Elephant and the Rider

I was turned onto psychologist Jonathan Haidt by a Slate article  about whether the Tea Party is fair minded or not. The article was so interesting that I immediately ordered his new book: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. I’m 15% of the way through, and it’s rapidly climbing the charts as one of the most interesting non-fiction books I’ve read. Haidt manages to weave a personal story of his education and career with an immense amount of history and information on the psychology of morality. The Righteous Mind

The book explores the lines between rationality and emotion as they relate to our morality. It goes into the history of moral psychology and includes some interesting musings by Thomas Jefferson. The author highlights the Platonian angle that the perfect human is a fully rational one, Jefferson’s view that emotions and rationality are co-presidents, and Hume’s theory that emotions are ruling the show. So far, the author is agreeing with Hume and showing us how that plays an effect on our moral judgements (and will eventually add in morality as they relate to religion and morality).

The analogy the author uses is that we’re an elephant and a rider. That our emotions (elephant) are ultimately in control while our rationality (rider) provides some guidance (and ultimately rationalization for our mostly intuitive moral judgements). It’s a super interesting analogy that holds up quite well.

I’ve read quite a few books on ethics, philosophy, religion and politics – if The Righteous Mind sustains its awesomeness it will be up there with Karen Armstrong’s History of God, and Peter Singer’s Practical Ethics for me.


  1. Yes! Finally something about heat pump prices.

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