A well-informed tour of contemporary moral psychology.

Haidt (Psychology/Univ. of Virginia; The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, 2005, etc.) lays out a rich landscape of morality, presenting a cross-cultural, evolutionarily sensible scenario wherein a moral universe can be shaped from six moral foundations: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation and liberty/oppression. Haidt examines, via a wide array of theories, research and experimentation, how various subsets—for instance, the WEIRD (Western, educated, industrial, rich, democratic) group—emphasize one or more of the foundations with respect to group traditions and evolutionary progress. He explains how he has arrived at an intuitionist’s rather than a rationalist’s stance regarding the elemental governing of our moral behavior—a framework with us at birth, though not deterministic—how our reasoning comes later to justify our social agenda and how moral intuitions such as loyalty, authority and sanctity gather such subjective importance and potential evolutionary value. He arrives at a broad definition of moral systems as “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.” Haidt finds within Western democracies an ethnic and moral diversity that is best served by utilitarianism, producing the greatest total good, and that happiness comes from “getting the right relationships between yourself and others, yourself and your work, and yourself and something larger than yourself.” A cogent rendering of a moral universe of fertile complexity and latent flexibility.


Pub Date: March 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-37790-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012


Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our...

A psychologist and Nobel Prize winner summarizes and synthesizes the recent decades of research on intuition and systematic thinking.

The author of several scholarly texts, Kahneman (Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs/Princeton Univ.) now offers general readers not just the findings of psychological research but also a better understanding of how research questions arise and how scholars systematically frame and answer them. He begins with the distinction between System 1 and System 2 mental operations, the former referring to quick, automatic thought, the latter to more effortful, overt thinking. We rely heavily, writes, on System 1, resorting to the higher-energy System 2 only when we need or want to. Kahneman continually refers to System 2 as “lazy”: We don’t want to think rigorously about something. The author then explores the nuances of our two-system minds, showing how they perform in various situations. Psychological experiments have repeatedly revealed that our intuitions are generally wrong, that our assessments are based on biases and that our System 1 hates doubt and despises ambiguity. Kahneman largely avoids jargon; when he does use some (“heuristics,” for example), he argues that such terms really ought to join our everyday vocabulary. He reviews many fundamental concepts in psychology and statistics (regression to the mean, the narrative fallacy, the optimistic bias), showing how they relate to his overall concerns about how we think and why we make the decisions that we do. Some of the later chapters (dealing with risk-taking and statistics and probabilities) are denser than others (some readers may resent such demands on System 2!), but the passages that deal with the economic and political implications of the research are gripping.

Striking research showing the immense complexity of ordinary thought and revealing the identities of the gatekeepers in our minds.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-374-27563-1

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2011



This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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