Morality’s Beginnings

Human existence, according to Haidt (2012), is both human and collective, corresponding to the Upper and Lower-Right quadrants. Human nature evolved as individuals interacted with others within and group as descendants of primates that excelled at competition. Until 2009, Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia, considered himself a partisan democrat. This helps to illustrate why he tried to encourage and enrich liberalism while still introducing a greater understanding of human nature. Haidt (2012) clarified that various political groups never seem to listen to each other when trying to figure out where morality comes from. He said that people aren’t built to listen to logic. To explain the difficulty in identifying where morality originates from, Haidt (2012) asks very bizarre questions, including, If a dog dies, why not eat it? Is it wrong to have sex with a dead chicken? among others bizarre questions. While human beings may agree that these acts are wrong, none of them can explain why. Haidt (2012) argues that moral systems are common across the globe and in history because they fit human nature. Therefore, they have existed as long as the human being has existed. According to Haidt (2012), the same way they acquire food preferences human beings acquire morality.

The problem is not found in people’s failure to reason because people do reason. The problem is found in people because their arguments are intended to support their own conclusions, not those of others (Haidt, 2003). Human nature does not work like a teacher or a judge – by weighing evidence impartially or guiding human beings to wisdom. Rather, it works more like a press secretary or a lawyer – justifying own acts and passing judgments to other human beings. Haidt (2012) gives an example how subjects marshal arguments for the incest taboo in a relentless manner regardless of how thoroughly an interrogator demolishes these arguments. This represents the human nature as discussed by Haidt.

When Haidt talked about the intuitive dog and its rational tail, he wanted to introduce his social intuitionist model of moral judgment. Through this model, Haidt (2003) explained that there are various reasons to doubt the causal importance of reason for moral reasoning. According to this model, human beings acquire moral intuition from a combination of nature and nurture. Human beings make most of their moral judgments as a result of nature and nurture. They do not make judgments based on their own reasoning; rather, most reasoning is just used to justify their moral beliefs but not to reach conclusions. Such justifications are only used when a person wants to change the intuitions of other people rather than his or her own intuitions. However, Haidt does not rule out the possibility of there being people who are capable of reasoning on their own to change their own intuitions. By using the “the dog and its rational tail”, Haidt is just trying to contrast intuition with reasoning. He indicated that the latter is intentional, conscious, and one that requires steps.

There are several aspects of human nature, which Haidt discusses by discussing how the conservatives and liberals understand things. For example, Haidt (2012) identifies parochial altruism as the aspect of human nature that conservatives understand better than liberals. Parochial altruism may be defined as the inclination to care more about members of one’s group, especially the members who have made sacrifices for the group. These individuals usually care for the members of the group first before caring for other people outside the group. For example, when applied to the situation today, saving other countries from plunging into war, paying taxes to educate children in other states may be considered noble, but to human nature (as explained by Haidt), these actions are not natural. However, what human beings consider natural are actions such as giving to their churches, and rallying together against a foreign state. This represents the human nature based on the explanation by Haidt.

Human nature conceives morality in terms of rights, harm, consent, and fairness. However, when human nature steps outside the neighborhood used to, it discovers that its perspective is highly anomalous. After travelling the world and surveying thousands of people over the internet, he compiled a catalog comprised of six fundamental ideas underlying human nature’s moral system. These include fairness, care, liberty, loyalty, sanctity, and authority. Alongside these ideas, Haidt (2012) identified related themes that bear moral weight, including community, divinity, degradation, hierarchy, tradition, and sin. Haidt’s worldviews might differ from those of many people around the world because they do not start with the individual. Rather, they start with the cosmic order or the group. His worldviews exalt communities, families, and armies. They continue to make assumptions that people should be accorded different treatments based on their social status or social role. They further assume that elders deserve to be honored and that subordinates deserve protection. Other the other side, Haidt’s worldviews seem to suppress form of expressions that give an indication that their intentions are to weaken the social fabric. What they attempt to assume is independence rather than autonomy, and prize order rather than equality.

Haidt argues that moral systems are common across the globe and in history because they fit human nature. Therefore, they have existed as long as the human being has existed and wherever human beings are making human beings vehicles of morality. Haidt (2012) indicates that the same way they acquire food preferences human beings acquire morality. A human being starts with what is provided to them. If they find it appealing, they stick with it. If it does not appeal to them, they reject it. Human beings accept things or others because their ideas are suitable to their moral taste buds. Haidt attempted to use research to show that human beings punish those who cheat and fail to support equal distribution of benefits when contributions are not equal (Graham, Haidt & Nosek, 2009).

Haidt uses Democrats and Republicans to demonstrate these facts. For example, social conservatives in the Republican Party have a tendency to see feminism and welfare as threats to family stability and responsibility (Graham, Haidt & Nosek, 2009). The Republicans, according to Haidt, (2012) display a high ‘dislike’ for redistribution because of it interferes with allowing people to reap what they earn. The Republicans themes revolve around six moral foundations namely, chastity, valor, patriotism, faith, and law and order. The Democrats themes are based on entirely different moral foundations, including care and fighting oppression. This made Haidt come into conclusion that conservatives are more broad-minded compared to liberals. He further explained that their differences in moral foundations represent the reason why both never agree.


Haidt, J. (2012). The righteous mind: Why good people are divided by religion and politics. New York: Pantheon.

Haidt, J. (2003). The moral emotions. Handbook of affective sciences, 11, 852-870.

Graham, J., Haidt, J., & Nosek, B. A. (2009). Liberals and conservatives rely on different sets of moral foundations. Journal of personality and social psychology, 96(5), 1029.

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