Arnold Kling  

Not Robin Hanson or Tyler Cowen

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The Macro Doubtbook, Installme... Murphy on Discrimination...

But Jonathan Haidt sounds like them.


The answer, according to Mercier and Sperber, is that reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments. That's why they call it The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning. So, as they put it, and it's here on your handout, "The evidence reviewed here shows not only that reasoning falls quite short of reliably delivering rational beliefs and rational decisions. It may even be, in a variety of cases, detrimental to rationality. Reasoning can lead to poor outcomes, not because humans are bad at it, but because they systematically strive for arguments that justify their beliefs or their actions. This explains the confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, and reason-based choice, among other things."

He continues,

Science works very well as a social process, when we can come together and find flaws in each other's reasoning. We can't find the problems in our own reasoning very well. But, that's what other people are for, is to criticize us. And together, we hope the truth comes out.

Later, he writes,

The two major ethical systems that define Western philosophy were developed by men who either had Asperger's, or were pretty darn close. For Jeremy Bentham, the principal founder of utilitarianism, the case is quite strong.

His point here is that systemetizers have low empathy, which leads them to ethical reasoning that cuts against the ethical intuition of most people.

Another excerpt:


I believe that morality has to be understood as a largely tribal phenomenon, at least in its origins. By its very nature, morality binds us into groups, in order to compete with other groups.

Of course, read the whole thing.


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COMMENTS (10 to date)
zeljka writes:

On one hand, I agree with most of what Haidt said. On the other hand, most of it is also so glaringly obvious that it should have formed a core of scientific consensus ages ago. The fact that this is a contested/minority view shows in just how poor a shape moral psychology is.

"I believe that morality has to be understood as a largely tribal phenomenon, at least in its origins. By its very nature, morality binds us into groups, in order to compete with other groups."

I wonder how this squares with Haidt's Five Foundations Theory where Ingroup/Loyalty is just one of the dimensions, whose relevance is apparently limited to conservatives. I don't quite get why is Haidt so concerned about liberal bias in the moral psychology community. Liberals' foremost concerns are supposed to be harm and fairness, certainly not maintaining the purity of their beliefs or demonizing outsiders.

BZ writes:
Virtues are character traits that a person needs in order to live a good, praiseworthy, or admirable life.
So, my goal in this talk is to develop the idea that moral psychology is like the psychology of taste in some important ways.
Morality is a consensual hallucination, and when you read the WEIRD people article, it's like taking the red pill.

I'm sorry, but, I find these observations a bit beside the point. It would be like approaching strategy in football by studying the effects of writing Xs and Os on chalkboards.

By standing outside of morality and treating it as a strictly behavioral phenomenon, he's missing the entire point of ethics: namely, to answer the question, "what ought I do now?". Economists (in my experience) are pretty good at pointing their theories back at themselves. Not all social scientists are.

Lee Kelly writes:

This confirms everything I already believe!

Philo writes:

". . . reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments." This is not credible. Winning an argument is not, *per se*, especially likely to be good for you: the outcome may be that everyone comes to believe something false, which tends to have bad consequences for the believers. On the other hand, successfully pursuing the truth almost always has good consequences for the pursuer.

Besides, the argument-winning function of reasoning is logically secondary to the truth-pursuing function; you win the argument by convincing others that you have found and displayed *the truth*.

Finally, it is hard to get away with arguing fallaciously: your opponent has an argument-winning incentive to point out the flaws in your reasoning.

Joseph Sunde writes:

Haidt says:

"I believe that morality has to be understood as a largely tribal phenomenon, at least in its origins. By its very nature, morality binds us into groups, in order to compete with other groups."

It would seem, then, that the morally "prosperous" country would be one that maximizes *moral* competition among factions.

Radical federalism, anyone?

Gian writes:

Dear Mr Kling,

If you are writing about Reason and Rationality and their evolution then I presume you have solved Haldane's paradox to your satisfaction:

If my mental processes are determined wholly by the motions of atoms in my brain, I have no reason to suppose that my beliefs are true ... and hence I have no reason for supposing my brain to be composed of atoms.

JBS Haldane (evolutionist)

Thus the theory of evolution of Reason is self-refuting.

Lee Kelly writes:

Gian,

I can't tell if you're joking.

In any case, having no reason (in the sense of no justification) for believing a proposition to be true does not imply that said proposition is false. Hence, there is no paradox.

Gian writes:

It is no joking matter.
What does the word "argument" mean in the context of evolution?. Do animals have arguments?
There are three stumbling blocks in the way of naturalistic explanation of mind, and each one bigger than the previous: consciousness, intentionality and rationality.

The naturalists have been knocking their head against
consciousness for 50 years and reaching nowhere and it is certainly bold of them to offer evolutionary schemes for Reason.

Lee Kelly writes:

Gian,

I am sympathetic to non-naturalistic theories of mind, like some forms of dualism. However, the "paradox" you cite is neither a paradox nor relevant to the matter.

Gian writes:

Lee,
Irrelevant? Before making up stories about evolution of a trait, isnt it better to decide if that trait is something that can evolve or not?

Does Haidt even understand how a quarrel differs from a fight?
Man quarrels and fights but animals only fight.

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