The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

In “The Righteous Mind” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains why humanity is divided on political and religious manners. A lot of this division is based on our different understanding of morality which is shaped by our unique experiences and genes. Haidt shows how our minds are constantly seeking evidence to confirm our beliefs while rejecting any evidence that may disprove them. We think that we use reason to decide what we believe but in fact, we intuitively believe something and then use reason to rationalize it. This is a must-read for anybody looking to understand why we are becoming more polarized in our opinions.







-We are indeed selfish hypocrites so skilled at putting on a show of virtue that we fool even ourselves.

-The most cohesive and cooperative groups generally beat the groups of selfish individualists.

-The struggle between “for” and “against” is the mind’s worst disease.


Part I – Intuitions Come First, Strategic Reasoning Second 


One- Where Does Morality Come From? 

-Moralities differ around the world 

-Much of what kids learn like morality isn’t innate or learned from adults but instead self-constructed 

-If you want kids to learn about the physical world let them play with cups and water don’t lecture them about the conservation of volume 

-If you want your kids to learn about the social world, let them play with other kids and resolve disputes, don’t lecture them about the Ten Commandments 

-Children recognize that rules about clothing, food, and many other aspects of life are social conventions, which are arbitrary and changeable to some extent 

-Children recognize that rules that prevent harm are moral rules, which are rules related to “justice, rights, and welfare pertaining to how people ought to relate to each other.

-In all cultures, children made a distinction between moral rules and conventional rules 

-All societies must resolve a small set of questions about how to order society, the most important being how to balance the needs of individuals and groups.

-The sociocentric answer put groups first and dominated the ancient world

-The Individualistic answer places individuals at the center of society and makes society a servant of the individual (became popular during the enlightenment)

-When you put individuals first, before society, then any rule or social practice that limits freedom can be questioned (If it doesn’t protect somebody from harm, then it can’t be morally justified. It’s just a social convention.)

-Lower class groups moralized more than higher class groups

-Children moralized more than adults 


Two – The Intuitive Dog and Its Rational Tail 

-Do people believe in rights because such rights exist? Or do people feel revulsion and sympathy when they read accounts of torture, and then invent a story about universal rights to help justify their feelings? 

-reasoning requires the passions 

-When the master (passions) drops dead, the servant (reasoning) has neither the ability nor the desire to keep the estate running. Everything goes to ruin. 

-People make moral judgments quickly and emotionally 

-“seeing that” -intuitive automatic process

Vs “reasoning why” we have to think how we or someone reached a judgment 

-I can’t call for the community to punish you simply because I don’t like what you’re doing. I have to point to something outside my own preferences, and that something is moral reasoning.

-We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment.

-Emotions are a kind of information processing 

-Intuition is the best word to describe the dozens or hundreds of rapid, effortless moral judgments and decisions that we all make every day.

-If you really want to change someone’s mind on a moral or political matter, you’ll need to see things from that person’s angle as well as your own. 

-Empathy is an antidote to righteousness, although it’s very difficult to empathize across a moral divide.


Chapter 3 – Elephants Rule 

-Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.

-The brain tags familiar things as good things (mere exposure effect)

-Within the first second of seeing, hearing, or meeting another person, the elephant has already begun to lean toward or away, and that lean influences what you think and do next.

-When we’re trying to decide what we think about something, we look inward, at how we’re feeling. If I’m feeling good, I must like it, and if I’m feeling anything unpleasant, that must mean I don’t like it.

-Simply washing your hands before filling out questionnaires will make you more moralistic in regards to moral purity 

-Immorality makes us feel physically dirty, and cleansing ourselves can sometimes make us more concerned about guarding our moral purity.

-Psychopathy does not appear to be caused by poor mothering or early trauma or to have any other nurture-based explanation. It’s a genetically heritable condition that creates brains that are unmoved by the needs, suffering, or dignity of others.

-The capacity to evaluate individuals on the basis of their social interactions is universal and unlearned.

 -Moral intuitions emerge very early and are necessary for moral development. The ability to reason emerges much later, and when moral reasoning is not accompanied by moral intuition, the results are ugly.

-Normally the rider takes its cue from the elephant, but if you force the two to sit around and chat for a few minutes, the elephant actually opens up to advice from the rider and arguments from outside sources.


Four – Vote for Me (Here’s Why) 

-The most important principle for designing an ethical society is to make sure that everyone’s reputation is on the line all the time, so that bad behavior will always bring bad consequences.

-People are trying harder to look right than to be right.

-conscious reasoning is carried out largely for the purpose of persuasion, rather than discovery.

-We are also trying to persuade ourselves. We want to believe the things we are about to say to others.

-The sociometer operates at a nonconscious and preattentive level to scan the social environment for any and all indications that one’s relational value is low or declining.

-We care a lot about what people think about us (The only people known to have no sociometer are psychopaths) 

-Perkins found that IQ was by far the biggest predictor of how well people argued, but it predicted only the number of my-side arguments.

-The difference between can and must is the key to understanding the profound effects of self-interest on reasoning.

-When we want to believe something we ask ourselves Can I believe it? And all we need is one piece of evidence to justify the belief

-When we don’t want to believe something we ask ourselves “Must I believe it?”. Then we search for contrary evidence and if we find one single reason to doubt the claim we can dismiss it.

-Science is a smorgasbord, and google will guide you to the study that’s right for you.

-In matters of public opinion, citizens don’t ask “what’s in it for me” but “what’s in it for my group?”

-Extreme partisanship may be literally addictive

-The worship of reason is itself an illustration of one of the most long-lived delusions in western history: The rationalist delusion.

-Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason

-“Skilled arguers are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views”

(The confirmation bias is so powerful and seems to be irradiactable) 

-A single person can only reason one way but a group can reason against each other and potentially find a better way especially when they share a common bond or shared fate that allows them to interact civilly.


Part II – There’s more to Morality than Harm and Fairness 


Five – Beyond WEIRD Morality 

 -Most people think more holistically but WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democrats) people think more analytically 

-Most research in psychology is conducted on WEIRD people 

-Culture and psyche make each other up, you can’t study psychology while ignoring culture and vice versa


Six – Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind

-People with autism are very high on systemizing and very low on empathizing 

-There is more to morality than harm and fairness 

-Morality is like taste in many ways 

-Five good candidates for being taste receptors of the righteous mind are care, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.


Seven – The Moral Foundations of Politics 

-Nature provides a first draft, which experience then revises….”Built-in” does not mean unmalleable; it means “organized in advance of experience.”

-Liberal caring is more universalistic and conservative is more local and blended with loyalty 

-On the left fairness often implies equality, but on the right it means proportionality — people should be rewarded in proportion to what they contribute, even if that guarantees unequal outcomes.

-Liberals score higher on openness, new food, new people, new music and ideas while conservatives prefer to stick to what’s tried and true and they care about guarding borders, boundaries, and traditions.

-Disgust is the “behavioral immune system”


Eight – The Conservative Advantage 

-Republicans understand moral psychology, Democrats don’t 

-Democrats usually appeal to the care/harm and fairness/cheating foundation but republicans appeal also to loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion and sanctity/degradation 

-Liberals sometimes go beyond equality of rights to pursue equality of outcomes, which cannot be obtained in a capitalist system.

-Punishing bad behavior promotes virtue and benefits the group

-When people work together on a task they generally want to see the hardest workers get the largest gains.

-The various moralities found on the political left tend to rest most strongly on the Care/Harm and Liberty/Oppression foundations. These two foundations support ideals of social justice, which emphasizes compassion for the poor and a struggle for political equality among the subgroups that comprise society.

-Everyone cares about proportionality but conservatives care more   

-Liberal professors give out a narrower range of grades

-Conservative professors reward the best students and punish the worst 

-Liberal moral matrices rest on the care/harm, liberty/oppression, and fairness/cheating foundation although they are willing to trade fairness ( as proportionality ) when it conflicts with compassion of their desire to fight oppression.

-Conservatives morality rests on all six foundations, although they are more willing to sacrifice care and let some people get hurt in order to achieve many other moral objectives


Part III – Morality Binds and Blinds – We are 90 Percent Chimp and 10 Percent Bee


Nine – Why are we so groupish? 

-Major transitions produce superorganisms 

-Shared intentionality generates moral matrices

-Genes and cultures coevolve 

-Evolution can be fast 

Ten – The Hive Switch 

-Muscular Bonding enabled people to forget themselves, trust each other, function as a unit, and crush less cohesive groups.

-Oxytocin simply makes people love their in-group more 

-We are more likely to mirror and then empathize with others when they have conformed to our moral matrix than when they have violated it

To create Hivish Groups:

-Increase similarity, not diversity 

-Exploit synchrony 

-Create healthy competition among teams, not individuals.


11 – Religion is a team sport 

 -The hypersensitive agency detection device is finely tuned to maximize survival, not accuracy. 

-Some religions are better than others at hijacking the human mind, burrowing in deeply, and then getting themselves transmitted to the next generation of host minds.

-In the population as a whole, genes that promote religious behavior are likely to become more common in each generation as the less cohesive societies perish and the more united ones thrive.

-Religiously observant Americans are better neighbors and better citizens than secular Americans — they are more generous with their time and money, especially in helping the needy, and they are more active in community life.

-It’s the friendships and group activities, carried out within a moral matrix that emphasizes selflessness. That’s what brings out the best in people.

-Religious societies are more efficient at turning resources into off-spring 

-Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.     


12 – Can’t we all disagree more constructively?

-There has been a decline of people calling themselves centrists or moderates 

-Ideology ….A set of beliefs about the proper order of society and how it can be achieved

-The most basic of ideological questions… Preserve the present order, or change it?

-Industrialists mostly right, tech billionaires mostly left 

-Rural poor mostly right, urban poor mostly left

-Genetics explains between a third and a half of the variability among people on their political attitudes…..Being raised in a liberal or conservative household accounts for much less 

-A study analyzing the DNA of 13,000 Australians found that Several genes differed between liberals and conservatives. Most of the differences were between neurotransmitter functioning particularly glutamate and serotonin, both are involved in the brains response to fear & threat. Conservatives tend to react more strongly than liberals to signs of threat, including germs, contamination and sudden blasts of white noise.

-Genes collectively give some people brains that are more or less reactive to threats, and that produce more or less pleasure when exposed to novelty, change and new experiences.

-Conservatives react more strongly to reminders of death or openness to experience 

-Liberals have less need for order, structure, and closure.

-Genes create our brains and personalities…these traits lead us down a certain path with certain experiences.. we create narratives based on our interpretations of our experiences and then they fit in better with a liberal or conservative worldview 

-The liberal narrative is….”Authority, hierarchy, power, and tradition are the chains that must be broken to free the “noble aspirations” of the victims.

-Conservatives believe that humans are inherently imperfect and are prone to act badly when all constraints and accountability are removed

-Social capital …social ties among individuals and the norms of reciprocity and trustworthiness that arise from those ties.

-Moral capital are the resources that sustain a moral community or more specifically refers to the degree to which a community possesses interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that mesh well with evolved psychological mechanisms and thereby enable the community to suppress or regulate selfishness and make cooperation possible.

-A commune that valued self-expression over conformity and that prized the virtue of tolerance over the virtue of loyalty might be more attractive to outsiders, and this could indeed be an advantage in recruiting new members, but it would have lower moral capital than a commune that valued conformity and loyalty. The stricter commune would be better able to suppress or regulate selfishness, and would, therefore, be more likely to endure.

-Moral capital leads automatically to the suppression of free riders, but it does not lead automatically to other forms of fairness such as equality of opportunity. 

-Liberalism tends to overreach, change too many things too quickly, and reduce the stock of moral capital inadvertently.

-Conversely, while conservatives do a better job of preserving moral capital, they often fail to notice certain classes of victims, fail to limit the predations of certain powerful interests, and fail to see the need to change or update institutions as times change.

-Liberalism emphasizes care for the vulnerable, opposition of hierarchy and oppression, and an interest in changing laws, traditions, and institutions to solve social problems.

-Two liberal points that are essential for the health of a society…. point #1 Governments can and should restrain corporate superorganisms. Point #2 some problems really can be solved by regulation.

-The new liberals also know as left liberals or progressives looked to government as the only force capable of protecting the public and reducing the many victims of the brutal practices of early industrial capitalism.

-Liberals who continued to fear government as the chief threat to liberty became known as classic liberals, right liberals or libertarians.

-We need groups, we love groups, and we develop our virtues in groups, even though those groups necessarily exclude nonmembers. If you destroy all groups and dissolve all internal structure, you destroy your moral capital.

-Anything that binds people together into dense networks of trust makes people less selfish.

-Diversity seems to trigger not in-group/out-group division, but anomie or social isolation. In colloquial language, people living in ethnically diverse settings appear to “hunker down” — that is, to pull in like a turtle.

-Liberals stand up for victims of oppression and exclusion. They fight to break down arbitrary barriers but their zeal to help victims, combined with their low scores on the loyalty, authority, and Sanctity foundations, often lead them to push for changes that weaken groups, traditions, institutions, and moral capital.

-Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.