The bulk of my response to Professor Jonathan Haidt will be directed to his theory that intuition is the primary operator in human moral judgement. This theory (moral noncogntivism combined with intuitionism) will be counter-posed to one such as this: that decision-making among rational thinkers who find the use of reason (as I define it below) as a block-building tool interlocking all aspects of the mind/body and its neural network (over a life time) which gives us the potential to exert a great deal of control, self discipline and freedom from being ruled by our elephant (moral wants and needs—emotions and instincts etc.) Haidt’s excellent metaphor is the elephant and rider with the rider being like a lawyer, advisor or guide and having only exceedingly limited control over the elephant—you never talk directly to it, it is subcutaneous and is in the platonic shadows; it decides before you have any say whatsoever and you only rationalize post hoc about your decision which wasn’t really yours to make in the first place. You are under an illusion that you’re in control or free. (Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second).
Moral, social and cultural psychologists’ works float around and reference each other’s books like tiny perfect cohesive dots—moderate as they well may be in some of these authors—plotting a clever way to a collectivist’s position to morally justify an evil, which is, utilitarian ethics. This is moral philosophy 101: harming other humans is wrong, human sacrifice is the greatest harm; therefore, a just society is not compatible with utilitarianism. Here, the weight of the argument is always around the epistemological dilemma, much of it cherry-picked by thinkers far to the left of Haidt and some even closet neo-Marxists. I mean books such as Bowling Alone; 7&1/2 Lessons about the Brain; The Brain That Changes Itself; Change Your Brain, Change Your Life; The Marshmallow Test; Predictably Irrational; Thinking, Fast and Slow; How We Learn; Smarter; The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat; Big Brain; Mind in the Making; The Future of Mind; Mindsight; Brain Maker; The Flynn Effect and The Mental Edge to name a few on my reading list at eastamant.com. I do this with Haidt in particular because he has at least read something of Thomas Sowell and Friedrich Hayek. Believe me when I say, among the liberals, who the libertarians have read extensively (and have left the liberal fold in large numbers), they do not return the favour and instead use ad hominem attacks for almost all of their diatribes against our positions with their vast (biased) media advantage, never-mind Manufacturing Consent by the Industrial Military Complex, it’s contrived plenty by everyday moderate liberals. [We also include here the books on evolutionary social development, ethics or morality: The Origins of Virtue (1998), The Nurture Assumption (1999), The Bonobo and the Atheist (2013), How the Mind Works (1999), The Evolution of Morality (2005), A Thousand Brains (2021), (my response to A Thousand Brains) (2021), Moral Origins (2012) and The Moral Animal (1995)]. I and many others who defend free-will and reason understand perfectly well that morality preceded reason as likely as hand gesturing predated formal language. Standing upright freed our hands to signal; empathy liberated the neocortex to refine (and redefine) our ethics.
As regards the remark about cherry-picking, in Thinking, Fast and Slow, a Nobel winner in economics shows us illusion stacked one on top of the other of how we are cleverly and dastardly deceived by the body’s sensual apparatus like with the Muller-Lyer arrow. He points out many trite and baldly untrue restrictions to objective knowledge, but the funniest one from it has to be the remarks about the 2008 Financial Crisis that luck accounts for so much in investment, random walk and all that; no one can predict the future: ("Some people thought well in advance that there would be a crisis, but they did not know it"). Perhaps a truism; nonetheless, there is a big empirical but and I’ll show it to you right now: what follows is a list of professional economists around the world who are on record and actually predicted that recession: Nourel Roubin, practically the whole of The Austrian School, Dirk Bezemar, Karem Abadir, N N Taleb, Dean Baker (US), Wynne Godley (UK), Fred Harrison (UK), Michael Hudson (US), Eric Janszen (US), Steve Keen (Australia), Jakob Broechner Madsen & Jens Kjaer Sørensen (Denmark), Med Jones (US) Kurt Richebächer (US), Nouriel Roubini (US), Peter Schiff (US), Robert Shiller (US) and many others. The five top Investors who made money: John Paulson was the highest and planned it the longest (through derivatives) (“If he’s stupid enough to let us take his money then let’s take it.”), starting in 2006: his hedge fund invested 482 million dollars on shorts and made 40 billion between 2008-10, but there was also Jamie Dimon, David Einhor, Meredith Whitley, Steve Eismen and many others. "At the Sohn conference [Ira W Sohn Investment Reasearch Conference] in May 2008, David Einhorn had made a now-famous proclamation that the investment bank Lehman Brothers was in far worse shape than it was letting on. When Lehman went under, Einhorn’s firm, Greenlight Capital, made a fortune from its giant short position in the company." Quoted from Saudi America.
Kahneman like Haidt gives System 1 (instinct, intuition, ecteterra; i.e., thinking fast), the lead acting role in the illusionary self and System 2 (rationalism, i.e., thinking slow), the supporting actor who thinks he is the lead actor in charge of the illusionary self, so that this refutation can be applied equally against this similar theory of mind (or consciousness or self-identity).
Sean Carroll, who has written a great book—not as brilliant as David Deutsch’s, nonetheless amazing—buys into this intuitive and moral hierarchy, but he certainly doesn’t in The Big Picture often belabour human reason. His cosmos is one without Sowell, Hayek, Popper, Mises, Santayana, Szasz, Blanshard to name but a few modern philosophers of reason; well he’s young still. It’s all deterministic science 24/7, which he laughingly calls poetic naturalism like a confidence Ponzi trying to sell a sophisticated forgery. No matter though, still a fine read.
Haidt’s Problem with Rationalism and Induction
Haidt’s long painstakingly complicated argument in Righteous Mind for intuition over reason is like Alan Ryan’s long-winded argument in The Making of Modern Liberalism for utilitarian over liberty. I didn’t respond there. I thought his reasoning absurd and he lives in a world without the modern philosophers of reason (or at least no mention of them); however, whatever J S Mills is to modern liberalism, he is to Libertarians not worth defending and was at heart a socialist by his own admission.
Calling Plato a rationalist is like calling Freud a rationalist, which everyone did back in the day. Freud, the evil genius who he was, and an intellectual coward, proved to himself and his followers “rationally” that humans were in essence, irrational. Plato proved rationally that all things point to Nous: that is; the blinkered reality, the perfect ‘Forms’ that are independent of mind, that we are stuck in a cave of shadows, that revolution is needed to reform us with the use of force (i.e., The Republic--the first dystopia) and that there is only downright human deception and stupidity; all his Platonic reasoning drove Greek philosophy radiantly into the hands of waiting mysticism which Neo-Platonism and Christianity gladly accepted as the Trojan Horse that would eventually lead to the Dark Ages, a thousand year devolution. Had it not been for Aristotle and the Stoics, there would have been no intellectual opposition whatsoever. As it was, this fascist philosophy in the hands of Christian intellectuals was absorbed into a world-dominating intolerant religion. And here we are still talking about Plato to this day. He was no more a rationalist than Freud and they both created religions. So using Plato’s voice to define how we afterwards rationalize our decisions seems a rather ironic choice. A moral psychologist using the penultimate collectivist to find his way to modern utilitarianism seems a bit like cheating.
The problem with Haidt using David Hume (see endnote) and induction to fortify his argument is simpler. Empiricism is just plainly wrong; if observation alone allowed for verified information it would not have taken thousands of years to realize the earth is spinning (indeed we might never have figured out the puzzle), or that the sun is just another star, that we evolved from other animals on the planet, that there is mathematical tell in chaos, that there is spontaneous order in economics, that there is no supernatural design of any detectable kind and so forth. We realized all of these things by observation combined with explanation; i.e., by metaphysical reasoning. Induction as a mode of verification is mistaken and leads to bad philosophy. Induction is only one small aspect of greater reasoning. Hume’s definition of causality (ruling out metaphysical speculation) is just that, really bad philosophy which led to a false and phony divide in knowledge and set a horrible trap (between the Rationalists on the continent and the Empiricists on the island) to which an unlikely and unsuspecting liberal philosopher, Emmanuel Kant, fell into, creating the very worst of bad philosophy in this modern era by re-introducing restrictions on reason and creating the phenomenal world out of whole cloth. This would lead to Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and the murky will to power and individual nihilism to give it the spark of heady anti-democratic revolutionary magnitude which Kant hadn’t seen coming. As an unintended consequence, it would be sidetracked to Hegel, he to Marx—and through Marx’s writings to Hitler—and other German Teutonic collectivist intellectuals. I get it, Nazism wasn’t socialist even though they used this alluring title; however, they weren't exactly laissez faire democrats who believe in the Nightwatchmen state and universal human rights for all people--they read Marx and like the Marxists they became totalitarians.
It was also turned to a rustic study by the German Jewish philosopher Edmond Husserl and then refined into its darker dimensions of German blood-tuition by Martin Heidegger: “Reason the stiff-necked adversary of thought.’ The only positive event to come out of this philosophic calamity was Affect Theory, which I will talk of a bit further on. The problem of induction was not solved until after WWII by Karl Popper. But empiricism, much to the efforts Brand Blanshard, George Santayana and other critics was already by then in deep trouble as a mode of attaining anything like reliable knowledge. And how we do that now as thinkers, journalists, scientists and individuals is by conjecture and refutation. The Popperian (with a dash of Kuhn) standard today is the accepted criterion and is what I am doing right now by falsifying this particular fascinating theory about intuition.
We live inside our very own subjective universe and our job as truth-seekers is to break out of it (as it were) and into this objective world outside of us (which we can’t perceive very well and which sometimes our minds are bracketed against and even deceived by). So, we can either take the blue pill Haidt offers where collective social perception is re-introduced, individual liberty devalued, social capital emphasized, ideals reign over evidence to the contrary and individual human capital is diminished OR take what Popper offers, the red pill, a world of never ending tussle, discovery and eternal intellectual conflict. It is ceaseless because you are never ever exactly right, you are only forever at the beginning of knowing. Politically, we are always in a place where this is the first law of laws: Every law we create has tradeoffs and until the end of time, the results of new laws create unintended consequences. Politically, to collectivists, the second law of laws is to ignore the first law of laws. No liberal utopian final solutions to our struggles exist (we must always be working through the problems we have created) and you never get to be an autocrat of anything, especially a didactic platonic one with a PhD.
Nothing is inexplicable to reason if only the implements of science, falsifiabilty, intuition pumps, affect theory, induction, deduction, reduction, abduction or inference, empirical data collection, self-criticism, hypotheses, mathematics, bayesian reasoning, language and all the resources of comprehension are available to us, or to quote Dawkins from A Devil's Chaplain: testability, evidential support, precision, quantifiability, consistency, intersubjectivity, repeatability, universality, progressiveness, independence of cultural milieu and so forth.
It’s the red pill and the hard path, but if you put yourself to it, it can be done. "Reason . . . is an open-ended combinatorial system, an engine for generating an unlimited number of new ideas. Once it is programmed with a basic self-interest and an ability to communicate with others, its own logic will impel it, in the fullness of time, to respect the interests of ever-increasing numbers of others. It is reason too that can always take note of the shortcomings of previous exercises of reasoning, and update and improve itself in response. And if you detect a flaw in this argument, it is reason that allows you to point it out and defend an alternative."
Reason makes it clear: the idea that the really-real produces a huge grab-bag of ideas in which none are connected intelligibly, is absurd, (brutally paraphrased from Brand Blanshard). The philosophers and ideologues are simply wrong about reason. Their motives for the attack on it are highly questionable—political even. Matter and space/time in the micro and macro worlds disappear as we know it in the Aristotelian sense, there are not even ‘things’, but only bundles of qualities (events). Everything is constantly changing—there's permanency only in the whole event. But why reason works is that evolution and other changes move slowly enough to identify and build enterprises on, including the most important one, ourselves.
Love, laughter and building a modern life depends on understanding that the phenomenal world of appearance is a wonderfully happy evolutionary device to grasp our place in it; it has philosophic intentionality which leads to the concepts of grounding of both subject and object simultaneously in culture, society and yourself in the stead of divinity; i.e., where you stand in space/time, your spirit of the historical epoch, your local mindset—your group, gestalt, zeitgeist, sense of life, the barometer of your internal (mental) disposition set by your local surroundings, your being or presence in the world, affect, your era, spirit, your absolute life form, the personal interior invitation to find your reason, motivation, emotion and purpose and all of its lovely cascading musical sounds and sensations of light and color for the brilliant subjective self. It’s a wonderful time to be alive! Without the application of science and reason, it is like joining a cult, with its appropriate universality, it is like joining humankind on this incredible adventure: we escaped the biological nightmare of evolution by accidentally becoming self-aware and we are almost at a point where the Platonists can’t ever win again. Never mind the Peace Corps, we’re going to Mars. Go out and invent a cell phone, oh, sorry, somebody already did that event completely unpredicted by a single sci-fi writer. Imagine, but you know what I mean don’t you? What’s the point of giving someone ten dollars if you can give them a phone that cost ten dollars to manufacture? That’s what the deployment of the deregulation of our economies worldwide will give us. (Freedom 251 is an Indian smart-phone that costs 251 rupees, or under $4.00 American). We’ll have everything we want while living in a skyscraper with enough food to kill you before your time, air-conditioning, TVs, cell phones, gaming-towers, bikes, motorbikes or cars and still be called poor because some rich innovator owns an island somewhere and you’re resentful—it’s only natural. You can have it both ways and be much happier than that rich islander anyway. Yes, an agile LOL! You say, “I can’t be Bill Gates, I am not sneaking into high-school every night and we don’t need any more of him, my 10,000 hours are going to drink”. I say, “Yes you can be, the red pill is your only real choice and we need many more Jobs, Welles, Kings and Gates if we are to survive into the next century. You say, “My culture won’t afford it”. I say, “Pack your (theoretical and subjective) bags, and move to the (imaginary and less-than-perfect) West—and if you can’t actually do it, achieve it as a personal mind shift but using this time, Affect Theory, it provides the basic tools to feel your way into a better culture and nicer place with more individual alternatives.
To Haidt, the question, “Japanese, why so skinny?” has an answer as a gene to be found in the last thousands or so years; surely some of it is genetic; no arguement there; however, he’s of subsidized academia in a dull deterministic universe trapped inside sterile cause and effect. Japanese (or any other society) couldn’t be a culture that affords skinny, frugality, individual and collective achievement on merit: the antifragile, stoicism, the desire to be the best nation in the world or the longest lived ones and other red-pill traits that many other cultures lack (but also many others have attained over the decades). So in America when disadvantaged visible minorities who have taken the blue pill beat up other over-achieving visible minorities who have taken the red pill because they make them look stupid, the liberal response is always to ignore it. Visible minatory racism is a physical impossibility, (Critical Race Theory) one of the hundreds of inconsistencies liberals ignore everyday to get to their intuitive world vision. Or, to take a line out of Switch (a fine book Haidt mentions to help people with day to day change): “Best of all, people refused to believe the results.” Replace the word ‘people’ with ‘liberals’ and you have some idea why Libertarians find them so frustrating. But anyway, why the magic elephant?
First a Quote
“Once human groups had some minimal ability to band together and compete with other groups, then group-level selection came into play and the most groupish groups had an advantage over groups of selfish individualists.” Here, the empirical evidence is all on the other side. I refer the reader to Culture and Carnage, Guns, Germs and Steel, The Culture Series, A History of Warfare among many other works, indeed the very conquest by the West of the rest of world clearly refutes it as does Japanese, Jewish, Chinese and many other cultures and nations’ histories going far back even into ancient civilizations. How they all progressed were by brilliant individual thinkers, geniuses, leaders and innovators, yeah, the selfish ones. How other societies regressed was with social conformity, fundamentalism and isolationism, especially the embrace of any platonic religious or ideological philosophies such as socialism, Marxism, Christianity and Islam. How they rose was by trade, mixing with other cultures and copying each other. We don’t need the explanation of either cultural conformity or diversity. We need to trade in a huge de-regulated worldwide market where everything sold including labor, especially academic labor, is the cheapest it can be, indeed, so cheap we can all afford to serve one another.
The Magic Elephant
One of the most plausible methods to control the elephant in Haidt’s theory is religion. So while he denies control to reason, he gives reason’s greatest historical enemy, (they have been at each other’s throat since Augustine) the advantage. “If religious behaviour had consequences, for individuals and for groups, in a way that was stable over a few millennia, then there was almost certainly some degree of gene-culture co-evolution for righteous minds that believed in gods and then used those gods to create moral communities” (p 584).
Religion and its role in reason and community are explained by George Santayana, Brand Blanshard and Freeman Dyson much better than inside the context of our cultural evolution. Sometimes cultural evolution takes place on a plain not entirely physical, like universal empathy and its connection to the printing press, radio, television, movies, computers and cell phones, i.e., the economic innovation explanation in this case or how ancient cultures shared information through trade even while they consider each other as savages and even while at war with one another, often over religious-ideological conflicts. Still existent hunter-gatherer tribes also trade with neighbors so likely this goes back many hundreds of thousands of years.
This elephant has giant ears and flies, creating Durkheim friendly utilitarianism which we all should immolate according to the theory behind The Righteous Mind. It has a way to increase social capital and tame the elephant to peace, love and understanding, like a hippie elephant that prays and goes to raves. This collectivist ethical device like all utilitarian ethical strategy use human sacrifice as a tool for the moral goals of community and society. Notice though that religions have historically spread their ideas not by memetic exploitation (Dawkins) or co-evolution (Haidt) but by actual physical and brutal force, like the religion of Marxism, whose human sacrifice was the number one cause of death in the 20th century, (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13) and at whose height included one third of the world’s population in its savage grip, and still we have true-believing socialists and people who think it was all spread by memes. It is hilarious, and to understand the connection to otherworldliness or utopian socialist worldliness is to understand the problem with Plato and platonic religions such as Marxism and Christianity, to say nothing of Islam.
In such a state, (quoting Durkheim) (p 504) “‘the vital energies become hyper-excited, the passions more intense, the sensations more powerful.’ Durkheim believed that these collective emotions pull humans fully but temporarily into the higher of our two realms, the realm of the sacred, where the self disappears and collective interests predominate. The realm of the profane, in contrast, is the ordinary day-to-day world where we live most of our lives, concerned about wealth, health, and reputation, but nagged by the sense that there is, somewhere, something higher and nobler”.
I don’t live in this state of being at all. I am super happy, exceedingly optimistic and so are the people around me, my family and friends; however, I gather Haidt does live with the dichotomy of the sacred/profane as perhaps do most unhappy liberals and socialists; and to answer de Waal's Bonobo, I never sleep furiously; I just have grown to recogize the enemies of reason. Let and let live, that's libertarian elixer, rose-coloured glasses and even pollyana; optimism is a moral requisite for our times to offset the negativity bias that evolution has bequeathed us in the forest. Even if this point (that life is mostly mundane) is true, it’s false; it is immoral to be doom and gloom as so many liberals are in the face of the rise of humankind, as Finding Flow or reading about Bertrand Russell’s individualistic leaps of ecstasy in doing Mathematics (as a form of poetry) would easily show you, indeed millions of examples could be given. Life is a totally exciting adventure now, only the intellectuals and mystics have the time to hate it and sincerely suffer from it. The reason why our ethical beliefs appear to us as moral judgements and not moral feelings is from a rational process of constant assessment to propositions, arguments, and analysis of moral musings (for and against certain behaviors) through the many millenniums of our evolution: we find ourselves in constant revaluation and this is one of the practical, indeed sensible, applications of philosophy as oppose to religion.
This innocent flight of intellectual adventure in the rational individual does no harm to us (in fact brings us great dividends). In the collective it is outright dangerous. Us/them xenophobia and our other traits of resentment which the well-intended welfare state accentuates by identity politics, make it problematic. Believe me when I say, whether it is the stoic pagans, the Jewish money-handlers, the gay blasphemers, the atheists, the wanton lesbian witches, any producers of wealth or the overachieving visible minorities, these typecasts have paid a huge price from religion and ideology that the Jonathan Haidts of the world know little about. The religionist and ideologue's time has passed, the problem with faith is there is no supernatural order and the trouble with socialism is there is no perfect justice or equality of outcomes: they’re illusions like the Muller-Lyer arrow; however, I am being exceedingly unfair, Haidt doesn’t mean it that way; he’s a scientist playing with dynamite but he’s talking about a hive switch like a honey bee, (we’re according to Haidt, 90% chimp, 10% bee), and the truth is that being a team-player to us does feel like belonging to a family of sorts and I have nothing to say about this positive aspect of being in groups and building a better world. The team I am playing for is humanity and the rule of the game (there is only one) is roughly as follows: use reason at all times. Even if it can’t make the decision for you outright, it can help before you decide on emotional or intuitive issues (when the passion comes and the dance begins) and be around afterwards to save you if it turns into a mess. Demand the deregulation your economies as much and as quick as it can be deployed, (it’s counterintuitive but it works), employ human rights even if you are not a democracy, (and this means property rights and independent impartial enforcement of contract law), control your weight as well as your Leviathan, convert your bad habits to good ones (yes, there is science for this) and stay true to, “Do no harm to others”. Also, if you can afford to, give generously to non-kin, i.e., strangers in need and to give most efffeciently, go here.
Endnote: "Hume quietly pointed out that human beings are not, and never have been, governed by their rational capacities. Reason’s role is purely instrumental: it teaches us how to get what we want. What we want is determined by our emotions, our passions—anger, lust, fear, grief, envy, but also joy, love of fame, love of contentedness, and, paradoxically, our desire to live according to rational principles—or in the last case, to recognize the dictates of necessity and act accordingly. It is not reason, however, that teaches us this, but habit, a frame of mind that associates certain effects with certain causes or actions. We are, in the end, creatures of habit, and of the physical and social environment within which our emotions and passions must operate. We learn to avoid the passions that destroy, and pursue the ones that succeed—in order to get what we consider our just desserts, and gratify our self-interest." How the Scots Invented the Modern World.
Hume denies any possibility of rewiring our circuits with acts of judgement in reason; indeed, finding your original foundations of belief and changing them ought not to be bothered with at all: it is a waste of your passions. Reason cannot change you this way. It is an illusion. Well this is just plain bad philosophy, clearly wrong and easily refutable by the fact that humans who hold to reason act completely differently than one who don’t. Is this causal or co-relational? It is causal: for before they embrace reason they are ruled by intuition, passion and emotion and their behaviour in many ways reflect it.