Friday, 4 January 2008

BB2: Enlightenment 2.0 requires Morality 2.0 :Jonathan Haidt

[This is talk 1 (delayed talk7 from session 1), session 2 of 2, on the first day of the The Science Network's Beyond Belief Enlightenment 2.0 conference. An introduction and list of all reviews can be found at BB2: Enlightenment 2.0 Introduction]

After lunch, we resumed with the 7th talk from session 1 opening, now, the afternoon session, by Jonathan Haidt, who is an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, and studies the emotional basis of moral judgment and political ideology. He was awarded the Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology in 2001(!) and is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. His theme is that Enlightenment 2.0 requires Morality 2.0.

He focuses in on morality and areas of healthy scientific disagreements.

QuestionEnlightenment 1.0Enlightenment 2.0
1. How trustworthy is moral reasoning?Very: our only hope, weaknesses must be overcome [we must find ways to reason well]Not very, mind is intuitive, reasoning comes afterwards
2. What is the domain of morality?Narrow: about harm and fairnessVariable: usually about "moral-communal capital"
3. Is religion an evolutionary adaptation?Long debate; focus on individual level; Most say no, a byproduct [a mistake]Yes, in part. for creating moral communities

Under Enlightenment 2.0, Morality 2.0 is based on "what people view as the moral domain". His argument for Morality 2.0 is based on considering the differences in answers to these three questions.

When Haidt investigates models of moral reasoning he contrasts (Kohlberg type) rationality versus a (Hume type) intuitionism (with usually an affective component). He argues that the intuitionist approach is becoming dominant one in moral psychology. This is reflected in a quote from E.O. Wilson "Ethical philosophers intuit the... canons of morality...Only by interpreting the activity of the emotive centers as a biological adaptation can the meaning of the cannons be deciphered". Haidt supports his case for intuitionism in moral psychology with three types of evidence, these being motivated reasoning (such as conclusions strongly influenced by relatedness), post-hockery (our "inner lawyer"!) and intuitive primacy (usually intuitions predict action better than reasoning) - all this being based on empirical research on human subjects. In particular people mostly cannot explain their moral responses - they are poor at rationalizing their intuitions and "gut feelings" yet there is a consistency in moral responses - these are not arbitrary. Morality 2.0 is about intuitionism not rationality.

With respect to moral domains, the most widely used definition in moral psychology is from Elliot Turiel "prescriptive judgments of justice, rights and welfare pertaining on how people ought to relate to each other". This emphasizes the harm/care and justice/fairness dimensions already accepted by most at the conference. However Haidt dissents from this and presents an alternative definition
"Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, practices, institutions and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate selfishness and make social life possible".
(Here selfishness means cheating, free-riding and so on). This definition is designed to specifically expand the possible moral dimensions and not limit this to the standard two and dismiss or disparage the others - as social or supernatural - and so fail to describe moral aspects of all cultures. This leads to two approaches to understanding this domain, the first being the "atom-world", with the individual as primary and "billiard ball" type of interaction, where the two standard dimensions - of harm/care and fairness/justice - in this "post-enlightenment" modern world are applicable and, indeed, most important. The other approach is "lattice-world" where it is the family or the group that is primary, with lattice modifying interactions where there are now five dimensions of regulation including the standard two plus "ingroup/loyalty", "authority/respect" and "purity/sanctity". These together are the "Five Foundations of Morality", the first two (harm and fairness) are universal and the other three are, maybe universal, but less developed in the enlightened worldview. He presents plenty of empirical data comparing liberal and conservative moral views (both lower case and not just the American meaning of these terms) and shows the continuous change from a 2 equal dimensions "liberal" morality and to 5 equal dimensions in "conservative" morality.

This is the basis for arguing that we need to recognize these 5 foundations of morality as Morality 2.0 - in order to update Enlightenment to Enlightenment 2.0. Are these other 3 domains wrong? We must note the inherent biases in approaching this domain, (I certainly fit into Haidt's model as my blog has emphasized one way or another the two domains of harm and fairness). Failing to acknowledge these biases restricts diversity of valid views in this field.

This basis is supported by asking is religion an adaptation? And do we need religion to go from social to ultra-social groups? A lesser point being is multi-level selection the model to explain this - lets grant this for this review. Here Haidt argues that social capital - such as it being safe to leave your home laptop in a big office - requires and is part of
Moral-Communal Capital (MCC): Social capital, plus institutions, traditions and norms that guarantee that contributions and hard work will be rewarded and that free-riders, exploiters and criminals will be punished.
He believes that religions are very effective at creating moral-communal capital and utilize all five three moral dimensions to achieve this. Now he then proceeds to show what can undermine MCC are things such as: individual value, celebrity, diversity, permissive parenting, reluctance to punish, secularism, emphasis on rights not duties and questioning authority and institutions! Quite a list much, but not all, capturing "liberal" thinking. All these features decrease MCC and discourages people from socially interacting. So is there is a profile of costs and benefits to the side of liberalism, can we no longer assume it is not inherently right?

With his conception of Morality 2.0, he concludes that this inclusive approach transcends hostility to religion, noting that religion is mostly about creating MCC and that religion is an adaptation for creating MCC - a social hive. It is a better basis for Enlightenment 2.0 than Morality 1.0 which is antithetical to religion.

In Haidt's descriptive and empirical analysis he raises a number of important points and provides some very important insights into the Enlightenment project. However I have a number of issues with the language used and its implications. First we can restate this without his semantically-laden categorization of "liberal" versus "conservative" and its relation to Enlightenment 2.0, without loss of meaning and improvement in classification. I argue that this becomes clearer if we rename them here, enlightenment and classical worldviews or thinking. This certainly clarifies that many "liberals" as in socialist and harder left views are indeed classical and not enlightened in both thinking (although it sometimes appears otherwise) and especially in instantiation - the "institutions, traditions and norms" components of MCC. (Ditto for some conservative views).

Surely if we accept the idea of MCC per se, it is by no means antithetical to an enlightened wordlview, indeed one could rephrase one of the key points of the Enlightenment as that it could achieve a successful MCC better than its classical counterparts. And one of the fundamental challenges of Enlightenment 2.0 is to learn how to better instantiate MCC than historical and recent classical and, especially, pathological versions of classical thinking such as the Taliban, communism and fascism. Most supporters of this project will hold that Enlightenment 2.0, if anything, will be better able to safeguard pathological deteriorations than classical approaches.

When considered this way, one hopes that the 2-dimensional morality (enlightened) worldview is an improvement upon the 5-dimensional morality (classical) worldview. Well is it? Whilst historically it has been that religion is the exemplar of classical worldviews, it is not the only version as just noted above with respect to say, communism and fascism in recent times and many, what we would now call totalitarian regimes, in history. The use of the term "religion" here is potentially misleading. Given Haidt's stance on considering our own biases, maybe Haidt should reconsider his own terms of classification?

Further, in the enlightened wordlview these other dimensions are not so much under-developed but deliberately made subservient to the dimensions of harm and fairness. One could say this is specifically a mechanism - if not the mechanism - to safeguard against deterioration to pathological MCCs. One can grant as facts that there are elements of an enlightened worldview that do destabilize a classical MCC as Haidt listed and much of the previous talks would support this - the cost is worth it if the payoff decreases pathological MCC. I am still waiting for empirical argument on this point to be presented clearly in this conference and my bias is that this can be shown, we shall see.

This leads to the dilemma of Haidt's analysis of "liberals" versus "conservatives" in the political arena, especially in democracies. Cause and effect are unclear here. Even if most of these views are based on intuitionist rather than rational grounds, the fact that there is intra-cultural variation is indicative that these preferences are culturally modifiable. It seems difficult to assert that these are biologically fixed but, anyway, Haidt presents no evidence one way or another. Dennett has spoken about teaching the four Rs including (the facts of all) religion and this could certainly be a key component in altering the balance of enlightened versus classical personal worldviews that comprise a voting population of a country. What other features need to be dealt with? This leads to the question of "social engineering" mentioned in previous talks and the politicization of education but it clearer that education is already politicized and biased towards producing classical worldviews, even if pupils reject their birth religion and espouse enlightenment values. Could this be a good explanation for communism, Jacobean terrors and the like? And why religion tries so hard to hold onto education even in apatheistic countries like the UK?

Finally given the enlightened stance of a secular state allowing individuals their own private and personal choice of beliefs, which includes a worldview from classical to enlightened (with probably compartmentalized mixes in any individual) how can this work in a democracy, given we do not want to make the Jacobean mistake of dictating one's means of flourishing and worldview? Lets see what the next speakers have to offer.