Intuition, Not Reason, Drives Moral Judgments: Bridging the Cultural Divide, pt. 5

This is the fifth of an 18-part series that explores our deep cultural divide and offers 10 suggestions about how we can contribute to bridging the divide.

By Dr. Denise R. Ames

Suggestion #2: Intuition, Not Reason, Drives Moral Judgments, pt. 2

Most of the time, says Jonathan Haidt in his book, The Righteous Mind, “…if you want to change people’s minds, you’ve got to talk to their elephants, and you don’t do that with01.3 Righteous Mind reason. You do it by showing yourself to be a warm, attractive person. When you draw someone in emotionally, his elephant begins to lean your way, and the rider starts paying attention to what you say.” It is rare, but occasionally someone uses reason and arrives at a conclusion against her initial intuitions. However, “intuitions can be shaped by reasoning, especially when reasons are embedded in a friendly conversation or an emotionally compelling novel, movie, art, or news story.”

Moral reasoning is not about figuring out the truth. Haidt explains that if you do think this you will “be constantly frustrated by how foolish, biased, and illogical people become when they disagree with you. But if you think about moral reasoning is a skill we humans evolved to further our social agendas… and to defend the teams we belong to—then things will make a lot more sense. Keep your eye on the intuitions and don’t take people’s moral arguments at face value.”

05.1 Great DivideThe conclusion Haidt reached about reason and intuitions can be applied to today’s political divide. In 1950, the American Political Science Association, attempting to avoid sharp polarization, presented clear policy choices from two different perspectives. Regrettably, as the political parties developed differing values and lifestyles, they also developed opposing facts.

Republicans and Democrats believe different things about history, the Constitution, science, and economics. Explaining this dilemma Haidt states, “The main reason Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on basic economic facts is that people—including politicians and economists—seek out the facts required by their values.” When faced with difficult or unclear evidence, human reasoning does not ask about the truth but asks what evidence can I find to support this conclusion. Usually, we can find such evidence. Even when an overwhelming amount of reliable research points the other way, just one study supporting your side will seem totally persuasive, and you’ll find all kinds of reasons to discard the reliable science.

05.2 divideThe fact that emotions rule over reason has important ramifications for the cultural divide. When we believe our side is right and we find reliable facts to support our conclusion, it is usually an illusion we are chasing. Our emotions are ruling and the other side sees their side as equally right because they draw on a different set of facts to support their conclusions.

01.2 DeniseAbout the Author: Dr. Denise R. Ames

Dr. Ames’ varied life experiences—scholarly research, teaching, reflections, and extensive travels—have contributed to her balanced and thoughtful perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development trainings, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded the educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, developing globally-focused books and educational resources. She has written seven books, blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for the non-profit and clients.

DivCover-dsDivided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them has just been released! $14.95

Divided addresses the question on the lips of every American: why can’t we get along? The cultural divide is threatening our democracy and destabilizing our country. Divided looks at the deep cultural divide through the lens of five colliding worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. This approach helps us make sense of our deep divisions and suggests ways of bridging them.

It is urgent that we understand and bridge the cultural divide. Bridging the divide is dependent upon first understanding it. Gaining an understanding of the five worldviews enhances our success of arriving at sensible solutions and increasing civil conversations. If not, rancor and intractability ensue.

Divided is one of nine books written by Dr. Ames and the Center for Global Awareness, check out their offerings! Global Awareness Books  



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