altruistic, he marked a more subtle claim—that we are fundamentally groupish. It is our groupishness, he explained, that leads to our greatest joys, our religious divisions, and our political affiliations. In a stunning final chapter on ideology and civility, Haidt showed what each side is right about, and why we need the insights of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians to flourish as a nation.

The Hauenstein Center was proud to partner with the GVSU’s Business Ethics Center for this event.



Jonathan Haidt joined New York University Stern School of Business in July 2011. He is the Thomas Cooley Professor of Ethical Leadership, based in the Business and Society Program Area.

Professor Haidt is a social psychologist whose research examines the intuitive foundations of morality. His most recent book is the New York Times bestseller The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. In that book Haidt offers an account of the origins of the human moral sense, and he shows how variations in moral intuitions can help explain the American culture war between left and right. At Stern he is applying his research on moral psychology to rethink the way business ethics is studied and is integrated into the curriculum. His goal is to draw on the best behavioral science research to create organizations that function as ethical systems, with only minimal need for directly training people to behave ethically – “something nobody has yet found a way to do.”

Before coming to Stern, Professor Haidt taught for 16 years at the University of Virginia, where he was given three awards for outstanding teaching, including the Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award, conferred by Governor Mark Warner. His first book was The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. His writings appear frequently in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Professor Haidt received a B.A. in philosophy from Yale University, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania.


Relevent Bibliography

Of Freedom and Fairness. Democracy Journal, Spring 2013. Gives analysis of the new front line in the American culture war. Now that progressives have decisively won the old culture war over social issues, the new front lines are over economic issues, which are really matters of fairness and liberty.

Moral values and the fiscal cliff. Washington Post, 11/16/12. With Hal Movius, an expert on negotiation. Offers advice on how to negotiate when sacred values make compromise much more difficult.

We need a little fear. New York Times, Op-Ed, 11/7/12. Published on the day after election day. Presents the “asteroids” metaphor, and the claim that each side sees some of the threats facing America but is blind to many of the others.

Romney, Obama, and the new culture war over fairness. Time Magazine, 10/8/12. A close analysis of the “you didn’t build that” and “47%” speeches.

Reasons matter (when intuitions don’t object). New York Times, 10/7/12. This is a response to two essays from philosophers – Michael Lynch and Gary Gutting–critiquing claims about reason and philosophy.

Look how far we’ve come apart. New York Times, 9/18/12, an explanation of why America is getting so much more polarized.

America’s Painful Divide. Saturday Evening Post, Sept 2012. This is a condensed version of ch. 12.

Born this way? Nature, nurture, narratives, and the making of our political personalities. Cover story in Reason Magazine, May 2012. It’s a modified excerpt from Ch. 12.

Why we love to lose ourselves in religion., 4/1/12.

Forget the money, follow the sacredness. New York Times, 3/19/12.

How to get the rich to share the marbles. New York Times, 2/20/12.

The moral foundations of Occupy Wall Street. Reason Magazine, 10/20/11.

Why we celebrate a killing. New York Times, Op-Ed, 5/7/2011, on the death of Bin Laden.

What the Tea Partiers really want. Wall St. Journal, 10/16/10.


Watch the lecture here.

Page last modified November 11, 2020