Back to the Beginning: Critical Reading of Part One
I’d like to return for a moment to the beginning of Haidt’s book and his central focus on how we might all get along better and more importantly, why we believe the way we do. Much of what I’ve written about here on the blog so far has been aimed on asking you about your own personal experience with Haidt’s ideas. Now that I’m writing my last official post, I’d like to ask you about your experience as a reader.
As a fairly critical reader myself (I hope), one of the strengths I see in his book is how he uses the philosophy of others to interweave concepts and effectively bring a multiplicity of ideas into conversation with one another. This idea of a “conversation” is one of the primary facets of strong inquiry, argument and reasoning. Let’s chart how he does this just for a moment in Part One. He begins with the question: “Where Does Morality Come From” and the first theorist he addresses (after setting up his context and mentioning a few canonical thinkers) is to introduce Piaget and his model of cognitive development. Piaget looked at what kids do innately in their development to chart what might be considered “nature” and what might be considered “nurture” in the learning process of humans. Without summarizing it all (you’ve read the book of course), what we take from Piaget here might be that moral development is in fact, innate (6-7). Hmmm…, really?
But then Haidt brings in Kohlberg, who as he mentions “extended” Piaget’s ideas, finding more nuance in the stages of our human development, asserting that some things happen naturally but then we reach a stage where we begin “manipulating rules and social conventions” (8). We begin to nurture our moral foundations and to test them. So perhaps it is both? Not only did Kohlberg add to the conversation around moral development but also Haidt asserts that he provided a justification for a liberal morality, one where experience and “figuring it out for yourself” might be valued over authority and structured, rule-based learning.
And then he brings in Turiel who proved that in fact, children definitely do recognize social conventions as a part of morality, back to social authority again. For example, how do you behave if you’ve been told something is wrong? It might not even matter if it’s actually moral or not. This shows that authority figures have a lot to do with how we reason morally in fact, so do our peers and social groups. However, the biggest principle Turiel worked with was, no matter how arbitrary the rule, children still seem to recognize that doing harm to others is not a good way to go (12).
And then he brings in Fiske and Schweder…Oh boy. They showed us that morality is variant from culture to culture—what does “no harm” in one country might not be so in another. Even worse, the research was further limited by the fact that most of the studies that had been done by Piaget and others were with privileged, educated children in the Western world (12-16). Uh-oh.
It is at this point that Haidt offers his own voice into the conversation, showing us where he departs as a researcher into his own field of inquiry. He’s laid the foundation of ideas and now he can extend them by describing his own experience and where he takes the ideas of others and makes his own contribution to the field of knowledge. He sums it all up by saying “We’re born to be righteous, but we have to learn what, exactly, people like us should be righteous about” (31).
So, finally, what do you think of Haidt’s organizational strategy in this chapter? In the rest of the book? What about the metaphors? Do you agree with my summary? Did I miss any key points? Did you find him using his set of strategies consistently throughout the book and how do you feel about the conclusions he is drawing for us? Do you think he is missing something? Do you think he is making any false assumptions? Do you think he is successful? I can’t wait to get your own best “critical reads” on Haidt’s style and content!