Rationalist Delusions in Moral Psychology, Public Policy, and (New) Atheism

July 12, 2011
Thursday, May 12, 2011 - 4:00pm to 6:00pm
Thompson Library, 11th Floor

Abstract:  Many philosophers, psychologists, and lay people think that reasoning is a reliable way to find moral truth.  I will survey evidence indicating that reasoning evolved and is well-designed to serve social functions such as reputation management and navigation within a complex world of accountability constraints. To maintain that moral reasoning is (or should be) more important or more trusted than moral intuition, in the absence of evidence that people can reason dispassionately about moral issues, meets Webster’s definition of a delusion: a false conception and persistent belief unconquerable by reason in something that has no existence in fact. I will show how rationalism biases thinking about religion, and how rationalism leads to bad public policy. I will present social intuitionism as an alternative to rationalism.

Jonathan Haidt is a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia. He studies the emotional basis of morality and political ideology. His personal and professional ambition is to use this research to help people understand the moral motivations of their enemies. He was awarded the Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology in 2001, and the Virginia “Outstanding Faculty Award” in 2004. Haidt is the author of The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.  He is currently writing The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

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