What is morality and where does it come from? Social psychologist Haidt answers these important questions with compelling evidence from endless scientific studies. While not in full agreement with his conclusions, he challenged me to more carefully consider my own.
What is morality? I would answer this question with a list of the seven traditional virtues; faith, hope, love, courage, prudence, justice, and temperance. Haidt, who does not profess himself a Christian, offers a different list: compassion, liberty, fairness, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.
Our definitions overlap at points, most notably on the need to treat others with compassion and fairness. Although not singled out as virtues, I think Haidt would affirm the importance of courage, prudence, and temperance.
The biggest difference between the lists is not their composition, but their origin. I believe the seven virtues arise ultimately from God who provided them for the good of humanity. For Haidt, morality evolved as humans fortuitously stumbled onto the right paths.
I found Haidt’s description of the evolution of morality fascinating, but flawed. For one thing, he doesn’t address the origin of evil, one of life’s most obvious realities. Nor does he explain why what is, is good, other than that it seems to work.
Haidt wrote this book, in part, to explain why conservatives and liberals are talking past each other. Essentially, liberals prioritize compassion and fairness but neglect the other elements of morality, especially loyalty, authority, and sanctity. Conservatives emphasize these three without neglecting the others. Both groups claim to be moral, but define morality very differently.
Haidt, himself a political liberal, hopes to foster civil dialogue, especially as it relates to politics; his thesis applies equally well to evangelism. Acknowledging the “other” as a person seeking to be moral, though by a different definition, at least provides a place for a conversation to begin.