Do we prevent somebody being hurt by superstition or faith by rejecting and challenging those things? 

Is it mistaken to support organised religion in membership or donations?

If people do good because they are human, not because God prompts them then is it right to risk giving God any credit when they alone own their good?

Patrick H



This book examines the deep social questions about the authenticity of our social and religious and political moral sense.  There is nobody better to write such a book than Haidt who is a moral psychologist.  He is regarded as one of the world's most original thinkers with regard to society and its moralistic ways.  Not all agree as he thinks evolution has made us religious for our own good!  This is a virtual admission that religion can only benefit some (and by implication invite the destruction of the rest) for evolution implies the Darwinist view of dog system eating dog system.

Haidt (born 1963) is Professor of Ethical Leadership at Stern School of Business, New York University.


Quote: I chose the title The Righteous Mind to convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.

Analysis: This is an extremely good point.  It is proof that religions that make rules we could do without or live without are bad.  They are about passive aggressive judgement.  Examples are the rule that you must attend Mass on feasts such as the Immaculate Conception or that you must have communion at least once a year.

Even our dodgy morality as bad as it is would condemn that as immoral.

It explains why people cannot stand their acts being judged even if it were the case that the person only judges the wrongdoing not the wrongdoer.

It explains why liberal and progressive people are not these things at all but impostors.

Quote: My approach starts with Durkheim, who said: “What is moral is everything that is a source of solidarity, everything that forces man to … regulate his actions by something other than … his own egoism.”As a sociologist, Durkheim focused on social facts—things that exist outside of any individual mind—which constrain the egoism of individuals. Examples of such social facts include religions, families, laws, and the shared networks of meaning that I have called moral matrices.

Analysis: What are religions doing first in the list?  Most religion is very individualistic - eg Protestants gathering together but agreeing on little in relation to faith matters.  Hinduism or Buddhism do not insist on community involvement.  Plus a religion that is only about bringing people together is not a religion at all but a social club. 

You can be sure that very doctrinal religions such as Catholicism and Jehovah's Witnesses do have a good share of secret atheists and closeted egoists in their ranks who say nothing and go along with it all!  A religion is a system that involves people but it is not exactly the people.  It is not that simple.

Notice how morality is defined as solidarity with others.  Religion would say it is solidarity with God.  Solidarity is the alternative to our own egoism.  So you compare working with others with working them for yourself.  Comparison is a very joyless negative way to formulate a morality!  Is it any wonder morality in any deep and proper sense has never been loved?  Adding God into the mix with a pile of alleged duties to him only makes it more toxic. It explains why God has never really been popular even among believers.  They compartmentalise - box God away to keep religion from being too involved in their lives.

Quote: He found that people make up their minds to condemn what you do rather quickly. It is when they are challenged as to why they condemn that they start coming up with post hoc harms that your action has done. 

Analysis: This shows how vital it is to have no more or no fewer moral directives than what you strictly need. Religion has moral rules of its own that society tends not to agree with as a whole.  Not everybody in every nation thinks it is a bad thing if you never say prayers.  It is vital to get rid of religion for it has religious based morals.  It creates moral issues to worry about that do not exist.  To the human being, there is no wrong in failing to attend public worship on a Sunday.  But there is if you are a Catholic. The more rules the more you are at risk of meaning to do wrong and the more you are likely to hurt others for you will think you may as well for you broke the religion's rules and became sinful anyway.  Doing evil or doing perceived evil, which still makes you evil, leads to more evil.  Sunday worship is insisted on in Catholicism.  It says you murder your own soul by deliberately not going to Mass on Sundays - every Sunday and that you are saying no to true and eternal fellowship with the good holy people around you.  So you are very bad indeed. 

Religion might say it loves sinners and hates sins.  Evil towards others always involves objectifying them in some way.  Objectifying in practice if not in your head is just as bad.  To say somebody is a sinner and to ignore this and see them as a project to be rescued or prayed for is objectifying them.  Not objectifying means seeing a person for as bad or as good as they are - no more and no less.  In so far as you do not want to see so far do you objectify.

Undoubtedly, those who preach love the sinner and hate the sin are liars.  If such love is possible it is not practiced at all.  If you love the sinner you will not be accusing and then trying to justify but you will put the horse before the cart.

Quote: We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment.

Analysis: This is another proof that religion has to be inherently passive aggressive.  And people spread the religion not out of love but to reinforce their prejudices and to get others to be as bad as themselves.  Only a miracle can stop us being that manipulative and religion promises moral and spiritual miracles but does not deliver.  That in itself is passive aggressive too.

If all moralists are passive aggressive then religion is just an addition to a problem that is already bad enough.

Quote: Psychologists used to assume that infant minds were blank slates. The world babies enter is “one great blooming, buzzing confusion,” as William James put it, and they spend the next few years trying to make sense of it all. But when developmental psychologists invented ways to look into infant minds, they found a great deal of writing already on that slate.

Analysis: No wonder religion desperately seeks power over children.  It knows that if the person had a real choice they would probably not be in their religion.  Conditioning a child then may not be about putting writing on the clean slate but wiping and altering the writing that is already there!  If that is not child abuse then what is?  I should send this analysis to Richard Dawkins who is clear that evangelising children or indoctrinating them is child abuse.

Quote: The first principle of moral psychology is Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second. In support of this principle, I reviewed six areas of experimental research demonstrating that: Brains evaluate instantly and constantly (as Wundt and Zajonc said). Social and political judgments depend heavily on quick intuitive flashes (as Todorov and work with the IAT have shown). Our bodily states sometimes influence our moral judgments. Bad smells and tastes can make people more judgmental (as can anything that makes people think about purity and cleanliness). Psychopaths reason but don’t feel (and are severely deficient morally). Babies feel but don’t reason (and have the beginnings of morality). Affective reactions are in the right place at the right time in the brain (as shown by Damasio, Greene, and a wave of more recent studies). Putting all six together gives us a pretty clear portrait of the rider and the elephant, and the roles they play in our righteous minds. The elephant (automatic processes) is where most of the action is in moral psychology. Reasoning matters, of course, particularly between people, and particularly when reasons trigger new intuitions. Elephants rule, but they are neither dumb nor despotic. Intuitions can be shaped by reasoning, especially when reasons are embedded in a friendly conversation or an emotionally compelling novel, movie, or news story.

Analysis: He is not saying intuitions should come first but only that they do.  This confirms how passive aggressive human moralising is.  He says he is persuaded that rationalists want power and to decide for people considered less rational than themselves. He states that moral philosophers are no better or worse than any other kind of person.  It is not true that rationalists necessarily wanted personal power.  A mathematician does not want personal power.  He wants to empower people by giving them information that passes some times - ie avoids contradicting itself.

Intuition is a good thing to go by if it has been trained by reason for that means it tells you what reason would say.  That is why it is vital for superstition and religion to go.  The religious world has always thrived on untrained intuition and even dressed it up as divine inspiration or divine grace.

Quote: When we see or hear about the things other people do, the elephant begins to lean immediately. The rider, who is always trying to anticipate the elephant’s next move, begins looking around for a way to support such a move. When my wife reprimanded me for leaving dirty dishes on the counter, I honestly believed that I was innocent. I sent my reasoning forth to defend me and it came back with an effective legal brief in just three seconds.

Analysis: The point is we can use reason to justify ourselves for morality is usually a grey area.  We take advantage of that greyness to reason ourselves into thinking we are innocent when we are not.  And he wants to believe he is innocent for he thinks that is the way to get his wife to believe it.  Its about manipulating her not just himself.

If we carry on like that with people who know we have done wrong imagine how ineffectual God will be!  Why people see God as putting you off immorality is beyond comprehension.

Quote: He cites the harm principle of John Stuart Mill had put forth in 1859: “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.”

Analysis: Realistically this rarely happens.  And it makes no sense to allow a person to harm themselves at the hands of another if the principle is right.  For example, some people see gender confirmation surgery and abortion as harmful but you cannot do them on your own.  Others have to be involved.

Quote: The ethic of autonomy is based on the idea that people are, first and foremost, autonomous individuals with wants, needs, and preferences. People should be free to satisfy these wants, needs, and preferences as they see fit, and so societies develop moral concepts such as rights, liberty, and justice, which allow people to coexist peacefully without interfering too much in each other’s projects. This is the dominant ethic in individualistic societies. You find it in the writings of utilitarians such as John Stuart Mill and Peter Singer (who value justice and rights only to the extent that they increase human welfare), and you find it in the writings of deontologists such as Kant and Kohlberg (who prize justice and rights even in cases where doing so may reduce overall welfare). But as soon as you step outside of Western secular society, you hear people talking in two additional moral languages. The ethic of community is based on the idea that people are, first and foremost, members of larger entities such as families, teams, armies, companies, tribes, and nations. These larger entities are more than the sum of the people who compose them; they are real, they matter...

The ethic of divinity is based on the idea that people are, first and foremost, temporary vessels within which a divine soul has been implanted.  People are not just animals with an extra serving of consciousness; they are children of God and should behave accordingly. The body is a temple, not a playground. Even if it does no harm and violates nobody’s rights when a man has sex with a chicken carcass, he still shouldn’t do it because it degrades him, dishonors his creator, and violates the sacred order of the universe. Many societies therefore develop moral concepts such as sanctity and sin, purity and pollution, elevation and degradation. In such societies, the personal liberty of secular Western nations looks like libertinism, hedonism, and a celebration of humanity’s baser instincts.

Analysis: We have three moralities here.  Individualism where the person alone matters as long as they harm nobody else.  Then there is the idea that people should be looked at as communities not mere islands.  Then there is the notion that we are like little gods and are not animals and should afford ourselves some measure of worship and reverence. 

Number 2 looks like the wisest.

Individualism has problems and leads to loneliness.

Seeing yourself as a child of God is really just you thinking of yourself as a god and is egoistic.  The chicken carcass analogy is disgusting but yet the Christians praise Jesus for knowingly walking to the cross - one of the most barbaric forms of execution ever.

Quote: When an artist submerges a crucifix in a jar of his own urine, or smears elephant dung on an image of the Virgin Mary, do these works belong in art museums?  Can the artist simply tell religious Christians, “If you don’t want to see it, don’t go to the museum”? Or does the mere existence of such works make the world dirtier, more profane, and more degraded?

Analysis:  This shows the problem with religion and religious faith and their idea of the sacred.  They imply that such things demean all that exists.  If you submerge a marble in your urine that has no chance of being seen as profanation of all things but as art.  Religion then goes with judgementalism and extremism. He writes, "If we had no sense of disgust, I believe we would also have no sense of the sacred."  Religion then we can be sure is full of disgust for others though it has to hide it or it will end up too unpopular to thrive and it must think of the collection plate.

Quote: Morality is so rich and complex, so multifaceted and internally contradictory.

Analysis: Since when could a pile of contradictions be called morality?  Who decides which of two contradictory rules will be followed?  People who follow moral leaders are only going to feel manipulated.  If morality is doubtful then are we trying to use a moral God to get over that questionable side?  Are people who say that God and morality are in a sense the same thing and that without God you cannot have morality but just opinion trying to make morality solid?  Using a prop to solidify and ground morality only makes the hypocrisy and the lying worse.  It is about the smokescreen and the sin of maltreating God.

Quote: We believe that moral monism—the attempt to ground all of morality on a single principle—leads to societies that are unsatisfying to most people and at high risk of becoming inhumane because they ignore so many other moral principles.

Analysis: Tell that to Christians who say the only law is love.  A moral principle need not be a straight rule.  The rule love is love is as much a rule as is, "Obey the Koran only."

Quote: Moral judgment is a kind of perception, and moral science should begin with a careful study of the moral taste receptors. You can’t possibly deduce the list of five taste receptors by pure reasoning, nor should you search for it in scripture. There’s nothing transcendental about them. You’ve got to examine tongues. Hume got it right. When he died in 1776, he and other sentimentalists had laid a superb foundation for “moral science,” one that has, in my view, been largely vindicated by modern research...

Analysis: It is true that right and wrong have to involve you perceiving.  You perceive a tree and you perceive that hitting a baby for laughs is wrong.  This quote tells us that you don't need God or the supernatural to detect what is morally wrong.  He says you should not search for moral rules in scripture.  If so then religion with its claim that God revealed its morals and rules to it is actually an enemy of morality and antagonistic to moral perception and awareness.

Quote: The second principle of moral psychology is: There’s more to morality than harm and fairness. In this chapter I began to say exactly what more there is: Morality is like taste in many ways—an analogy made long ago by Hume and Mencius. Deontology and utilitarianism are “one-receptor” moralities that are likely to appeal most strongly to people who are high on systemizing and low on empathizing. Hume’s pluralist, sentimentalist, and naturalist approach to ethics is more promising than utilitarianism or deontology for modern moral psychology. As a first step in resuming Hume’s project, we should try to identify the taste receptors of the righteous mind. Modularity can help us think about innate receptors, and how they produce a variety of initial perceptions that get developed in culturally variable ways. Five good candidates for being taste receptors of the righteous mind are care, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.

Analysis: Five good candidates for being taste receptors of the righteous mind are care, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.  These things help you to perceive what is right and wrong.  He is wrong about sanctity.  The other four are found in society and thus you do not need religion or God. 

Let us rank them in order of importance.  1 care.  2 fairness.  3 authority.  4 loyalty.  The care is what you have to work on most of all and it is better to make a mistake with one of the others than with this one.  You don't need God or faith in God or Bibles or religionists to have to care.  They insult its supreme importance.  Faith claims to come first so faith is evil. Interestingly it is missing from the list.  It should not even be considered for inclusion.

Quote:  The Care/harm foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of caring for vulnerable children. It makes us sensitive to signs of suffering and need; it makes us despise cruelty and want to care for those who are suffering.

The Fairness/cheating foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of reaping the rewards of cooperation without getting exploited. It makes us sensitive to indications that another person is likely to be a good (or bad) partner for collaboration and reciprocal altruism. It makes us want to shun or punish cheaters.

The Loyalty/betrayal foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forming and maintaining coalitions. It makes us sensitive to signs that another person is (or is not) a team player. It makes us trust and reward such people, and it makes us want to hurt, ostracize, or even kill those who betray us or our group.

The Authority/subversion foundation evolved in response to the adaptive challenge of forging relationships that will benefit us within social hierarchies. It makes us sensitive to signs of rank or status, and to signs that other people are (or are not) behaving properly, given their position.

The Sanctity/degradation foundation evolved initially in response to the adaptive challenge of the omnivore’s dilemma, and then to the broader challenge of living in a world of pathogens and parasites. It includes the behavioral immune system, which can make us wary of a diverse array of symbolic objects and threats. It makes it possible for people to invest objects with irrational and extreme values—both positive and negative—which are important for binding groups together.

I showed how the two ends of the political spectrum rely upon each foundation in different ways, or to different degrees. It appears that the left relies primarily on the Care and Fairness foundations, whereas the right uses all five. ...Does left-wing morality activate just one or two taste receptors?

Analysis: He says the reason the right leaning politicians predictably do best in the long-term is that they use more moral foundations than the left which only uses one or two.  Notice how he lists the dangers of some of those foundations.  Fairness and loyalty have a dangerous side for those who do not conform.  He adds in sanctity which shows that right wing politicians who seem secular are in fact not.  Perhaps they turn themselves into messiahs or sons of God without being clearly seen that way?   He gives us an interesting take on the danger of sanctity - it opens the door to extremes.  Sanctity will be more effective for a political party that is expressly religious!  This is a worry in today's world where the value of separating religion from politics is clear.

Quote: The Koran commands Muslims to kill apostates, and Allah himself promises that he “shall certainly roast them at a Fire; as often as their skins are wholly burned, We shall give them in exchange other skins, that they may taste the chastisement. Surely God is All-mighty, All-wise.”

Analysis: It shows that not all religion is good.  It shows that God is active in torturing you in Hell.  God is praised as all wise for giving you a new skin to replace the one burned off.  God according to the Bible threatened Israel to obey all his commands including the ones demanding that certain sinners be stoned to death.  When he does that on earth what is he doing in the afterlife?

Quote: Some religions are better than others at hijacking the human mind, burrowing in deeply, and then getting themselves transmitted to the next generation of host minds.

Analysis: Surely he has to be thinking of Islam here!  It does the best job at getting and keeping devotees.

Quote: Dennett proposes that religions survive because, like those parasites, they make their hosts do things that are bad for themselves (e.g., suicide bombing) but good for the parasite (e.g., Islam).

Analysis: Good!

Quote: Creating gods who can see everything, and who hate cheaters and oath breakers, turns out to be a good way to reduce cheating and oath breaking.

Analysis: The police and the politicians may be happy with that for it protects social order.  But is feeling hated by the divine or fearing the divine a good thing?  Never.  And you are a cheater and oath-breaker in your heart if all that is stopping you from doing these bad things is fear.  You would do it but dare not.  You cannot ask people to think you or your religion are really good if you are under threat from a god.  Do not forget it: the police and the politicians only want religion as a means of control.  If all that is stopping you from being bad is fear then one morning you will have had enough and you will rebel and all the badness will be unleashed.  To think God is full of hate or the gods is to define life and the universe by hate and that can only lead to you being as despicable as them.

Quote: Why doesn’t sacrifice strengthen secular communes? Sosis argues that rituals, laws, and other constraints work best when they are sacralized. He quotes the anthropologist Roy Rappaport: “To invest social conventions with sanctity is to hide their arbitrariness in a cloak of seeming necessity.”  But when secular organizations demand sacrifice, every member has a right to ask for a cost-benefit analysis, and many refuse to do things that don’t make logical sense. In other words, the very ritual practices that the New Atheists dismiss as costly, inefficient, and irrational turn out to be a solution to one of the hardest problems humans face: cooperation without kinship. Irrational beliefs can sometimes help the group function more rationally, particularly when those beliefs rest upon the Sanctity foundation.  Sacredness binds people together, and then blinds them to the arbitrariness of the practice.

Analysis: It may seem that illogical contradictory belief systems bring benefits at times but that is through luck.  Without thinking correctly you have no reality check so it can backfire easily and indeed can happen at any time!

Quote from the book about how setting up shrines got people to work together better for the community: The ingenious religious solution to this problem of social engineering was to place a small temple at every fork in the irrigation system. The god in each such temple united all the subaks that were downstream from it into a community that worshipped that god, thereby helping the subaks to resolve their disputes more amicably. This arrangement minimized the cheating and deception that would otherwise flourish in a zero-sum division of water. The system made it possible for thousands of farmers, spread over hundreds of square kilometers, to cooperate without the need for central government, inspectors, and courts. The system worked so efficiently that the Dutch—who were expert hydrologists themselves—could find little to improve.

Analysis: The shrines were a meeting point and a relaxation point.  People got a break and a chance to gel better and talk and it was that not the sacredness that got the results.

Quote: On surveys, religious people routinely claimed to give more money to charity, and they expressed more altruistic values. But when social psychologists brought people into the lab and gave them the chance to actually help strangers, religious believers rarely acted any better than did nonbelievers.

Analysis: And why then do we have this book that tries to make out that religion is sometimes essential as a force for good?

Quote: Deuteronomy 22:9–11. Mary Douglas (1966) argues that the need to keep categories pure is the most important principle behind the kosher laws. I disagree, and think that disgust plays a much more powerful role; see Rozin, Haidt, and McCauley 2008.

Analysis: The kosher rules come from God's rules about purity in the Bible.  You cannot worry about purity without being driven by disgust.  The laws hate menstruating women.

Quote (based on how a train is coming and how if you push somebody off a bridge in front of it to save the lives of a number of people you will be assessed as immoral.  But if you use a switch so that the train is diverted and kills one person when it would kill many if not diverted you will be considered moral.):  

Some philosophers note the difference that in the bridge story you are using the victim as a means to an end, whereas in the switch story the victim is not a means to an end; his death is just an unfortunate side effect.

Greene and others have therefore tested alternative versions, such as the case where the switch only saves lives because it diverts the trolley onto a side loop where one man is standing. In that case the victim is still being used as a means to an end; if he were to step off the track, the trolley would continue on the loop, back onto the main track, and would kill the five people. In these cases, subjects tend to give responses in between the original switch and footbridge versions.

Analysis: This is the person making it all about being seen as immoral or moral.  It is about a moral standard.  That is selfish for it is not about standards but about a dead body.  Either way there is still a dead body and all we worry about is the moral assessment.  Morality is really just egoism pretending to be selfless and caring.  You need cases like this to prove it.

Quote: Racism, genocide, and suicide bombing are all manifestations of groupishness. They are not things that people do in order to outcompete their local peers; they are things people do to help their groups outcompete other groups.

Analysis: Good.  That is why we should never say suicide bombings have ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with Islam.  That is why we should never say that the IRA killings of Protestants are unrelated to Catholicism.

Quote: Blackmore is a meme theorist who originally shared Dawkins’s view that religions were memes that spread like viruses. But after seeing the evidence that religious people are happier, more generous, and more fertile, she recanted. See Blackmore 2010.

What has happiness got to do with proving religion is not a virus?  A virus in your computer that makes you laugh is still a virus.

Religious faith especially fundamentalist forms is like a parasite that does not kill its host but affects it in a way that protects its infestation and gives it growing power. It works like a biological computer program. The mind is like a collection of programs that direct the brain. The brain is not in command of them (or therefore the mind) but they (the mind) are in charge of the brain. To be freed from this it is essential that you get out of your comfort zone and let people challenge you intelligently and with evidence. You need their tough love.

It is possible to be narrow in an open way. Anything be it liberal or restricted that is based on a refusal to open your mind and check it is fundamentalist.

Critics of religion will repeat the teaching of the religion. This amounts to doing the evangelization for the religion. Theology and life both show that the message can have an uncanny ability to grip some people. It is usually put down to the influence of the Holy Spirit. People open to the idea of the supernatural and paranormal will agree that there is something odd about the influence never mind if it is from the Holy Spirit or not. The power of preaching the so-called gospel and "bewitching" people especially the vulnerable is real and atheists must be careful. It is unexplained. It stands to reason that this message, "You will sense that something is guiding you to accept the gospel and take its word for it. This is the Holy Spirit at work" will capture people in a way that, "This is the teaching for a good life as far as we can work it out" cannot. Testimony even an imagined one from God has power over what other humans think for there is nothing that special about what anybody thinks anyway.

Quote re Sam Harris who wrote a book arguing that morality is real and objective for harm is real and objective: I agree with Harris 2010 in his choice of utilitarianism, but with two big differences:

(1) I endorse it only for public policy, as I do not think individuals are obligated to produce the greatest total benefit, and

(2) Harris claims to be a monist. He says that what is right is whatever maximizes the happiness of conscious creatures, and he believes that happiness can be measured with objective techniques, such as an fMRI scanner.

I disagree. I am a pluralist, not a monist. I follow Shweder (1991; Shweder and Haidt 1993) and Berlin 2001 in believing that there are multiple and sometimes conflicting goods and values, and there is no simple arithmetical way of ranking societies along a single dimension. There is no way to eliminate the need for philosophical reflection about what makes a good society.  I am endorsing here a version of utilitarianism known as “rule utilitarianism,” which says that we should aim to create the system and rules that will, in the long run, produce the greatest total good. This is in contrast to “act utilitarianism,” which says that we should aim to maximize utility in each case, with each act.

Analysis: This amounts to a refutation of religion.  Religion is a public policy of its own.  Catholicism fundamentally rejects utilitarianism as immoral and Jesus treated morality in a non-utilitarian way.  Rule utilitarianism is clear that God and religion and Jesus need to go if they are not helpful on the road to the greatest total good.  So it is fundamentally non-Christian.  The Jews reasoned according to the John gospel that it was better to have Jesus murdered than risk his ministry aggravating the Romans and coming in and destroying the people.   The gospel condemns that utilitarian reasoning.  All forms of utilitarianism allow somebody, even innocent, to be sacrificed for the people.

Quote: People do not cooperate well in large groups when they perceive that many others are free riding.

Analysis: True!

Haidt's last word:

You’re nearly done reading a book on morality, and I have not yet given you a definition of morality. There’s a reason for that. The definition I’m about to give you would have made little sense back in chapter 1. It would not have meshed with your intuitions about morality, so I thought it best to wait. Now, after eleven chapters in which I’ve challenged rationalism (in Part I), broadened the moral domain (in Part II), and said that groupishness was a key innovation that took us beyond selfishness and into civilization (Part III), I think we’re ready. Not surprisingly, my approach starts with Durkheim, who said: “What is moral is everything that is a source of solidarity, everything that forces man to … regulate his actions by something other than … his own egoism.”  As a sociologist, Durkheim focused on social facts—things that exist outside of any individual mind—which constrain the egoism of individuals. Examples of such social facts include religions, families, laws, and the shared networks of meaning that I have called moral matrices. Because I’m a psychologist, I’m going to insist that we include inside-the-mind stuff too, such as the moral emotions, the inner lawyer (or press secretary), the six moral foundations, the hive switch, and all the other evolved psychological mechanisms I’ve described in this book. My definition puts these two sets of puzzle pieces together to define moral systems: Moral systems are interlocking sets of values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, technologies, and evolved psychological mechanisms that work together to suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible.

I’ll just make two points about this definition ...

First, this is a functionalist definition. I define morality by what it does, rather than by specifying what content counts as moral. Turiel, in contrast, defined morality as being about “justice, rights, and welfare.”  But any effort to define morality by designating a few issues as the truly moral ones and dismissing the bound to be parochial.

Second point ... Philosophers typically distinguish between descriptive definitions of morality (which simply describe what people happen to think is moral) and normative definitions (which specify what is really and truly right, regardless of what anyone thinks).  So far in this book I have been entirely descriptive.

My definition of morality was designed to be a descriptive definition; it cannot stand alone as a normative definition.  (As a normative definition, it would give high marks to fascist and communist societies as well as to cults, so long as they achieved high levels of cooperation by creating a shared moral order.)