Posts Tagged With: research

NeuroPsychology Of Politics – Haidt Three


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I don’t want to believe this.  I want to believe that moderate political beliefs are choices!  That the different beliefs exist so that compromises can be made.  No one SHOULD believe on face value.  Competition of ideas promotes better ideas.   That’s why I am a proud Conservative.  Let the best ones one win.

But Haidt seems to say, “No”.  The rest of this interview should clarify this discrepancy.   Let’s see what happens next.  After we read this, let’s have some discussion.

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BLVR: Let’s take a more concrete question. Gay marriage. You brought this up in your talk at Dartmouth and the one I saw at Duke. You say that conservatives in America employ all four of the modules, whereas liberals only employ two. You said that liberals have an impoverished moral worldview, and that conservatives somehow have a richer moral life. Now, I don’t know if that’s just a way to shock the liberal intelligentsia…

JH: No, I meant it, although I don’t mind doing a bit of shocking.

BLVR: You said that we as liberals have pared down our moral foundations to two modules, fairness and do-no-harm—whereas perfectly intelligent conservatives have all four modules

Er…I want him to re-conceptualize that.  Maybe Haidt hasn’t fine-tuned his categories.  One thing I’m learning about neuro-psychology is that the field is much too young for anyone to make sweeping generalizations.

JH: Exactly.

BLVR: So if you take gay marriage, and let’s say we’re not in Massachusetts, we’re in Mississippi, and you have people who have the intuition that gay marriage is really wrong, it’s impure. Because they have that purity module that liberals lack. Do you want to say that in that culture that gay marriage is really wrong?

JH: I think it depends on the kind of society you have. I’m glad that we have a diversity of societies in this world. And some societies become experts in lives of piety and sanctity and divinity. The four modules are not virtues themselves. Virtues come out of them. America is very much about individual happiness, the right to expression, self-determination. In America you do need to point to harm that befalls victims before you can limit someone elses’ rights. While there’s not necessarily an objective truth about whether gay marriage is right or wrong, when you look at the values and virtues that we hold dear in America, and you look at who is helped and harmed by legalizing gay marriage, if you start with a utilitarian analysis, so many people benefit from gay marriage and no one is directly harmed by gay marriage. So that in itself argues in favor of gay marriage.

On the other hand, conservative morality looks not just at effects on individuals, but at the state of the social order. The fact that acts that violate certain parts of the Bible are tolerated is disturbing to conservatives even though they can’t point to any direct harm. So I do understand the source of their opposition to it. And this is a difficult case, where it can’t work out well for everyone. Somebody has to give. If we were in a Muslim country, or a Catholic country where much of social and moral life was regulated in accordance with the purity and hierarchy codes, then it would be very reasonable to ban gay marriage. But we are not in such a country. We are in a country where the consensus is that we grant rights to self-determination unless a limiting reason can be found. So in this case, I think conservatives have to give. It is right to legalize gay marriage.

BLVR: I want to make sure I understood that. If we were in the 1930s—I don’t want to stereotype—but 1930s Alabama, there’s a pretty safe one, maybe the modules of purity and tradition played more of a role then than they do now. Let’s say you’re the father of a man who wants to marry another man. You would feel comfortable saying to your son that it’s wrong to marry—it’s wrong for you do that…

JH: I do think that facts about the prevalence of homosexuality and the degree of repugnance to it are relevant. In the present case, 5 percent of people are gay. That’s a lot of people. And in the present case, repugnance against homosexuality is not nearly as strong as it used to be. I think we are now at the point where we ought to legalize gay marriage, and some people just won’t be happy about it. But now look at Justice Scalia’s argument in opposing Lawrence v. Texas. Scalia’s argument is very interesting. I think it’s ultimately wrong, but wrong for an empirical reason. I’m paraphrasing: he said, “If we have to legalize sodomy, the next step will be incest and sex with animals.” But I don’t think that would be the next step. Five percent of people cannot live full happy lives if homosexuality is outlawed. If 5 percent of people could not live full happy lives without having sex with their siblings, or with sheep, then we’d have a difficult moral problem on our hands. But we don’t. Very few people fall into either category. So legalizing homosexuality is not the first step on a slippery slope to legalizing everything.

BLVR: OK, but getting back to my question, we’re in 1930s Alabama. Five percent of the people are still gay, I imagine, but repugnance is much higher. Is it wrong then? Or maybe you think it’s not a proper question.

JH: No, I think it’s a very good question. The amount of shock and outrage would have been much greater then than it is now. Plus back then they didn’t know the facts about homosexuality; they didn’t know that it’s caused by hormonal conditions in utero, it’s not a choice. Now that we know these facts we’re in a much better position than they were then. I don’t know if that answers your question.

BLVR: Well, maybe it does. Correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe you want to say yes, in that case it probably would have been wrong. Maybe you want to say to your son: no, you ought not marry that man, or even carry on a relationship with him. But given that we’re not in that situation now, that’s changed. Is that not a fair analysis of what the implications of your theory are?

JH: Yes, I think so. Given that there’s not an objective (nonanthropocentric) fact of the matter, and what makes our moral life so interesting is that any particular act can be justified or opposed by reference to a different constellation of these four modules, of these foundational intuitions, it really is a matter of argument, public discussion, triggering people’s intuitions, and somehow or other the chips fall in a certain way. Sometimes, with time, they fall in a different way. Ten years ago, or even three years ago, we never thought that we’d be this close to having gay marriage—we have it, actually.


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Categories: -- Circuses | Tags: , , , , , , | 7 Comments

NeuroPsychology Of Politics – Haidt Two


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This is the second installment of an interview with BELIEVER  magazine, in which Dr. Haidt says that “reason is the press secretary of the emotions”.  In a process he calls “moral dumbfounding”, the students’ moral beliefs are challenged, forcing them struggle intellectually.  How they struggle, how they come to their conclusions, deal with their emotions, is the ultimate goal of the research.  I believe.

it’s actually our intuitions—fueled by our emotions—that are doing most of the work

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BLVR: I want to talk about the philosophical implications of your model for a moment. When I came across your work, I thought it provided a good deal of support for a position we can describe as moral skepticism. In particular, I thought the social intuitionist model makes plausible the claim that there is no such thing as objective moral truth, even though human beings believe that some of their moral judgments are objectively true.[1] But you don’t draw skeptical conclusions from your findings, do you?

JH: For me it all hinges on the distinction made by David Wiggins between anthropocentric truths and nonanthropocentric truths. If anybody thinks that moral truths are going to be facts about the universe, that any rational creature on any planet would be bound by, then no such facts exist. I think that moral truths are like truths about beauty, truths about comedy. Some comedians really are funnier than others. Some people really are more beautiful than others. But these are true only because of the kinds of creatures we happen to be; the perceptual apparatus—apparati—that we happen to have. So moral facts emerge out of who we are in interaction with the people in our culture.

BLVR: So you would call those truths? Take someone like Drew Barrymore—some people find her fairly hot while other people don’t see what the big deal is. You would say that there is some truth concerning what her aesthetic appeal really is?

JH: Well, apparently, if there’s that much disagreement about her, she must be somewhere in the middle. There’s much less disagreement about Catherine Zeta-Jones and George Clooney. So they are more attractive than Drew Barrymore.

BLVR: So in other words, the way you determine the truth is by how much agreement there is?

JH: It’s not that simple. But these are truths in which how people respond is the most important piece of evidence. You could never say that person X is really hot even though nobody thinks so. I think about it this way. One of my favorite quotes is from Max Weber: “Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun.” So I think that with morality, we build a castle in the air and then we live in it, but it is a real castle. It has no objective foundation, a foundation outside of our fantasy, but that’s true about money; that’s true about music; that’s true about most of the things that we care about.

BLVR: So give me an example of some ethical truths in the limited sense that you’re talking about.

JH: Let’s see… you should value and repay those who are good to you. You should protect and care for those who you are superior to, in a dominant position to. You should not hurt people unless there’s a very good reason to do so—where good reason means a moral reason, not just a reason advantageous to yourself.

BLVR: So let’s take one of those: you should take care of those people who are in an inferior position to you—

JH: You have a position of authority over them… so you should take care of them.

BLVR: What makes that true?

JH: What makes that true… what makes that true… now I feel like I’m the subject of one of my own dumbfounding experiments.

BLVR: Well, that’s what I’m wondering. Why isn’t this one of those cases?

JH: Nothing makes it true—it’s a truth that grows out of who we are… what makes that true… See, I guess that’s the wrong question. This is—I know that philosophers are very into justifications but… nothing makes it true.

BLVR: OK, but then how—

JH: Well, OK, let’s see. Catherine Zeta-Jones is beautiful—what makes that true? Um, her… shape, I suppose.

BLVR: But don’t people think that there’s a difference between moral truths and aesthetic truths? If someone doesn’t find Catherine Zeta-Jones beautiful, for whatever reason, you don’t necessarily think that he’s wrong, do you?

JH: I might, actually.

BLVR: Most would think that maybe he just has different tastes. Maybe he likes blondes, he likes men, he hates Australians, or whatever. But now take a moral judgment like “it’s wrong to torture people.” If someone says, “no, it’s not wrong at all… it’s fun, actually, you should try it,” you don’t just think: to each his own. You think he’s wrong, that he’s made a mistake. And that’s where you want justifications—you want to be able to convince people that they’re wrong in a way that has nothing to do with their individual preferences on the matter.

JH: That’s right, so we need justifications for our moral beliefs; we don’t need them for our aesthetic beliefs. We can tolerate great diversity in our aesthetic beliefs, but we can’t tolerate much diversity in our moral beliefs. We tend to split and dislike each other. I recently wrote a paper on moral diversity, addressing the fact that many people, especially in academic settings, think that diversity is a virtue in itself. Diversity is not a virtue. Diversity is a good only to the extent that it advances other virtues, justice or inclusiveness of others who have previously been excluded. But people are wrong when they say that everything should be more diverse, even, say, rock bands. It’s an error, an overgeneralization. I’m sorry—back to your question. And this relates to the distinction between moral pluralism and moral relativism. I subscribe to the former, not the latter.

BLVR: Talk about that for a moment. What’s the difference?

JH: What I want to say is that there are at least four foundations of our moral sense, but there are many coherent moral systems that can be built on these four foundations. But not just anything can be built on these four foundations. So I believe that an evolutionary approach specifying the foundation of our moral sense can allow us to appreciate Hindu and Muslim cultures where women are veiled and seem to us to lead restricted lives. These are not necessarily oppressive and immoral cultures. Given that most of the world believes that gender role differences are good and right and proper, they are unlikely to be wrong, by which I mean, they are unlikely to be incoherent or ungrammatical moralities. We in America, especially liberals, use only two of these four bases. Liberals use intuitions about suffering (aversion to) and intuitions about reciprocity, fairness, and equality.

But there are two other foundations—there are intuitions about hierarchy, respect, duty… that’s one cluster. And intuitions about purity and pollution, which generate further intuitions about chastity and modesty. Most human cultures use all four of these bases to ground their moral worldviews. We in the West, in modern times especially, have to some extent discarded the last two. We have built our morality entirely on issues about harm (the first pillar), and rights, and justice (the second). Our morality is coherent. We can critique people who do things that violate it within our group. We can’t critique cultures that use all four moralities. But we can critique cultures whose practices are simple exploitation and brutality, such as apartheid South Africa or the American slave South.

BLVR: OK, but why is it that we can critique apartheid South Africa whereas we can’t critique a culture that uses genital mutilation where chastity and fidelity of females is considered a high virtue? What makes us able to do one and not the other?

JH: You have to look at any cultural practice in terms of what goods it is aiming for. Veiling, or keeping women in the home, is usually aimed at goods of chastity and modesty. Not all human practices are aimed at moral goods. Sweatshops, child pornography, child slavery, the slavery of Africans in the American South—none of these is aimed at goods provided by any of the four foundations. These are just people hurting and exploiting others for their personal monetary benefit.

BLVR: Do you ever worry that you’re doing what the subjects in your experiments do—attempting to justify a strong intuition against exploiting people, and then trying to come up with a reason why that’s wrong, whereas maybe your intuition doesn’t flash as powerfully against the veiling of women… I would think in your work that that’s something you might be extremely sensitive to. How would you answer the charge that you’re merely trying to come up with a reason why exploitation of different races is wrong, and veiling of women is not, without providing a sufficient basis for this judgment?

JH: That’s an excellent question. Consistent with my theory, I must say that I never looked at the other side and considered whether I might be wrong in that way. We tend to think that we’re right, and we’re not good at coming up with reasons why we might be wrong. So, that’s a great question to think about. Whether I am motivated to apologize for or justify some practices and not others. That said, I certainly don’t think I’m motivated in that way… my first experiences in Muslim or Hindu cultures were emotionally negative, in seeing the treatment of women and the hierarchy. It took me a while to get over that. And to see that these practices offended my American sensibilities, but that I was being ethnocentric in that respect.

The women that I spoke to in India—while there was a diversity of opinion, most of them do not see it as American feminists see it; they did not see veiling as something imposed upon them, to oppress them, to deny them freedom. In contrast, most black slaves in the American South were not happy about their position. And many slave owners knew that what they were doing was wrong, or at least they were ambivalent about it. Now you might say: well, maybe the women have been brainwashed? So there are two tests you can do. The first is to ask: do the people who appear from the outside to be victims endorse the moral goals of the practice? The second test is: how robust is this endorsement? Even when they learn about alternative ways in other cultures, do they still endorse it? So while you might have found black slaves in the South who were so brainwashed that they accepted their status, I believe that if they heard about other countries where blacks were not enslaved, they would not insist that blacks ought to be enslaved.

BLVR: OK, so then tracing it back to these four modules or bases on which moral systems are based. Because that’s where you’re going to provide your justification for whether we condemn other cultures or whether we can’t…

JH: That’s right, those are the four pillars in the air upon which we’ll build our culture-specific moralities.

BLVR: These four pillars are a product of evolution. How do you respond to the age-old philosophical question that you can’t derive an “ought” from an “is”? Darwinism gives us a descriptive story of why we might endorse things that come out of them. How do you get the claim “one ought to treat people below you kindly” out of this “don’t harm people” module that’s in place because of its contributions to biological fitness? That’s the puzzle. Because when you do put your foot down and say that a culture ought not to act in a certain way, how are you getting that “ought” from a purely descriptive story about pillars of morality that evolved for nonmoral reasons?

JH: You keep asking me to provide some kind of external justification, to go outside the system. But when I’m within the game—

BLVR: Not external justification… even internal, I’m just looking for any kind of justification.

JH: Well, from within the game, within our web of significance, it’s wrong to hurt people.

—Continued Tomorrow—

Categories: -- Circuses | Tags: , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Child Bipolar Disorder Really?

Stuart Kaplan, M.D., a child psychiatrist and clinical professor of psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine, has written a new book called “Your Child Does Not Have Bipolar Disorder: How Bad Science and Good Public Relations Created the Diagnosis.”

Marilyn Wedge, Ph.D., interviews the author, who describes his initial reaction to the diagnosis.

The  first articles describing the diagnosis of bipolar disorder in children in the mid-1990s were obviously mistaken. The children described in these articles did not have bipolar disorder, and the criteria used to make the diagnosis differed from the DSM-IV criteria for the diagnosis. In a few short years, professional meetings on the subject were filled to capacity, and the diagnosis became rampant. Training programs educated child psychiatrists in the diagnosis and treatment of the disorder. Finally, it seemed as if child psychiatry would never back away from the diagnosis; I thought a book critical of the diagnosis for parents and professionals might help.

Dr. Wedge says categorizing children’s mood and behavioral problems as bipolar disorder is incorrect, because the diagnosis does not point to an actual biological problem in children.

Kaplan,  the child psychiatrist says:

Categorizing children’s mood and behavioral problems as bipolar disorder is incorrect because the disorder does not meet any of the required five Robins-Guze criteria for establishing a psychiatric diagnosis. Pediatric bipolar disorder is a social construction: it is a word made up by people, but it has no counterpart in the real world. It’s an American disease that is largely absent in other countries. It is one of many stories we have made up to explain misbehaving children.

you’ll make your own mind up on this issue, of course.  i know that the Philadelphia Child Guidance Center is one of the foremost training institutions in the world.  Bowen,, was one of the originators of family therapy.  its still a revolutionary concept.  “guidance” and “doctors”.

it makes me think again about Dabrowski, this little known Polish psychiatrist, and his revolutionary conceptualizations of the way creativity is stigmatized into illness.

it has implications for my own personal population, the bipolar, as well.  i encourage you to read more about it.

Categories: Enquiries & Speculations | Tags: | Leave a comment

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