I appreciate Jonathan Haidt’s gracious and constructive response to my Nature paper, and I want to begin my reply by acknowledging my considerable debt to him. My own research into moral psychology got started when I was approached by David Pizarro, then a graduate student at Yale, concerning Jon’s classic 2001 Psychological Review article. David and I ended up writing a commentary on this article. Soon afterwards, I began a series of studies, with David and others, on the emotion of disgust, and here again Jon’s work was a catalyst and an inspiration. So I am a huge fan of Jonathan Haidt.
I do not, however, find his response convincing.
1. He has read my article as a critique of his Social Intuitionist Model. But it isn’t. The point of the article was to argue for the importance of deliberative reasoning as an important aspect of moral psychology. I make this argument by outlining what I see as the modern consensus, which is, as Hume put it, that moral reasoning is “the slave of the passions”. Jon is probably the most prominent defender of this view, but other scholars who accept it, to varying degrees, are Stephen Stich, Philip Tetlock, Jesse Prinz, Philip Zimbardo, Drew Westin, and Michael Gazzaniga. When I begin my third paragraph by saying that I predict that “this theory” will be proven wrong, I’m referring to the reason-as-slave view, not any more specific theory.
In my second paragraph, I say that many psychologists think that reasoned arguments for moral beliefs are “mostly post-hoc justifications for gut reactions.” Then I write: “As the social psychologist Jonathan Haidt puts it, although we like to think of ourselves as judges, reasoning through cases according to deeply held principles, in reality we are more like lawyers, making arguments for positions that have already been established.” This is a perfectly accurate summary of his view from the 2001 paper, which is the paper of his that I cite.
2. It’s clear from the text, though, that Jon is categorized among those who endorse “the wholesale rejection of reason” in the formation of moral judgments. He is right to complain about this. The adjective was an overstatement of my part — one web dictionary says that it means “extensively and indiscriminately”, and it’s clear from his 2001 paper and elsewhere that Jon allows for some limited role of reason — and I apologize for it.
What about “rejection of reason”? Theories lie on a continuum and, in the space of views concerning morality, Jon’s theory in his 2001 paper really is famous in its rejection of reason. Jon seems to disagree; he modestly says “I merely rejected the worship of reasoning common in the Kohlbergian tradition.” – implying that his paper was nothing more than a gentle corrective to some over-zealous Kohlbergians! Well, I’ll leave this for the reader to judge. But I will point out that his title is “The emotional dog and the rational tail” And abstract begins with this:
Research on moral judgment has been dominated by rationalist models, in which moral judgment is thought to be caused by moral reasoning. Four reasons are given for considering the hypothesis that moral reasoning does not cause moral judgment; rather, moral reasoning is usually a post-hoc construction, generated after a judgment has been reached. The social intuitionist model is presented as an alternative to rationalist models. The model is a social model in that it de-emphasizes the private reasoning done by individuals, emphasizing instead the importance of social and cultural influences.
And the paper ends with this:
The time may be right, therefore, to take another look at Hume’s perverse thesis: that moral emotions and intuitions drive moral reasoning, just as a surely as a dog wags its tail.
3. There is a lot of the Social Intuitionist Theory that I agree with. But I think it is mistaken in the view that private moral deliberation is irrelevant and unimportant. On the contrary, I would argue that it’s a central aspect of our moral lives. David and I argued for this in our response to Jon’s 2001 article, and I’ve expanded on this point in my 2004 book and again in my Nature article. Jon begins his reply to me that “we agree on the basic story”. But, unless his views have changed, we don’t.