The Righteous Mind

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The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
First edition (US)
AuthorJonathan Haidt
CountryUnited States
SubjectSocial psychology, evolutionary psychology, political psychology, moral psychology
PublisherPantheon Books
Media typePrint (Hardcover and Paperback)
A simple graphic depicting survey data from the United States intended to support moral foundations theory [citation needed]

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion is a 2012 social psychology book by Jonathan Haidt, in which the author describes human morality as it relates to politics and religion.

In the first section, Haidt demonstrates that people's beliefs are driven primarily by intuition, with reason operating mostly to justify beliefs that are intuitively obvious. In the second section, he lays out his theory that the human brain is organized to respond to several distinct types of moral violations, much like a tongue is organized to respond to different sorts of foods. In the last section, Haidt proposes that humans have an innate capacity to sometimes be "groupish" rather than "selfish".


In the first part of the book, Jonathan Haidt uses cross-sectional research to demonstrate social intuitionism, how people's beliefs come primarily from their intuitions, and rational thought often comes after to justify initial beliefs. He cites David Hume and E. O. Wilson as thinkers who gave reason a relatively low estimation, as opposed to more popular thinkers who give reason a central place in moral cognition, such as Lawrence Kohlberg and his stages of moral reasoning.

In the second portion of the book, he presents moral foundations theory, and applies it to the political beliefs of liberals, conservatives, and libertarians in the US. Haidt argues that people are too quick to denigrate other points of view without giving those views full consideration, and attempts to reach common ground between liberals and conservatives. He makes the case in the book for morality having multiple foundations (more than just harm and fairness), and said in an interview that morality "is at least six things, and probably a lot more than that"[1]: 8:55  and "[religion and politics are] ... expressions of our tribal, groupish, righteous nature."[1]: 13:06  In his book, he compares the six aspects that people use to establish morality and take into consideration when making judgment to six taste receptors in the mouth. These aspects of morality are defined as care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, and liberty/oppression.[2] He goes on to establish that Republicans and Democrats tend to focus on different morality receptors and this leads to worse political tactics and decision making. Haidt himself acknowledges that while he has been a liberal all his life,[3] he is now more open to other points of view.[4]

In the third part of the book, Haidt describes a hypothetical "hive switch", which turns a selfish human "chimp" into a "groupish" human "bee". He describes how cultures and organizations have techniques for getting people to identify with their groups, such as dancing, moving, and singing in unison.

Key concepts and scholars discussed[edit]


The book was #6 on The New York Times Best Seller list for non-fiction in April 2012.[5]

Journalistic reception[edit]

William Saletan wrote in The New York Times in 2012 that the book is "a landmark contribution to humanity’s understanding of itself".[4]

The book received two reviews in The Guardian: in 2012, Ian Birrell called the book a "compelling study of the morality of those on the left and right [that] reaches some surprising conclusions";[6] and in 2013 Nicholas Lezard wrote that he was "in the odd position of being wary of a book I am also recommending. It's entertaining, snappily written and thought-provoking. It might even help Labour win the next election. But it still doesn't explain the gang running the country at the moment [the UK Conservative Party]."[7]

Journalist Chris Hedges wrote a review of The Righteous Mind in 2012 in which he accused Haidt of supporting social Darwinism.[8]

Academic reviews[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Jonathan Haidt – The Righteous Mind" (MP3). Point of Inquiry (podcast). Center for Inquiry. 19 March 2012. Retrieved 2 January 2023.
  2. ^ "How Jonathan Haidt's 6 Moral Tastebuds Can Heal a Divided World". HighExistence | Explore Life's Deepest Questions. 2016-12-19. Retrieved 2022-11-15.
  3. ^ "Jonathan Haidt on the Righteous Mind". Econtalk.
  4. ^ a b Saletan, William (March 23, 2012). "Why Won't They Listen? 'The Righteous Mind,' by Jonathan Haidt". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 February 2014.
  5. ^ "Best Sellers". The New York Times. 1 April 2012. Retrieved 15 February 2014.
  6. ^ Birrell, Ian (22 April 2012). "The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  7. ^ Lezard, Nicholas (7 May 2013). "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt – review". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  8. ^ Hedges, Chris (June 28, 2012). "The Righteous Road to Ruin". Truthdig. Archived from the original on November 9, 2012. Retrieved July 19, 2019.

External links[edit]