April 2, 2012
University of Virginia psychology professor Jonathan Haidt will be at UBC on April 2nd, delivering two separate lectures intended for two different audiences, although both are open to the public. No advance registration is necessary.
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion
Noon to 1:30 pm
Frederic Wood Theatre
What on earth is wrong with those people? Why do they believe so much crazy stuff that flies in the face of science and common sense? We all ask these questions about people on the “other side,” just as they ask these questions about us. In this talk I’ll show that moral psychology is the key to understanding the divisions that plague most societies. I’ll do more than that: I’ll show that the relatively recent human ability to get righteous (recent = last half million years) is the secret to our success on this planet. Morality let us live in larger groups and eventually forge civilizations. Morality binds groups together even as it blinds them to the truth about other groups, and about themselves.
The Groupish Gene: Hive psychology and the Origins of Morality and Religion
5 pm to 6:30 pm
For nearly 50 years scientists have generally agreed that selfish genes shaped human nature to be mostly selfish, with exceptions made toward kin, partners in reciprocity, and a few other cases. Group selection was banished from respectable discourse. But recent findings from multiple fields have re-opened the question. I will show that human nature appears to have been shaped by natural selection working at multiple levels, including not just intra-group competition but also inter-group competition. I’ll suggest that we have in our minds what amounts to a “hive switch” that shuts down the self and makes us feel, temporarily, that we are simply a part of a larger whole (or hive). This uniquely human ability for self-transcendence is crucial for understanding the origins of morality and religion.
I am a Professor in the Social Psychology area of the Department of Psychology at the University of Virginia. (For the current academic year I’m the Henry Kaufman visiting professor of business ethics at the NYU-Stern School of Business.) I study morality and emotion, and how they vary across cultures. I am also active in positive psychology (the scientific study of human flourishing) and study positive emotions such as moral elevation, admiration, and awe.
My research these days focuses on the moral foundations of politics, and on ways to transcend the “culture wars” by using recent discoveries in moral psychology to foster more civil forms of politics. Morality, by its very nature, makes it hard to study morality. It binds people together into teams that seek victory, not truth. It closes hearts and minds to opponents even as it makes cooperation and decency possible within groups.
To live virtuously as individuals and as societies, we must understand how our minds are built (see ch. 1 of The Happiness Hypothesis). We must find ways to overcome our natural self-righteousness (see ch. 4). We must respect and even learn from those whose morality differs from our own (see this talk or this essay on politics, or this essay on religion).