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Jonathan Haidt

Department of Psychology
University of Virginia

The New Synthesis in Moral Psychology

September 28, 2007
Lecture Hall 8, 4:00 PM

Abstract

E. O. Wilson’s 1975 prophecy of a “new synthesis” in the science of ethics is finally coming true. I’ll discuss and illustrate three principles of this interdisciplinary synthesis: 1) Intuitive primacy but not dictatorship (moral intuitions arise quickly and guide later reasoning); 2) Moral thinking is for social doing (moral reasoning is tailored for social needs rather than truth-seeking); and 3) Morality binds and builds (moral capacities such as punishment, gossip, and indirect reciprocity make large cooperative communities possible.) I’ll also propose a fourth principle to guide future research: morality is more than harm and fairness. I’ll present evidence that there are (at least) five innate psychological foundations upon which cultures construct their moral systems. I’ll discuss the evolutionary origins and cultural elaborations of all five, including evidence that political liberals construct their moral systems on top of just two foundations – harm/care and fairness/reciprocity – while political conservatives use all five foundations, including ingroup/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity.

Biography

Jonathan Haidt is a social and cultural psychologist. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1992 and then did post-doctoral research at the University of Chicago and in Orissa, India. He has been on the faculty of the University of Virginia since 1995. His research focuses on morality – its emotional foundations, cultural variations, and developmental course. He began his career studying the negative moral emotions, such as disgust, shame, and vengeance, but more recently has been studying the widely ignored positive moral emotions, such as admiration, awe, and moral elevation. He is currently developing a comprehensive theory about the “five foundations” of human morality, which describes the building blocks of morality given to us by evolution and the cultural and developmental processes by which diverse moralities are created. He is applying this theory to understand political divisions in the United States. He is the 2001 winner of the Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology, and a 2004 winner of the Virginia “Outstanding Faculty Award,” conferred by Governor Mark Warner. He has just published a book on positive psychology: “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.” He is currently a visiting professor at the Princeton University Center for Human Values.

Readings

  1. The New Synthesis in Moral Psychology
  2. The moral mind: How five sets of innate intuitions guide the development of many culture-specific virtues, and perhaps even modules

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