Web Clip: Jonathan Haidt on “The New Science of Morality”

Web Clip: “The New Science of Morality”, from www.edge.org:

“Behavioral scientists routinely publish broad claims about human psychology and behavior based on samples drawn entirely from Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich and Democratic societies.”  The acronym there being WEIRD. “Our findings suggest that members of WEIRD societies are among the least representative populations one could find for generalizing about humans. Overall, these empirical patterns suggest that we need to be less cavalier in addressing questions of human nature, on the basis of data drawn from this particularly thin and rather unusual slice of humanity.”

As I read through the article, in terms of summarizing the content, in what way are WEIRD people different, my summary is this: The WEIRDer you are, the more you perceive a world full of separate objects, rather than relationships, and the more you use an analytical thinking style, focusing on categories and laws, rather than a holistic style, focusing on patterns and contexts.

Now, let me state clearly that these empirical facts about “WEIRD-ness”, they don’t in any way imply that our morality is wrong, only that it is unusual. Moral psychology is a descriptive enterprise, not a normative one. We have WEIRD chemistry. The chemistry produced by Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic societies is our chemistry, and it’s a very good chemistry. And we have every reason to believe it’s correct. And if a Ayurvedic practitioner from India were to come to a chemistry conference and say, “Good sirs and madams, your chemistry has ignored our Indian, you know, our 5,000-year-old chemistry,” the chemists might laugh at them, if they were not particularly polite, and say, “Yeah, that’s right. You know, we really don’t care about your chemistry.”

But suppose that same guy were to come to this conference and say, “You know, your moral psychology has ignored my morality, my moral psychology.”  Could we say the same thing?  Could we just blow him off and say, “Yeah, we really don’t care”?  I don’t think that we could do that. And what if the critique was made by an American Evangelical Christian, or by an American conservative?  Could we simply say, “We just don’t care about your morality”?  I don’t think that we could.

Read or watch Jonathan Haidt‘s lecture,  at this edge conference, “The New Science of Morality”

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