June 12, 2013 I Am Not “Spiritual,” but I Am Religious

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by Sarah Oelberg

I claim to be religious — not just spiritual. Spirituality is nice – it can be comforting, awesome, beautiful and sustaining. But it is a lonely endeavor. I choose religion so that I can continue to stimulate my mind and continually ask and try to answer important life questions; so I can be a member of a religious community that gives form and structure to my belief system and enables me to work together on the problems and challenges of the times; so my family can partake of rites of passage and celebrations that fit with our beliefs and values; and so I can enjoy the support and companionship of people who share similar beliefs and values.

I’m not spiritual – at least not in the way many say they are …

Spirituality is a word and concept I have largely avoided, thinking there are better ways to describe what is important in the human condition. One reason is because it means something different to everyone, so it is not a word which gives clarity to conversation. The old chestnut is true: if you ask ten UUs what “spirituality” means to them, you will get dozens of answers. It is hard to put a finger on what this spirituality is that so many profess to seek, believe in, or to be – as in “I am not religious, but I am very spiritual.” It has come to be something of a garbage word, possibly signifying just about anything from astrology to Zen Buddhism.

Part of my (and many Humanists’) resistance to the concept of spirituality comes from some of the meanings it holds for some people – meanings which do not speak to my experience. For example, to some, spirituality is an act, such as accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. To many, it is the equivalent of theology and metaphysics. Traditional notions of spirituality deal with a nonphysical realm of the world separate from earth and its inhabitants – a realm full of gods, spirits, ghosts, and the like.

It is also used to refer to some transcendental spirit or figure which is supposedly understandable to those who believe in it, but unavailable to the rest of us who don’t buy into their particular views, or have not shared the kind of ethereal experience which has given them this belief. I tend to be suspicious, even to resent when persons or groups try to claim exclusive knowledge or ownership of something, which they say is wonderful, but which is not made accessible to others.

I have also noticed that the word spirituality is often applied to everything lumped into the category New Age: i.e, crystals, guardian angels, channeling, entities, various divinations, out-of- body experiences, ritual transformation, psychic healing, trance states, etc. As a humanist, I have difficulty with these fanciful non-material notions. I have also noted that the spirituality peddled in bookstores and at retreats and on TV talk shows tends to be kind of wispy and misty and rich in appeal to narcissism. You know – if it feels right, or is something that one instinctively knows or which makes them content, then it is spiritual and good – at least for the person experiencing the feeling.

In my experience, the “very spiritual” people who hold forth in these venues are often not the kind of folks who join with others to staff homeless shelters or carry out other works of love; they often despise organized religion, preferring personal evanescence, and many “don’t play well with others.” I know that one’s system of beliefs is supposed to be a very personal thing – didn’t Jesus say that we should pray alone – but I don’t think he meant that our beliefs should remove us from being involved in society. I think he wanted us to contemplate the state of the world, so that we can more effectively enter into it. It is not about us as individuals; it is about how we move and live and serve in the world around us. I am not convinced that much of what passes as “spirituality” does that.

In fact, I sense that, for some, “spirituality” serves as a form of escapism. It seems not to be grounded, at least not in the real world; not in what we know in our time about the nature of the world and the nature of the universe. It appears, often, to be a retreat into some pristine, past, foreign or imaginary world. And it seems to me that an authentic spirituality would require us to boldly and bravely face our world, the world of our

time, the world as we know it today – to face it and embrace it.
I also find that some use the word to express their disaffection with organized religion. They’ll say, “I’m

not religious. I don’t go to church or synagogue, but I’m very spiritual!” I think this might mean: “I have had a bad experience with organized religion, or I think it is all suspect, but I enjoy feeling a sense of awe beneath the stars by myself.”

I think everyone is religious in some way. The religious impulse is, apparently, embedded in our very being. Yes, we find different ways to express it and nurture it, but it is there. And the fact that these church- avoiders often have a need to find some other kind of group to fulfill their need for meaning and companionship – like a twelve-step group, or a Course in Miracles, or a Covenant group or study of angels class – tells me that the human need to be part of something beyond themselves is also very strong. It is quite apparent that, for many, these “alternative” groups have become the equivalent of church, and their teachings a form of religion.

But some claim spirituality in ways I could live with…

Despite problems with using the word spirituality, I find it does not have to be negative. There have been many wonderful things written in the name of spirituality. I especially like one from humanist John Dietrich, which I found long ago in one of the many of his sermons in my attic, and have used many times since: “there is an energy which springs from the heart of humanity. What it is we do not know, any more than we know what electricity is. How it works we cannot say… but that it is real, that it produces results, is as certain as that we can breathe.”1

“Spirituality” might be an acceptable word to point to an indescribable happening like the smell of a rose, walking alone in a quiet wood, being in love, being moved by a beautiful poem or piece of music, or the sense of awe when we see or experience something wonderful. It might be how astronauts have felt when they looked down upon the earth from space, and drank in the glory of what they saw.

Maybe it is how we connect with the source – whatever process made this universe and everything in it. Or perhaps spirituality is the feeling of connection we have to each other and to the all. It is the idea that we are never alone, really, that no matter how isolated and atomistic we might feel, we are part of a vast interdependent web of being; we are a small, but important, cog in the wheel of life. We are never actually separate from the very ground of existence, and what moves one part affects us all. The basis of spirituality, says Sam Harris, is that the range of possible human experience far exceeds the ordinary limits of our subjectivity.

Richard Erhardt suggests that spirituality is about how we live our lives. He asks questions such as: Are we focused or scattered? Are we continually challenging ourselves, our world views, our attitudes and outlooks? Or are we so afraid of being challenged that we hold on frantically against the tides of change?

The spiritual question is really, are we tossed about by every single wind that blows our way, or are we grounded firmly and calmly where we are? A person who is in touch with his own spirituality may say that there is an inner strength that keeps her centered and whole, when all around the world is trying to pull us into fragments.

So could I be spiritual?

My experience of what I might call the spiritual dimension of life comes out of my engagement with the natural world and my, albeit limited, knowledge of how that world works. It reminds me that just outside my normal range of vision there is a world of truth which I seldom seek, but which influences my life daily and wholly. The spiritual dimension helps bring together the different aspects of life, which it is all too tempting to keep separate. It reminds me that there are other ways of knowing, other ways of seeing other realities which have the possibility of changing us as we cannot deliberately change ourselves.

I would add that spirituality can provide meaning and values without a god telling us what is right and wrong. It may be a substitute for being godly – or maybe it is the same thing – being “goodly”! It

may be Kierkegaard’s “power of a person’s understanding over his or her life,” or Matthew Fox’s reminder of the tension between mysticism (awe) and the prophetic tradition, the struggle for justice. We must always balance that tension so that spirituality does not become an escape from working toward justice, or from the trials of living in the world.

And should I expect my minister to help with that?

One of the things that still bothers me about spirituality is that people expect ministers to “give” it to then. Often parishioners will say that they want “more spirituality” in services. I suspect that what they mean is that they want to feel more – feelings of connection, relief, forgiveness, belonging, contentment, joy, emotion. Sometimes it is a code word for the use of historic rituals and art forms such as prayers, litanies, special holidays, flower communion, bells, sacraments, choirs and hymns, vestments, candles – in short, everything sensual and colorful,

Farley Wheelwright, one of our oldest and most respected humanist ministers, would have nothing to do with this last idea, that disciplinary practices and liturgy have anything to do with spirituality. “It either happens to us or it does not… It is bred in the bones and defies translation or definition.”2 I agree. For me, insofar as spirituality exists, it does so when it becomes the better part of a good person’s life. I don’t believe it can be packaged in piety, or in meditation, isms, dogma or definition. Spirituality has no necessary connection to religious faiths; it has everything to do with humanity. Spirituality is that indefinable something which we all feel but cannot manufacture.

There are some expressions and definitions of spirituality in which I find some solace and meaning. I enjoy the lovely things of life as much as anyone; I experience great joy in art, music, literature, human kindness, and so on. I find a sense of peace when I connect with nature – stalking the wild asparagus or walking in the woods or prairie. I feel awe when I see a newborn child, or a cloud in a bright blue sky. These are wonderful things, and I am glad I can appreciate them. But for me, what passes for spirituality is not enough.

In all the various descriptions, definitions and explanations of spirituality, it is always very personal. It is an inner experience, which can be experienced only by an individual alone. It does not connect people, because everyone experiences things differently. It does not form community, but rather encourages separatism.

What then, do I want my minister (and church) to do, to help with?

From the clergy, from the ministries of the church, I need more than (and something different from) spirituality; I need religion. There is a reason why religion has been around virtually as long as humankind has existed; it fulfills a basic human need. From the beginning of time, people have needed a way to explain the world, to find answers to perplexing questions, to understand how the world works, where we came from, what is the nature of god and humanity, what happens when we die, how did life begin, and so on.

Many different answers have been found to these questions, depending on the times, the place, the needs of the people, etc. And so we have many, many different religions. But what they all have in common is that people derived them by trying to figure out answers to difficult questions. The Bible dictionary says that “religion may be thought of as a system of embodying the means of attaining and expressing in conduct the values deemed characteristic of the ideal life.”3

In other words, one’s religion is how one views the world and one’s place in it. It is the result of experiences, study, reason and thoughtfulness. It involves using one’s mind to come to an understanding of how to live. This is one of the major differences between religion and spirituality, but one which is very important, for we cannot live to the fullest only on instinct and good feeling. A.C. Grayling writes: “Religion offers something ‘higher,’ something overarching, something that seems to make sense of things, to organize the inchoate nature of experience and the world into a single framework of apparent meaning.”4

In the introduction to his wonderful book, Religion is Not about God, Loyal Rue writes: “If Religion is

not about God, then what on earth is it about (for heaven’s sake?) It is about manipulating our brains so that we might think, feel, and act in ways that are good for us, both individually and collectively. Religious traditions work like the bow of a violin, playing upon the strings of human nature to produce harmonious relations between individuals and their social and physical environments.”5

As Sophia Fahs said, “one’s religion is the construct (or gestalt) of all his or her smaller specific beliefs. It is the philosophy of life that gathers up into one emotional whole… all the specific beliefs one holds about many kinds of things in many areas of life.”6 As a liberal religious educator, she advocated for children being exposed to many points of view, learning about nature and science, and using reason to decide what to believe. I and my children were raised with her wonderful curriculum. I guess that is one reason why I claim to be religious – I believe what I believe because it makes sense and seems reasonable.

As with all religions, however, I find that my beliefs, although unique to me, have some correspondence with those of many others, and I have found great satisfaction in joining with those of similar beliefs. This is another aspect of religion that people over eons have found compelling. There are many good reasons to gather together; a community can provide comfort and assistance when it is needed; a group of people with similar outlook and values can bond together to accomplish much more than individuals can. It is much easier to put one’s religious values into practice when you are doing it with others – and it will probably have a much greater effect.

Charles Vail suggests in an as yet unpublished paper that religion satisfies the basic human needs of congregation, communion, creed and covenant – people coming together, sharing their thoughts and feelings, seeking and formalizing a consensus of the ideals they share in common, and pledging themselves to honor those shared ideals.7 This is why I affiliate with UU churches – they provide a place where I can find people of similar interests and values, who work for causes and issues that meet my values. It gives me a community. I often say that my religion is humanism; my community is UU.

Even though we may no longer worship the supernatural, there is still value in celebrations, in meditations, in the use of the arts to extend and deepen our feelings, our sense of significance and meaning. The person who has no need of celebrations, whether sacred or secular, natural or supernatural, is a dull person.

Religious celebration that meets our individual needs but takes place in a community, is the most composite and complete of all the arts, being the full celebration of life itself. As we create and shape our ideal ends, we should be able to project them into the friendly and demonstrative forms of poetry, song, dance, drama, prayer and ritual. This is why I go to church, for I could never experience the quality and range of the arts by myself, no matter how spiritual I feel.

Religion also offers rituals and routines for dealing with the more significant of life’s transitions, from the arrival of a child, to marriage, to death – rituals which match the values and ideals of its members. In UU churches, we provide child dedications that are not based on a notion that children are born in sin; we offer coming of age programs that help kids wrestle with the issues and problems and challenges of their lives and decide what they believe, not what someone else tells them to believe; we perform weddings tailored to the beliefs and ideals of the couple; and we have memorial services that celebrate and affirm the lives of the dead and uplift their immortality in terms of their accomplishments and presence here on earth. Sharing a somewhat common lexicon and symbology provides a means of engendering wonder, and consoling explanations to ease experiences of hardship.

All of these are reasons why I claim to be religious – not just spiritual. Spirituality is nice – it can be comforting, awesome, beautiful and sustaining. But it is a lonely endeavor. I choose religion so that I can continue to stimulate my mind and continually ask and try to answer important life questions; so I can be a member of a religious community that gives form and structure to my belief system and enables me to work together on the problems and challenges of the times; so my family can partake of rites of passage and celebrations that fit with our beliefs and values; and so I can enjoy the support and companionship of people who share similar beliefs and values. My religion is centered in myself as a human being, but it also encourages me to be part of larger community outside myself.

So, as a religious humanist, I say, “I am not very spiritual, but I am very religious.” Actually, I believe everyone is religious, if it is defined properly, and not just connected to belief in god, or accepting certain

dogma, or being the property of one church. We can be religious without god; we can be good without god. But we all need community, celebration, and answers to life’s unanswerable questions, whether we claim to be primarily spiritual, secular, or religious.


  1. John Dietrich, from an unpublished sermon manuscript. I can no longer find the exact place where Dietrich said this – but I have it written down, and have used it enough as a quotation to be fairly certain of it.
  2. Farley Wheelwright, my written lecture notes, unknown date.
  3. Madeleine S. and J. Lane Miller, Bible Dictionary, 1958, Harper Bros. New York, p. 608
  4. A.C. Grayling, from the essay “Debating Humanism,” in Humanism, Religion and Ethics, 2006, Oxford University Press, pp. 47-54
  5. Loyal Rue, Religion is Not about God, 2005, Rutgers University Press, Introduction, p.l
  6. Sophia Lyons Fahs, Today’s Children and Yesterday’s Heritage: A Philosophy of Creative Religious Development, 1952, Beacon Press
  7. Charles Vail, posted on the Humanists list (uu lists) on July 20, 2012.

Taken from:  religious humanism volume xliii number 1 fall 2012

May 22, 2013 A Vote for Reason

A Vote for Reason

By MICHAEL P. LYNCH                                                                       Opinionator. The Stone, NYTImes web site, September 30, 2012

Suppose I offer, at no charge, to drop a drug in the water supply that would cause almost everyone in the country to vote like you this November. You would probably feel at least a little bit tempted to take the deal. Presidential politics is a matter of grave import, after all. Still — many of us would hesitate, and rightly so. There seems to be something really wrong with manipulating people to believe things even when the stakes are high. We want to convince our opponents, yes, but we want them to be convinced by our reasons.

The judgment that reasons play no role in judgment is itself a judgment. And Haidt has defended it with reasons.

This hope that exchanging reasons matters, not just for what it gets us but in itself is as old as Plato, but it has often been derided as something of a muddle-headed fantasy, as “nothing but dreams and smoke” as Montaigne put it in the 16th century. And of course there is some sense in this. You don’t have to be Karl Rove to appreciate the obvious fact that the evidence often fails to persuade, to suspect that what really works are the tried and true methods of good advertising, emotional associations and having the bigger stick (or “super PAC”).

Recently, however, some social scientists, most notably the psychologist Jonathan Haidt, have upped the cynical ante. In Haidt’s view, the philosophers’ dream of reason isn’t just naïve, it is radically unfounded, the product of what he calls “the rationalist delusion.” As he puts it, “Anyone who values truth should stop worshiping reason. We all need to take a cold, hard look at the evidence and see reasoning for what it is. [1] Haidt sees two points about reasoning to be particularly important: the first concerns the efficacy (or lack thereof) of reasoning; the second concerns the point of doing so publicly: of exchanging reasons.

According to Haidt, not only are value judgments less often a product of rational deliberation than we’d like to think, that is how we are supposed to function. That it is how we are hardwired by evolution. In the neuroscientist Drew Westen’s words, the political brain is the emotional brain.

Often “reasoning” really seems to be post-hoc rationalization: we tend to accept that which confirms what we already believe (psychologists call this confirmation bias). And the tendency goes beyond just politics. When people are told that they scored low on an I.Q. test, for example, they are more likely to read scientific articles criticizing such tests; when they score high, they are more likely to read articles that support the tests. They are more likely to favor the “evidence,” in other words, that makes them feel good. This is what Haidt calls the “wag the dog” illusion: thinking that reason is the tail that wags the dog of value judgment.

Indeed, reason sometimes seems simply beside the point. Consider some of Haidt’s own well- known research on “moral dumbfounding.” Presented with a story about consensual, protected sex between an adult brother and sister — sex which is never repeated, and which is protected by birth control — most people in the studies reacted with feelings of disgust, judging that it was wrong. Yet subjects struggled to defend such feelings with arguments when questioned by

researchers. [2] Even so, they stuck to their guns. Haidt suggests that this means that whatever reasons they could come up with seem to be just along for the ride: it was their feelings doing the work of judgment.

Data like this — and these examples are just the tip of a very large iceberg — certainly should give us pause; but we need to be careful not to exaggerate the lessons it has to teach us. The inability for people — in particular young college students like those in Haidt’s study — to be immediately articulate about why they’ve made an intuitive judgment doesn’t necessarily show that their judgment is the outcome of non-rational process, or even that they lack reasons for their view. Intuitions, moral or otherwise, can be the result of sources that can be rationally evaluated and calibrated.[3]

Moreover, rational deliberation is not a switch to be thrown on or off. It is a process, and therefore many of its effects would have to be measured over time. Tellingly, the participants in Haidt’s original harmless taboo studies study had little time to deliberate. But as other studies have suggested when people are given more time to reflect, they can change their beliefs to fit the evidence, even when those beliefs might be initially emotionally uncomfortable to them.

Indeed, recent history seems to bear this out: Consider, for example, the change in attitudes toward homosexuality and gay marriage taking place in the United States. Perhaps we can explain large-scale moral and political change of this sort without having to evoke the efficaciousness of reasons, but it seems just as likely that appeals to evidence — evidence, in fact, often uncovered by social scientists — have had at least some impact on how people view same-sex (or interracial) marriage. And it seems downright likely that rational deliberation is going to be involved in the creation of new moral concepts — such as human rights. In short, to show that reasons have no role in value judgments, we would need to show that they have no role in changes in moral views over time.

This brings us around to Haidt’s second main point about reasoning, mentioned above. He endorses what he calls a Glauconian view of reasoning about value. The reference here is to an old saw from Plato: What would you do with a ring of invisibility? Fight for truth, justice and the American way or spy on people and steal stuff? In Plato’s “Republic,” the character Glaucon asks this question to illustrate the idea that it is merely the fear of being caught that makes us behave, not a desire for justice. Haidt takes from this a general lesson about the value of defending our views with reasons. Just as those who do the “right” thing are not really motivated by a desire for justice, those who defend their views with reasons are not “really” after the truth. As the cognitive scientists Mercier and Sperber put it, what they are really after — whether they acknowledge it or not — are arguments supporting their already entrenched views. If so, then even if appeals to evidence are sometimes effective in changing our political values over time, that’s only because reasons themselves are aimed at manipulating others into agreeing with us, not uncovering the facts. To think otherwise is to once again fall into the rationalist delusion.

In giving reasons we certainly aim to get others to agree with us (I’m doing that now, after all). And aiming at agreement is a good thing, as is searching out effective means of reaching it (indeed, this is one of the noble ideals of Haidt’s book). But it is less clear that we can coherently represent ourselves as only aiming to get others to agree with us in judgment.

To see this, think about how Haidt’s view applies to itself. The judgment that reasons play no role in judgment is itself a judgment. And Haidt has defended it with reasons. So if those reasons convince me that his theory is true, then reasons can play a role in judgment — contra the theory. Think about the passage I quoted above in this context: those who love truth need to take a good, hard look at the evidence and see reasoning for what it is. This sounds like a self-defeating argument: we are being advised to use reason to see that reason is flawed.

There is a larger point here. Even if we could start seeing ourselves as giving reasons only to manipulate, it is unclear that we should. To see ourselves as Glauconians is to treat the exchange of reasons as a slow-moving, less effective version of the political correctness drug I mentioned at the outset. And we are right to recoil from that. It is a profoundly undemocratic idea.

To engage in democratic politics means seeing your fellow citizens as equal autonomous agents capable of making up their own minds. And that means that in a functioning democracy, we owe one another reasons for our political actions. And obviously these reasons can’t be “reasons” of force and manipulation, for to impose a view on someone is to fail to treat him or her as an autonomous equal. That is the problem with coming to see ourselves as more like Glauconian rhetoricians than reasoners. Glauconians are marketers; persuasion is the game and truth is beside the point. But once we begin to see ourselves — and everyone else — in this way, we cease seeing one another as equal participants in the democratic enterprise. We are only pieces to be manipulated on the board.

Critics of reason, from Haidt to conservative intellectuals like Burke and Oakeshott, see reason as an inherently flawed instrument. As a consequence, they see the picture of politics I’ve just suggested — according to which democracies should be spaces of reasons — as unfounded and naïve. Yet to see one another as reason-givers doesn’t mean we must perceive one another as emotionless, unintuitive robots. It is consistent with the idea, rightly emphasized by Haidt, that much rapid-fire decision making comes from the gut. But it is also consistent with the idea that we can get better at spotting when the gut is leading us astray, even if the process is slower and more ponderous than we’d like. Giving up on the idea that reason matters is not only premature from a scientific point of view; it throws in the towel on an essential democratic hope. Politics needn’t always be war by other means; democracies can, and should be places where the exchange of reasons is encouraged. This hope is not a delusion; it is an ideal — and in our countdown to November, one still worth striving for.

NOTE: A related article by Gary Gutting will be published later this week. The Stone has also invited a response from Jonathan Haidt.


[1] “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion,” p. 89. Haidt’s fascinating book concerns much more than the points focused on here; its principal aim is to diagnose the causes of ongoing political rifts.

[2]I don’t meant to suggest, and neither does Haidt, that such feelings can’t be defended; that is a different topic.

[3]See Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking, Fast and Slow” (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 2011) and “What Does the Modularity of Morals Have to Do With Ethics? Four Moral Sprouts Plus or Minus a Few,” Owen Flanagan and Robert Anthony Williams. Topics in Cognitive Science 2 (2010) 430-453. On the following point about changes, see J. M. Patxton, L. Ungar, and J. Greene, “Reflection and Reasoning in Moral Judgment” Cognitive Science 36: 1, p. 163-177.

Michael P. Lynch is a professor of philosophy at the University of Connecticut. His most recent book is “In Praise of Reason.”

Scott Iowa City

The fact that reason can be easily swayed by emotion does not mean that emotion must inevitably subvert reason. Spiritual traditions and the history of philosophy are candles of light, pointing towards the capacity within humans for compassion, reason, and emotion to coexist peacefully.

avispartan117 Coppell, TX

I find it interesting that so far, everyone has missed the elephant in the room; what is the definition of reason?

Is reason defined as the process of deriving true conclusions from true assumptions? That seems to be what most people here are implicitly accepting. If so, then you inevitably run into a whole bunch of problems related to knowing the truth of your assumptions: What, besides emotion, can justify moral assumptions? What aspect of reality do moral assumptions even refer to? You assume that the observed can be used to predict the unobserved, that other people have minds, and that a world exists independent of your perceptions, but how do you know all this is really true? The inevitable result of any “rational” skepticism under this definition of reason must be solipsism and moral nihilism, unless you choose to irrationally take some things on faith, which we all do out of necessity.

Another definition of reason is the instrumental one; good reasoning is any process that allows you to correctly achieve a goal. But then proper reasoning would only be defined relative to the goal, which itself is determined by desire.

That, in a nutshell, is what this article means to me: at the root of all well founded belief is an unfounded belief. You don’t need neuroscience and psychology to prove this, all you need is an armchair and a passing grade in philosophy 101

robmattles Chevy Chase, MD

Reason has survived or even prospered through evolution. Its use is presumably a survival advantage still. If voters are swayed by raw emotion then those who so manipulate the emotions of we sappy-headed impressionable voters surely use reason to create their enticements. So though there’s little hope for reason replacing base passion as our prime mover, it remains a power in our arsenal that gives advantage and reward. So here’s to Reason, the step-child of Passion. It has its moments and I wish it many more.

Ross Williams Grand Rapids, Minnesota

“Perhaps we can explain large-scale moral and political change of this sort without having to evoke the efficaciousness of reasons”

There is no evidence that those changes resulted from reason. More likely they resulted from people being exposed to gays and having openly gay family, friends and co-workers. Its a great example of reasons following action, in this case the acceptance of gays.

“those who love truth need to take a good, hard look at the evidence and see reasoning for what it is. This sounds like a self-defeating argument: we are being advised to use reason to see that reason is flawed.”

And the argument failed with the author for the reasons sited. But it seems to me this argument misses the point entirely. Its not that people aren’t persuaded by argument, but that arguments only “persuade” us of things we are already prepared to accept emotionally. This is considerably different than using reason to discover or identify “truth”.

In fact, the notion of the democratic process being a search for “truth” is a complete misunderstanding of its purpose common among abstract thinkers. But the purpose of the democratic process is to resolve conflicts between competing interests without resorting to violent conflicts. Truth has nothing to do with it. The importance of articulating reasons in that process is to provide a roadmap for compromise by clearly explaining what each side values.

Connor Wood Boston

There’s something missing in this analysis of Haidt’s position: Haidt espouses a Glauconian viewpoint in order to ultimately facilitate better integration of reason and intuition, not to dismiss reason outright. That is, he assents to the traditionally conservative claim that reason is inherently flawed and we require each other’s oversight to behave well SO THAT he can point to the rare junctures in the decision-making process where reason really can have positive influence. …

Ross Williams Grand Rapids, Minnesota

Cassamandra –

Actually not. I remember a training with Cesar Chavez and the insight this this statement provided to a young organizer. Paraphrased – “Don’t try to reason with people. Get them to act and they will find the reasons for themselves.” This was persuasive not because of its arguments, but because it reflected and explained the actual experience of both the speaker and the audience.

We remember the eloquence of people like Cesar Chavez and Martin Luther King. But it was their actions that changed us. Whether they were “great leaders of the people” or “radical outside agitators” depended on your own experience with them.

The notion that we are more accepting of gays because of reasoned argument seems silly to me. You have to believe we found undiscovered reasonable arguments that had always been there. We understand them, where past generations haven’t. Apparently the idea is that we are somehow smarter than people before us.

I think what really changed was our experience. We came to accept reasons that explained that experience. It wasn’t the reasons that changed us, we changed the reasons.

Howard Los Angeles

Reasoning is always from premises. If you disagree with someone else’s premises, that doesn’t mean that the conclusions that person draws from the premises are illogical; it means that you don’t buy the premises and therefore don’t think they warrant the conclusions.

Most people don’t have complete philosophical systems consistently and rationally based on a few axioms. Spinoza and Leibniz may have done so, but most people hold beliefs that are not always compatible. Consider the champions of both free market competition and literal interpretation of the New Testament, for instance. Or those who favor DNA testing of everyone in the population but don’t believe in the evolutionary science that explains the process. Or who give reasons for not believing in reason.

Reason, and testing our conclusions as a way of seeing if our premises are true, is the only method we have of validating or refuting anything that goes beyond our immediate experience. Learning enough logic to identify our own premises and those of our opponents would be a darn good thing.
The distinction between agreeing with the conclusions of an argument and accepting the validity of the argument is a weapon against prejudice

Rawebb LiKle Rock, AR

While there are clearly exceptions–both people and issues–where reason plays a constructive role, those are exceptions. The great majority of psychologists (I am one) would agree with Haidt. People’s attitudes towards issues–including moral issues– represent some kind of internal balance among behavior, feelings and beliefs. We have known for years–and I just saw in confirmed in a major research report–that the least effective way of trying to change someone’s mind is to tell them something that contradicts their beliefs. If you want to change people’s minds, you have to change their behavior (e.g. give them the opportunity to interact with openly gay people so that normal human decency can prevail.) In a paraphrase of that famous line from the Vietnam era, if you have them by the behavior, their hearts and minds (feelings and beliefs) will come tagging along. Reason is what we use after the fact to justify our behavior to witnesses so they will not think we are horrible people.

MaK Upstate NY

“The judgment that reasons play no role in judgment is itself a judgment. And Haidt has defended it with reasons. So if those reasons convince me that his theory is true, then reasons can play a role in judgment — contra the theory.”

I am not endorsing Haidt’s larger position. But this is a poor argument. Haidt is claiming only that there is no appeal to reason in *moral* contexts; presumably he is not arguing against a role for reason in science and mathematics But Lynch’s argument here does not involve a moral judgment, but presumably is meant to be something more along the lines of scientific reasoning. After all, a general philosophical assertion about the role of reason in moral judgment is not itself moral in character, any more than a claim about obesity in the U.S. is itself fat. There is no self- reflexive problem here.

Deborah Houston

What I have found is that people simply don’t believe facts that are contrary to their preconceived notions, not that they take the same facts and come to different conclusions. In fact, that implies that if they did believe the facts, they are convinced they would have to change their conclusions, so I don’t think it is that people are not interested in reason, so much as people do not want to believe that they could be wrong. Therefore, it is the facts themselves they change in their minds rather than their interpretation of the facts. Changes in public mores such as attitudes toward same sex marriage really are made through education and the dissemination of facts. It is up to the press to sort this out as they used to instead of presenting different facts as if they were two equally valid opinions. A workable democracy depends on it

Josh Hill

New London

More, I think, that it is practiced by a tiny minority, and debated by their followers. The caveat being that to some extent, all of us are followers — no one can master every field today. So for example when I defend global warming, I am essentially passing along the views of scientists active in the field, along with my own belief — based on my own scientific training and knowledge of history — that

their views are more likely to be correct than those of energy company shills and corrupted politicians. And, really, most people can’t do even that

Opinionator — The Stone NYTimes Web site, October 4, 2012,

Haidt’s Problem With Plato


This is the second of two posts dealing with arguments concerning reason found in Jonathan Haidt’s recent book “The Righteous Mind” (the first, “A Vote for Reason,” by Michael P. Lynch, was published on Sunday). Haidt’s response to these two pieces will be published at The Stone this Sunday evening.

Jonathan Haidt’s “The Righteous Mind” is an important and exciting book, from which I’ve learned a great deal about the limitations of human reasoning. I was, however, disappointed at what struck me as its cavalier treatment of some highly relevant work by philosophers. To illustrate my concerns, I begin by reflecting on Haidt’s effort to refute Plato’s central argument in “The Republic.” This is where Plato tries to show why a just (morally good) life is superior to an unjust (immoral) life.

Plato would not be surprised to learn that people typically don’t use reason to seek the truth.

Socrates (as usual, Plato’s spokesman) responds to a view put forward by his young friend Glaucon. On this view, someone who devoted his life to nothing but satisfying his selfish desires would be entirely happy. At the most, Glaucon suggests, happiness would require a person’s keeping his selfishness secret and enjoying a reputation for virtue. Glaucon does not believe this claim, and he hopes to see Socrates refute it and show how morality, just by itself, brings happiness.

Haidt pithily summarizes Socrates’ argument: “Reason must rule the happy person. And if reason rules, then it cares about what is truly good, not just about the appearance of virtue.” He maintains that Socrates goes wrong because he assumes a false view of the role of reason in human life. ”Reason is not fit to rule; it was designed to seek justification, not truth,” where justification means pursuing “socially strategic goals, such as guarding our reputations and convincing other people to support us.” Haidt supports his claim about the actual role of reason with an array of fascinating psychological experiments cumulatively showing that “Glaucon was right: people care a great deal more about appearance and reputation than about reality,” and use reason accordingly. This view of reason also, he suggests, best accords with an evolutionary account of how our rational capacity developed.

Plato, however, would hardly be surprised to learn that people typically don’t use reason to seek truth and prefer appearance to truth. His cave allegory (in the “Republic”), which compares us to prisoners condemned to view only shadows of images of real things, vividly expresses this view. And his metaphor in the “Phaedrus,” of a charioteer (reason) desperately trying to control two

horses with one of them (our desires) struggling to go its own way, illustrates the difficulties of rational control.

Haidt’s psychological studies count against Plato only if we take them as denying any chance of rational control and allowing no alternative to a life dominated by our immediate inclinations — our “gut reactions,” as Haidt puts it. But Haidt makes no such claim, saying only, “we should not expect individuals to produce good, open-minded, truth-seeking reasoning, particularly when self-interest or reputational concerns are in play.” Nevertheless, he adds, “if you put individuals together in the right way … you can create a group that ends up producing good reasoning as an emergent product of the social system.” Haidt’s view here is plausible, especially since, if reason could never rule, we couldn’t trust even Haidt’s own impressive line of rational argument from scientific evidence.

But Haidt’s view here is not at all alien to Plato, who saw truth arising only from the right sort of discussion among inquirers accountable to one another. Nor would Plato object to Haidt’s claim that ethics is based on intuition — direct moral judgments — rather than on reasoning. Haidt’s “reasoning” corresponds to what Plato calls dianoia, the process of logically deriving conclusions from given premises. Such logic yields merely hypothetical knowledge (if p, then q), since logic cannot prove the truth of its premises. Reasoning, therefore, will reliably yield truth only when it is completed by acts of intuition (noesis) that justify the premises from which we reason.

Plato’s intuitions are not like the snap judgments of everyday life, driven by genes and social conditioning. But nor are they the insights of individuals meditating in isolation. Plato’s intuitions derive from a long and complex process of physical, emotional and intellectual formation in a supportive social system. (This is what Plato means by the “education” of his philosopher-rulers.) These intuitions are what — given sufficient experience, maturity and, especially, responsible intellectual engagement with others — we hope will replace the snap- judgment intuitions Haidt rightly sees as underlying so much of our moral life.

Haidt’s experimentalist critique of Plato misses its mark because he ignores what Plato actually thought in favor of an oversimplification of his “rationalism.” He does something similar in suggesting that Kant’s ethics reflects a personality within the autism spectrum. Likewise, he implausibly suggests that John Rawls can be refuted by surveys showing that people do not share the judgments Rawls thinks we would make in the fictional situation of his “original position.”

Haidt doesn’t take such philosophers seriously, I suspect, because they don’t proceed like empirical scientists, testing their ideas through experiments. He’s right — and many philosophers agree — that ethicists should take account of the recent explosion in sophisticated experimental work on morality. But it’s important to realize that Haidt’s own discussion requires him to move beyond empirical studies and in the direction of traditional philosophy.

One way Haidt does this is by confirming experimental results with real-life experiences. For example, he tells how, while he was writing an account of experiments showing how people put forward obviously bad arguments to support their intuitions, he himself did that very thing in an argument with his wife. Much of the force of Haidt’s case depends on such concrete examples (and as a fascinated reader, I found myself frequently supplying them from my own experience).

Without such examples, we would well question the relevance of simplified and controlled laboratory experiments to the complexities of unmanaged real life. Haidt is convincing largely because his experiments resonate so well with what we find in our pre-scientific experience.

But the great philosophers — Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Spinoza, Hegel, Nietzsche — describe moral experiences far more carefully and subtly than most of us can, and moreover, they provide historical perspectives that can help offset the limitations of our own limited viewpoint. Admittedly some contemporary philosophers spend more time than they should fussing with contrived and arid examples of runaway trolleys and ticking time bombs. But there also those — like Bernard Williams, Charles Taylor, Alasdair MacIntyre and Martha Nussbaum — who offer rich and subtle delineations of our moral experience. I suspect that Haidt could make excellent use of this sort of philosophical work.

In another vein, Haidt often evokes conceptual distinctions, a central concern of centuries of philosophy, to make sense of his experimental results. He particularly develops a critique of the distinction between cognition and emotion, but without engaging the significant body of philosophical discussion on this topic. Even more important, Haidt acknowledges the need to distinguish between what we in fact do and what we ought to do. As Haidt’s lone hero among the great philosophers — David Hume — points out, there is a logical gap between what is done (descriptive ethics) and what ought to be done (normative ethics). Haidt acknowledges that his concern as a psychologist is overwhelmingly descriptive. But he says almost nothing about how to connect his work with the compelling normative questions of human life. Engaging with the extensive philosophical discussions of Hume’s distinction between “is” and “ought” could help fill this major gap in Haidt’s account of ethics.

Understanding ethics requires the sort of experimental work empirical psychologists do, as well as the reflections on lived experience and the conceptual analyses philosophers provide. Ignoring or trivializing either enterprise impoverishes the other. Many philosophers are learning a great deal from the work of Haidt and other empirical psychologists. I hope that Haidt will return the compliment.

Gary Gutting is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame and an editor of Notre

Dame Philosophical Reviews. He is the author of, most recently, “Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy Since 1960,” and writes regularly for The Stone.

SC Erie, PA

If I understand Haidt correctly, his is a Darwinist conception of reason. According to his research, reason is merely a tool, or rather a weapon, in human competition —- for supremacy, survival, etc.

Competition is driven by emotion. And while emotion is the motivator of all action, its subjective nature makes it an unreliable judge of situations and courses of action.
While one might not deny the competitive use of reason, it can hardly constitute the full extent of it. Reason does not exist apart from the totality of human existence. It is not the hermetically sealed function Haidt would have us believe it to be.

There must be something more to guide us through the hall of mirrors that is the human emotions than a competitive version of reason. And it seems that the very processes that Haidt attributes to reason are, to the contrary, those governed by emotion. They end up providing us with a narrow, first person view of reality. When we strip away that maze of emotion what remains is a wider conception of a non-egotistical truth attained through a less deterministic process of reason.

Arthur Chicago

You do an excellent job gutting Haidt’s superficial dismissal of far subtler thinkers. For a particularly rich trove of work on both how second- and third-rate scholars have distorted first-rate philosophers, and on how first-rate philosophers have even distorted or reformulated one another’s work, see the publications gathered at www.richardmckeon.org

Peter Texas

Haidt either is a conservative who falsely claims ideological neutrality or has yet to figure out that he is a conservative. One form of conservative ideology insists on the necessity of authority because there are no other sources of moral or normative constraint. That is, we all have to bow in front of some decider or deciders (God, the President, our boss, the man of the house) because without obedience and submission we would be overrun by chaos. The liberal response here is that people can develop and improve their moral understandings, and so we can have order from the masses, not simply imposed. Haidt’s polemic in this book is another installment in the ‘we are incapable of reason and morality so please kick us into submission’ that follows conservative thinking. While he may well be right that there are many conditions under which many people will use reason driven by desire, there are also instances of the reverse. And, as Prof. Gutting suggests, these positive capacities can be nurtured. The choice is really between a world in which we are coerced to follow authorities who might or might not have our interests at heart or a world in which communities seek to nurture individual’s abilities to reason and care for each other. Regrettably, we are still very far removed from the second world

Sal Anthony Queens, NY Dear Professor Gutting,

Though I haven’t read Haidt’s book, a recent experience thoroughly mirrors your observations concerning his attempt to diminish Plato. I read Sam Harris’s “Free Will”, which came out a few months ago, and as soon as I finished it I went online and read St. Augustine’s “On Grace and Free Will.”

I had no preconceptions as to which might prove the superior text, nor was I seeking to contrast a scientific approach with a spiritual one. I simply wanted to compare the notions of antiquity with those of modernity and see how each held up.

Interestingly, Augustine buried Harris in every possible way, and it was as much a matter

of his intense reflection as it was the humble manner with which he considered questions whose answers still remain mostly unresolved. ….

A Reader Ohio

Thank you for defending philosophy from Haidt’s superficial, self-satisfied attacks. The well-known fact that reason rarely rules our lives does not contradict Plato; it’s merely the starting point for Plato’s efforts to achieve this difficult rule of reason.

If Haidt asserts that the rule of reason is not just difficult but impossible, because reason “was designed to seek justification, not truth,” his position is incoherent. I will leave aside the looseness of the word “designed” when used by a supposedly evolutionary thinker. The more glaring problem is that, as a researcher, writer, and thinker, Haidt must assume that his own reason is capable of seeking and finding truth — and that he himself can be guided by reason, at least in his activities of researching and writing.

Dick Mulliken Jefferson, NY

The capture of psychology by empiricists
led to an extraordinary trivialization of the field. Since psychologists are only permitted to study the measurable we at best can only nibble at the edges of important issues.


The Stone October 7, 2012, 5:00 pm, NYTimes Website
Reasons Matter (When Intuitions Don’t



This post by the psychologist Jonathan Haidt is a response to two previous articles in The Stone — one by Gary Gutting, the other by Michael P. Lynch — which argued against certain views on reason found in Haidt’s recent book, “The Righteous Mind.”


Among the most memorable scenes in movie history is Toto’s revelation that the thundering head of the Wizard of Oz is actually animated by a small man behind a curtain, who lamely says, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Modern psychology has, to some extent, pulled the curtain back on human reasoning and shown it to be much less impressive than it sometimes pretends to be, and much more driven by the hidden force of intuition.

I never said that reasons were irrelevant. I said that they were no match for intuition.

In separate essays in The Stone last week, Michael P. Lynch and Gary Gutting both argued that reason can do far more than I give it credit for in my recent book, “The Righteous Mind.” Lynch

in particular urges us not to give up hope for a democracy based on the exchange of reasons, and he tries to use my own arguments to counter my cynicism: “The judgment that reasons play no role in judgment is itself a judgment. And Haidt has defended it with reasons.” But I never said that reason plays no role in judgment. Rather, I urged that we be realistic about reasoning and recognize that reasons persuade others on moral and political issues only under very special circumstances.

I developed an idea from Howard Margolis, the distinguished social scientist who died in 2009, that two basic kinds of cognitive events are “seeing-that” and “reasoning-why.” (These terms correspond roughly to what the psychologist Daniel Kahneman and others call “System 1” and “System 2” and that I call the “elephant” and the “rider.”) We effortlessly and intuitively “see that” something is true, and then we work to find justifications, or “reasons why,” which we can give to others. Both processes are crucial for understanding belief and persuasion. Both are needed for the kind of democratic deliberation that Lynch (and I) want to promote.

I’d like to show how these two processes work together by offering here a figure that I cut from my book a few months before turning in the manuscript, thinking it would be too confusing for a broad audience.

In the figure (adapted from Margolis) I’ve drawn a two-dimensional epistemological space showing the four cognitive states you might be in as you hear and discuss a story about X — let’s suppose that X is two adult siblings having consensual safe sex. The horizontal dimension is intuition: you intuitively “see that” X is bad (in which case you start on the left edge of the figure). The vertical dimension is “reasoning-why”: you search for reasons why X is bad (you try to reason your way downward). There are only two safe, comfortable spots on the table: the

lower-left corner, where your intuitions say that X is bad and you have reasons to support your condemnation, and the upper-right corner, where your intuitions say that X is good and you have reasons to support that claim. People in those two corners believe that they have knowledge, or justified true belief. So how does a typical moral argument proceed?



Let’s suppose you find yourself in the lower-left corner: you intuitively condemn Julie and Mark (the two siblings), and you think you have good reasons to back up that condemnation. Your opponent is a libertarian who believes that people should be able to do whatever they want, as long as they don’t infringe on anyone else’s rights, so she starts off in the upper-right corner. She has an intuitive sense of the importance of personal autonomy, and she has reasons to support her endorsement of Julie’s and Mark’s autonomy. According to Margolis, people don’t change their minds unless they move along the horizontal dimension. Intuition is what most matters for belief. Yet a moral argument generally consists of round after round of reasoning. Each person tries to pull the other along the vertical dimension. Therefore, if your opponent succeeds in defeating your reasons, you are unlikely to change your judgment. You’ve been dragged into the upper-left quadrant, but you still feel, intuitively, that it’s wrong for Julie and Mark to have sex. You start sounding like the participants in my studies, one of whom said, “Gosh, this is hard. I really — um, I mean, there’s just no way I could change my mind, but I just don’t know how to — how to show what I’m feeling.”

This, I suggest, is how moral arguments proceed when people have strong intuitions anchoring their beliefs. And intuitions are rarely stronger than when they are part of our partisan identities. So I’m not saying that reasons “play no role in moral judgment.” In fact, four of the six links in my Social Intuitionist Model are reasoning links. Most of what’s going on during an argument is reasoning. Rather, I’m saying that reason is far less powerful than intuition, so if you’re arguing

(or deliberating) with a partner who lives on the other side of the political spectrum from you, and you approach issues such as abortion, gay marriage or income inequality with powerfully different intuitive reactions, you are unlikely to effect any persuasion no matter how good your arguments and no matter how much time you give your opponent to reflect upon your logic.

If Lynch’s “hope for reason” is that we can someday create a political culture in which partisans will change their minds as a result of democratic discussions that focus on the vertical dimension only, then I do not share his hope. But as an intuitionist, I see hope in an approach to deliberative democracy that uses social psychology to calm the passions and fears that make horizontal movement so difficult.

One of the issues I am most passionate about is political civility. I co-run a site at

www.CivilPolitics.org where we define civility as “the ability to disagree with others while respecting their sincerity and decency.” We explain our goals like this: “We believe this ability [civility] is best fostered by indirect methods (changing contexts, payoffs and institutions) rather than by direct methods (such as pleading with people to be more civil, or asking people to sign civility pledges).” In other words, we hope to open up space for civil disagreement by creating contexts in which elephants (automatic processes and intuitions) are calmer, rather than by asking riders (controlled processes, including reasoning) to try harder.

We are particularly interested in organizations that try to create a sense of community and camaraderie as a precondition for political discussions. For example, a group called To the Village Square holds bipartisan events for citizens and community leaders in Tallahassee, Fla. They usually eat together before talking about politics — an effort to push a primitive cooperation button by breaking bread together. They talk a lot about their common identity as Tallahasseans. These are all efforts to manipulate participants — to change the warp of the epistemological table so that the horizontal dimension isn’t so steeply tilted, which opens up the possibility that good arguments offered by friends will move people, at least a trace, along the vertical dimension.

This is the approach that I took when writing “The Righteous Mind.” Lynch and Gutting both assert that if my argument about the limits of reason were correct, then I contradicted myself by writing a book offering reasons why my argument was correct. But I never said that reasons were irrelevant. I said that they were no match for intuition, and that they were usually a servant of one’s own intuitions. Therefore, if you want to persuade someone, talk to the elephant first. Trigger the right intuitions first. And that’s exactly what I did in the book. I didn’t rush in with summaries of the scientific literature. Rather, as I explained to readers (on p. 50):

I decided to weave together the history of moral psychology and my own personal story to create a sense of movement from rationalism to intuitionism. I threw in historical anecdotes, quotations from the ancients, and praise of a few visionaries. I set up metaphors (such as the rider and the elephant) that will recur throughout the book. I did these things in order to “tune up” your intuitions about moral psychology.

Gutting grants that my strategy is effective: “Haidt is convincing largely because his experiments resonate so well with what we find in our pre-scientific experience.” Would Lynch and Gutting

say that I was being manipulative by trying to create such intuitive resonance? Was this the moral equivalent of dropping a drug in the water supply to cause people to agree with me?

I don’t think I was being any more manipulative than To the Village Square, or than Martin Luther King Jr., who used metaphors and oratorical skills to make his moral arguments intuitively resonant. As I see it, I was addressing myself to the horizontal dimension of the epistemological space first, trying to pull skeptical readers over to the right, or at least to the midline of the map (in Chapters 1 and 2 of the book) before offering them reams of evidence and arguments (in Chapters 3 and 4) to try to pull them up into the upper right corner. Reasons matter, reasons produce movement on the epistemological map, but only at the right time, when countervailing intuitions have been turned off.

This is why there has been such rapid movement on gay marriage and gay rights. It’s not because good arguments have suddenly appeared, which nobody thought of in the 1990s. The polling data show a clear demographic transition. Older people, who grew up in an environment where homosexuality was hidden and shameful, often still feel a visceral disgust at the thought of it. But younger people, who grew up knowing gay people and seeing gay couples on television, have no such disgust. For them, the arguments are much more persuasive.


More From The Stone

Read previous contributions to this series.

To move on to another point, Gutting argues that I oversimplified the rationalism of the great moral philosophers, and surely I have. I am particularly pleased to learn that Plato was more keenly aware than I had realized of the importance of social context for the cultivation of good reasoning. But when Gutting suggests that I don’t take such philosophers seriously “because they don’t proceed like empirical scientists, testing their ideas through experiments,” I must disagree.

Throughout my career I have sought insights into morality from many disciplines. I found the experimental work in moral psychology to be mostly sterile and uninspiring. My early heroes were philosophers (like David Hume, Allan Gibbard and Owen Flanagan), sociologists (like Emile Durkheim), historians (like Keith Thomas) and anthropologists (like Richard Shweder and Alan Fiske). My heroes were the ones who had what I thought was the right view of human nature, emphasizing emotions, intuitions and the power of social and cultural forces. (Gutting is right that I should have cited Nietzsche, MacIntyre and Nussbaum.) To the extent that I seem disrespectful toward rationalist philosophers, it is because I found it frustrating to read the false psychological assumptions woven into many of their arguments.

But I hope I did not come across as disdainful of philosophy in general. I love Aristotle’s emphasis on habit — and I had a long section on virtue ethics in Chapter 6 that got cut at the last minute, but which I have just now posted online here. And in my last book, “The Happiness Hypothesis,” I quoted and praised philosophers in most of the 10 chapters, from Epictetus and Boethius through Montaigne and Nietzsche. Philosophers were the best psychologists for more than 2,000 years, and many of their insights have been validated by experimental psychology.

I should also say that philosophers have the best norms for good thinking that I have ever encountered. When my work is critiqued by a philosopher I can be certain that he or she has read me carefully, including the footnotes, and will not turn me into a straw man. More than any other subculture I know, the philosophical community embodies the kinds of normative pressures for reason-giving and responsiveness to reasons that Allan Gibbard describes in “Wise Choices, Apt Feelings.” I wish such norms could be sprinkled into the water supply of Washington. Alas, as Plato tells us, paraphrased by Gutting, truth arises “only from the right sort of discussion among inquirers accountable to one another.” Politics is a very different game from philosophy, and partisans are accountable to their teammates and their funders, not to one another. If we’re ever going to tone down the demonizing and open up space for compromise and collaboration in our political lives, I’d start by hiring Glaucon as a management consultant, and I’d work with him to redesign the social world of Washington and the institutions within which politicians work. I’d want to make good thinking and openness to compromise redound to a politicians credit, and make hyperpartisan posturing and inflexibility become sources of shame.

Jonathan Haidt is a professor of business ethics at the NYU-Stern School of Business. He is the author of “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” and of “The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.”

Lori New York

A classic psychological explanation of intuition is that it is rapidly processed data derived from prior experience. For example, a professional in a certain situation will have an “intuition” about a client or a patient that is based on previously seeing many similar situations and by unconsciously reviewing, comparing and contrasting, reach a quick “feel” that may be at odd with what is considered “reason.”

Doug Terry Maryland, DC Metro area

I have another way of looking at political beliefs. I often say we acquire our beliefs before we acquire the reasons to hold them. We know what we want to believe, by tradition, upbringing, social influences, etc. and we set off in the world to find the reasons that support those conclusions. Conversely, we block out information that might explode our sense of confidence and correctness. Belief is more important than fact, reason is secondary to belief.

Why is this so? We are all members of communities and various social groupings. In my neighborhood, most people tend to be Democrats and some of them are moderate to liberal Democrats. This is the tide that carries a lot of people along, helps to reenforce their beliefs and forms the framework when any new events, intrusions, move into their belief systems. When I lived in the Dallas area, just the opposite was true: most people were on the right, a number were on the far, far right.

We are all subtlety influenced by those around us and we have built-in sympathy for those we know and live around. If I were to go back to Texas, I’d have a bit of a Texas accent within a month. I call this “sympathetic identification”. I would not likely become far right, but I would likely see some merit in the arguments of some around me.

We can change, but we don’t like to. It would involve admitting that we were once wrong. Voters are NEVER wrong, it is only the politicians who betray them, at least in our mindsIt is not a “stand-alone” process but is based on multiple experiences.

Jim New Orleans

Max Planck is quoted thus “An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out and that the growing generation is familiar with the idea from the beginning.” In essence many scientific viewpoints are based on intuitions rather than fact. These viewpoints can become so dogmatic that no amount of reasoning can overcome what often becomes “conventional wisdom”. Perhaps in politics, like in science, we just have to depend on population turnover to correct defects in reasoning that inhibit the development of wisdom.

David Todd Miami, FL

“Gosh, this is hard…there’s just no way I could change my mind, but I just don’t know how to… show what I’m feeling.” Feelings can indeed be hard to argue with. I’m a salesman (life insurance) and probably have more experience than Mr. Haidt does in persuading the recalcitrant. People who rationally ought buy the product (they have dependents whom they love) may nonetheless refuse it. Superstition for example can get in the way: “If I buy a policy, then I’m going to die” or “My wife will spend it with another man.” Try arguing with that. On the other hand it happens with surprising frequency that your prospect will say: “I’ll tell you right now I’m not buying any life insurance”–and then proceeds to buy it.

It has a great deal to do with how you “frame” the purchase. Mr. Haidt will know exactly what I’m talking about. Yet to an extent it appears to contradict his point. Wording is critical in selling. If you find the right words, you may be able to make it strikingly evident to a prospect that the purchase you are recommending makes good sense. There is a flash of insight on his part. For present purposes, the thing to bear in mind is that the insight comes first: the act of understanding happens first. Then—and only then—will emotions start to shift.

Mr. Haidt appears to be implying that there is no component of reason in intuition. I’ve read Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow with excruciating care. I find no such implication in his book.

May 8, 2013 The Enlightenment’s ‘Race’ Problem, and Ours

The Enlightenment’s ‘Race’ Problem, and Ours

By JUSTIN E. H. SMITH        The Stone February 10, 2013, 7:15 pm

In 1734, Anton Wilhelm Amo, a West African student and former chamber slave of Duke Anton Ulrich of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, defended a philosophy dissertation at the University of Halle in Saxony, written in Latin and entitled “On the Impassivity of the Human Mind.” A dedicatory letter was appended from the rector of the University of Wittenberg, Johannes Gottfried Kraus, who praised “the natural genius” of Africa, its “appreciation for learning,” and its “inestimable contribution to the knowledge of human affairs” and of “divine things.” Kraus placed Amo in a lineage that includes many North African Latin authors of antiquity, such as Terence, Tertullian and St. Augustine.

Why have we chosen to go with Hume and Kant, rather than with the pre-racial conception of humanity?

In the following decade, the Scottish philosopher David Hume would write: “I am apt to suspect the Negroes, and in general all other species of men to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was any civilized nation of any other complection than white, nor even any individual eminent in action or speculation.”

Hume had not heard of Amo, that much is clear. But we can also detect a tremendous difference between Hume’s understanding of human capacities and that of Kraus: the author of Amo’s dedicatory letter doesn’t even consider the possibility of anchoring what individual human beings are capable of doing to something as arbitrary as “complection.” For Kraus, Amo represents a continent and its long and distinguished history; he does not represent a “race.”

Another two decades on, Immanuel Kant, considered by many to be the greatest philosopher of the modern period, would manage to let slip what is surely the greatest non-sequitur in the history of philosophy: describing a report of something seemingly intelligent that had once been said by an African, Kant dismisses it on the grounds that “this fellow was quite black from head to toe, a clear proof that what he said was stupid.”

Kraus, the rector of Wittenberg, had been expressing an understanding of the nature of human diversity that was, in 1734, already in decline, soon to be thoroughly drowned out by the fundamentally racist view of human populations as dividing into a fixed set of supposedly natural, species-like kinds. This is the view lazily echoed by Hume, Kant, and so many of their contemporaries.

In his lifetime, Amo was principally known as a legal theorist. His first publication, in 1729, which has since been lost (or, one might suspect, intentionally purged), was a jurisprudential treatise, “On the Right of Moors in Europe.” Here he argues, on the basis of a reading of Roman history and law, that in antiquity “the kings of the Moors were enfeoffed by the Roman Emperor” Justinian, and that “every one of them had to obtain a royal patent from him.” This meant, in Amo’s view, that African kingdoms were all recognized under Roman law, and therefore all Africans in Europe have the status of visiting royal subjects with a legal protection that precludes their enslavement.

Historically, this is highly implausible, since much of the continent of Africa was unknown to Europeans at the time of Justinian. Still, Amo’s understanding is remarkably different from, say, Kant’s account of global history, on which black Africans stood, from the very beginning and as if by definition, beyond the pale of history, and therefore led lives of no intrinsic value, lives that could only be given value through absorption into a global system dominated by Europe.

Scholars have been aware for a long time of the curious paradox of Enlightenment thought, that the supposedly universal aspiration to liberty, equality and fraternity in fact only operated within a very circumscribed universe. Equality was only ever conceived as equality among people presumed in advance to be equal, and if some person or group fell by definition outside of the circle of equality, then it was no failure to live up to this political ideal to treat them as unequal.

It would take explicitly counter-Enlightenment thinkers in the 18th century, such as Johann Gottfried Herder, to formulate anti-racist views of human diversity. In response to Kant and other contemporaries who were positively obsessed with finding a scientific explanation for the causes of black skin, Herder pointed out that there is nothing inherently more in need of explanation here than in the case of white skin: it is an analytic mistake to presume that whiteness amounts to the default setting, so to speak, of the human species.

The category of race continues to be deployed, not just by racists, but by anti-racists as well.
The question for us today is why we have chosen to stick with categories inherited from the 18th century, the century of the so-called Enlightenment, which witnessed the development of the slave trade into the very foundation of the global economy, and at the same time saw racial classifications congeal into pseudo-biological kinds, piggy-backing on the divisions folk science had always made across the natural world of plants and animals. Why, that is, have we chosen to go with Hume and Kant, rather than with the pre-racial conception of humanity espoused by Kraus, or the anti-racial picture that Herder offered in opposition to his contemporaries?

Many who are fully prepared to acknowledge that there are no significant natural differences between races nonetheless argue that there are certain respects in which it is worth retaining the concept of race: for instance in talking about issues like social inequality or access to health care. There is, they argue, a certain pragmatic utility in retaining it, even if they acknowledge that racial categories result from social and historical legacies, rather than being dictated by nature. In this respect “race” has turned out to be a very different sort of social construction than, say, “witch” or “lunatic.” While generally there is a presumption that to catch out some entity or category as socially constructed is at the same time to condemn it, many thinkers are prepared to simultaneously acknowledge both the non-naturalness of race as well as a certain pragmatic utility in retaining it.

Since the mid-20th century no mainstream scientist has considered race a biologically significant category; no scientist believes any longer that “negroid,” “caucasoid” and so on represent real natural kinds or categories. [1] For several decades it has been well established that there is as much genetic variation between two members of any supposed race, as between two members of supposedly distinct races. This is not to say that there are no real differences, some of which are externally observable, between different human populations. It is only to say, as Lawrence Hirschfeld wrote in his 1996 book, “Race in the Making: Cognition, Culture, and the Child’s Construction of Human Kinds,” that “races as socially defined do not (even loosely) capture interesting clusters of these differences.”

Yet the category of race continues to be deployed in a vast number of contexts, and certainly not just by racists, but by ardent anti-racists as well, and by everyone in between. The history of race, then, is not like the history of, say, witches: a group that is shown not to exist and that accordingly proceeds to go away. Why is this?

Philosophers disagree. Anthony Appiah identifies himself as a racial skeptic to the extent that the biological categories to which racial terms refer have been shown not to exist. Yet at the same time he acknowledges that the adoption of “racial identities” may often be socially expedient, and even unavoidable, for members of perceived racial minorities. Ron Mallon has in turn distinguished between metaphysical views of race on the one hand, which make it out to describe really existent kinds, and normative views on the other, which take race to be useful in some way or other, but not real. Mallon divides the latter into “eliminativist” and “conservationist” camps, supposing, variously, that the concept can only be put to bad uses, and must be got rid of, or that some of its uses are worth holding onto. On his scheme, one may very well coherently remain metaphysically anti-realist about race but still defend the conservation of the concept on normative grounds.

But given that we now know that the identity groups in modern multicultural states are plainly constituted on ethno-linguistic and cultural grounds, rather than on biological-essential grounds, it remains unclear why we should not allow a concept such as “culture” or “ethnie” to do the semantic work for us that until now we have allowed the historically tainted and misleading concept of “race” to do. We have alternative ways of speaking of human diversity available to us, some of which are on vivid display in Amo’s early life and work, and which focus on rather more interesting features of different human groups than their superficial phenotypic traits.

It is American culture that is principally responsible for the perpetuation of the concept of race well after its loss of scientific respectability by the mid-20th century. Even the most well-meaning attempts to grapple with the persistence of inequality between “blacks” and “whites” in American society take it for granted at the outset that racial categories adequately capture the relevant differences under investigation (see, for example: Thomas B. Edsall’s recent column, “The Persistence of Racial Resentment“) . This may have something to do with the fact that the two broad cultural-historical groupings of people in this country, which we call “white” and “black” and which have been constituted through the complicated histories of slavery, immigration, assimilation, and exclusion, tend at their extremes to correlate with noticeably different phenotypic traits.

An African-American is likely to look more different from an American of exclusively European descent than, say, an Orthodox Serb is likely to look from a Bosnian Muslim. This creates the illusion that it is the phenotypic difference that is causing the perception of cultural-historical distinctness, along with the injustice and inequality that has gone along with this distinctness. This also creates the illusion of American uniqueness: that our history of ethnic conflict cannot be understood comparatively or in a global context, because it, unlike conflict between Serbs and Bosnian Muslims or between Tutsi and Hutu, is supposedly based on “race” rather than history, politics, and culture. But where people are living with a different historical legacy, as in much of European history prior to the high modern period hailed in by Hume and Kant, the supposedly manifest phenotypic differences between “blacks” and “whites” can easily recede into the background as irrelevant.

Amo did not meet a happy end in Germany. His original manumission and education appear to have been a strategy on the part of Duke Anton Ulrich to impress Tsar Peter the Great of Russia, who had recently adopted his own chamber slave, Abram Petrovich Gannibal, as his own son. Gannibal would go on to a career as a brilliant engineer, military strategist, and politician; Amo, for his part, would be largely abandoned by his sponsors when the geopolitical winds shifted, and Russia fell off the duke’s list of priorities.

For a while the African philosopher eked out a living as a tutor in Jena and Wittenberg, and in 1747, after being made the butt of a libelous broadside accusing him of falling in love with a woman beyond his station, he returned to West Africa in disgrace. A French seafarer, David-Henri Gallandat, finds him there a few years later, and writes of meeting a man who “was very learned in astrology and astronomy, and was a great philosopher. At that time he was around 50 years old… He had a brother who was a slave in the colony of Suriname.”

The hopefulness of the 1734 dissertation was now long behind him. It is not known when Amo died, or under what circumstances. What we can say for certain is that he would not spend his final years as a successor to Augustine and Terence, but rather in the degraded position where someone like Kant supposed he belonged: outside of history, philosophically disenfranchised and entirely defined by something as trivial as skin color.

As long as we go on speaking as if racial categories captured something real about human diversity, we are allowing the 18th-century legacy of Kant and Hume, which was never really anything more than an ad hoc rationalization of slavery, to define our terms for us. We are turning our back on the legacy of Anton Wilhelm Amo, and of his European contemporaries who were prepared to judge him on his merits.
[1] This is not to deny that there are limited contexts in which self-reporting of “racial” identity may be informative in a local or regional context. It is indeed helpful for a doctor to know, within the context of the American health-care system, the “race” of a patient. What it does mean to say that race is no longer a legitimate scientific category is that this limited, contextual helpfulness tells us nothing about a natural kind or real subdivision of the human species. The category of “race” can be useful in a local, medical context to the extent that it often correlates with other, useful information about tendencies within a given population. But this population need not be conceptualized in terms of race. Race is a dummy variable here, but not of interest as such.
Justin E. H. Smith teaches philosophy at Concordia University in Montreal. His most recent book is “Divine Machines: Leibniz and the Sciences of Life.” He is a contributing editor of Cabinet Magazine, and writes regularly on his blog

J T   Vermont
How different is racial identity from tribal identity, or religious identity? It is us versus them. That has caused conflict forever.

Larry LundgrenSwedenFlag
I have now read all the comments.
I say: Readers, please cite the work of a serious scholar.
Re-read parts of Smith’s essay dealing with the present. Here a key sentence, important for me, writing as an American living in Sweden where I professionally have daily contact with medical researchers in many fields.
Smith: “It is American culture that is principally responsible for the perpetuation of the concept of race well after its loss of scientific respectability by the mid-20th century.”
Why is this a key sentence? The answer is that “race” is not taught in Sweden and no Swedish researcher whom I have asked could imagine assigning research subjects to “races”. So, as Professor Smith asks: “Why in America?”
Learning about the absence of race (not the absence of racism) in Swedish research led me to an important discovery, work on this subject by a serious American scholar.
Meet Prof. Adolph Reed, Jr., (Pol. Sci. University of Pennsylvania)
“Making Sense of Race, I: The Ideology of Race, the Biology of Human Variation, and the Problem of Medical and Public Health Research.”
The opening sentence, describes many comment writers, including the most prolific, Steven Sailer.
“Most Americans operate with an intuitive sense that they know what race is and how to assign people to racial groups. However, on initial probing that confidence evaporates. They can not say what exactly race is or what it means.”
Read and reflect!

Ceilidth   Boulder, CO
Race as a social construct carries a lot of meaning in the United States. Only those who are willfully ignorant haven’t noticed that. You only have to look at the level of anger and derangement that accompanied Obama’s election. Race as a biological construct doesn’t exist simply because human populations vary in many ways both within and between different groups and race is based almost entirely on one factor–skin color. Obama is exhibit A for this: he has relatively dark skin and therefore is perceived in the US as black, no matter that from a biological perspective his African ancestry and European ancestry are the same. And the Census is coming to terms with the way people now identify themselves rather than just setting out categories that people have to fit themselves into.
Surgres   usa
Response to Ceilidth:
Obama identifies himself as “black”
[And why might he do  that?  RL] Greg   Cambridge, MA
This is a perfect example of the kind of poor scholarship that gets published in some fields of academia. Hume and Kant held racist views of Africans, but there were two particular Africans in the early 18th century who were treated well by two particular European rulers. Ipso facto, the Enlightenment invented racism. This is a massive perversion of history, achieved, in typical post-modern style, by cherry-picking examples.

The glaring omission here is the role of the Enlightenment in criticizing slavery, and its impact on subsequent political movements. The revolutionary government in France, deeply influenced by the Enlightenment, abolished slavery, and although the American Revolution failed to end slavery, the Declaration of Independence was widely viewed to be in conflict with the institution of human property. Similarly, though the 1789 French Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen did not abolish slavery (that occurred five years later, in 1794), it served as an inspiration for the Haitian revolution, which developed out of a slave revolt.

This article comes out as nothing but an ugly hatchet job on the Enlightenment. The uninformed reader will finish this article with a completely inverted view of Enlightenment philosophy, and this is most likely the intention of the author
JA   Bronx, NY
Race was defined centuries ago at a time when modern science did not yet exist, and used for expressing the beliefs of people of that era. Today, people from humanities backgrounds still use the term race in this outdated historical sense with which they are familiar, and therefore insist that race does not exist. Scientists familiar with modern population genetics use the term in an entirely different way, to describe far less drastic differences which evolved to adapt populations to their environment, and which continue to evolve. 

Yes, race exists, but many scientists find it easier to use the four-syllable term “population” than to risk the wrath of ideologues from humanities backgrounds who seem to fear that centuries-old concepts would actually gain scientific credibility if the term “race” were accepted. These humanities people would be less fearful if they familiarized themselves with modern genetics.
Larry Lundgren    Sweden
The Nicholas Wade construction of an East Asian Race.
Steve Sailer (perhaps others) cite Nicholas Wade’s article on recent studies of the EDAR gene as definitive proof of the existence of races.
Wade’s opening sentence “Gaining a deep insight into human EVOLUTION, researchers …identified…mutation in a gene (EDAR gene my note) as the source of several distinctive traits that make EAST ASIANS DIFFERENT FROM OTHER RACES.
Thus I infer that in Wade’s view the “East Asian people” constitute a GENETICALLY “race” distinguishable from all other races on the basis of the mutation in EDAR.
Wade’s phrase seems be a case of “Fatal Invention”. (Only 837 characters so just 3 questions):
1) How are East Asians identified?
2) Do all people so identified carry the mutated form of EDAR that Wade says distinguishes the race?
3) If this kind of excellent and fascinating research on evolution identifes once such mutation after another, how many genetically distinct “races” will we end up with?
These questions can only be answered by qualified researchers in the field. Only their answers will be taken seriously by me. I would of course like to read NW’s answer.
I await a Room for Debate forum where my questions are discussed by qualified scientists.
Ian Maitland   Minneapolis
I won’t shed any tears if you refuse to take my response seriously, but permit me to take a crack.
Let’s say that there is a cluster of people, largely inhabiting East Asia, who are genetically more similar to each other than to people in other clusters (who largely reside in elsewhere in the world). AKA, they have more genes in common. Let us also say that geneticists have discovered a mutation in a gene (EDAR) that is very common in this cluster but very rare among members of other clusters.
Let us also say that some geneticists use the shorthand “race” to describe these clusters.
Do you have a problem with this?
Shouldn’t we just move on?
john riehle   los angeles, ca
I guess I should have made it more explicit in my first post that institutional white supremacy remains equally functional, and therefore popular, not only for capitalists but obviously for many workers that can avail themselves of “whiteness”. The only thing that has changed since the 19th and early 20th centuries is that open and official racism is no longer socially acceptable, and so contemporary working class racism is more commonly unconscious and mediated through politically coded concepts that substitute for more explicit expressions of racial bigotry – chiefly concepts about “culture” and “values”. Privileges derived from generations of white skin are de-historicized and situated in a vaguely essentialist “present” defined by my hard work and self-discipline, derived from a “work ethic” inherited from my parents and their parents, etc., and supposedly lacking in the peculiar and disturbingly Un-American culture of Those People. Perhaps “cultural re-education” can cure the problem They have, but in the meantime the bulwark of “equality before the law” must be deployed to combat any attempts to assign even the smallest compensation to Them in the increasingly bitter competition for jobs and educational benefits necessitated by the austerity and neo-liberal economic policies being imposed by the capitalist class and it’s political representatives
Karen   CT
In history, we call RC from Pompano FL’s interpretation Whig History – that is, that since the West apparently ‘won’, it means they are better people Any intelligent response would in fact have to be counterfactual, since we don’t know what would have occurred if the Europeans had not exploited, extracted, murdered, imprisoned and ‘borrowed’ technological advances. Rather than mock political correctness, RC would be better served to put his politics aside and consider say the role gun technology and the control of that technology has meant for Western dominance. 

His timeline is also somewhat very shortsighted. Non Western civilizations dominated the world for millennia before the mere 2000 year reign of Western supremacy. Where were all of these super-sized geniuses before then? Or does he claim that civilization occurred only when the Caucasoids emerged and formed a coalition – not based on genetic insight but more likely on kinship. 

All we can say with any certainty is that the spoils go to the victor and it is the victor who writes history. The notion that intelligence, productivity, ingenuity is solely a European trait is tested by taking a longer view of the past and that of our possible future and some level of intellectual curiosity beyond what is most comfortable and comforting.

Surprised that the NYT selected his comment as a NYT pick. If it’s repeated enough times however, I guess it eventually becomes truth? How’s that been working?
Steve Sailer    America
Does race exist?
From the New York Times Science Section, February 14, 2013
”A Genetic Glimpse Into Recent Human Evolution
”Gaining a deep insight into human evolution, researchers have identified a mutation in a critical human gene as the source of several distinctive traits that make East Asians different from other races.”
People who opinionate for the New York Times on human genetics should first read what people who report for the New York Times on human genetics have amply documented over the last dozen years.
Larry Lundgren     Sweden
You are quoting Nicholas Wade who apparently has now named a new race, the East Asian race.
You perhaps should be a little more careful. The researchers were studying evolution. I do not have access to the full article so I do not know if they discussed race in the article.
The fact that Nicholas Wade writes – changing his word order – East Asians have several distinctive traits that make East Asians different from other races is in no way support for a belief in genetically distinct races.
Nicholas Wade is no more an expert on genetics than you or I are. He is a journalist who in this case appears to believe he is justified in naming a new race.
If you have access to the original article and can find a passage in the manuscript that states that “our new findings demonstrate the existence of a new East Asian race, distinct from races x, y, and z” then please enter it as a Times comment if comments have not been closed. Otherwise do me the favor by sending me the file.
Larry Lundgren   Sweden
There are some significant misunderstandings in the comments by Steve Sailer and the many others who want to believe in “race”.
One of them is the belief expressed by many that people who do not find race a useful concept do not believe in human difference. I have read this in many comments but of course this is simply not so. 
As I have noted before, I work at the Red Cross in Linköping, Sweden, and when I am there I am often sitting at a round table where people from what you all would call the “standard 4 or 5 races” are sitting.
I just have to tell you that these people do not want to be identified in terms of something called race. They might say, I am a Kurd, I am a Somali, I am a Somali Bantu or they might even say, I am Swedish.
But race, no.
Each of them is genetically unique as the kind of analysis cited in the Wade article could show. Maybe one of them has a gene that makes them more susceptible to some medical problem. That hardly assigns them to a race.
So perhaps Steve Sailer and his supporters could write a comment in which each of you give our exact definition of race.
AndrewBucks County, PA
First, a quote from Richard Dawkins:

“It is genuinely true that, if you measure the total variation in the human species and then partition it into a between-race component and a within-race component, the between-race component is a very small fraction of the total. Most of the variation among humans can be found within races as well as between them. Only a small admixture of extra variation distinguishes races from each other. That is all correct. What is not correct is the inference that race is therefore a meaningless concept. This point has been clearly made by the distinguished Cambridge geneticist A.W.F. Edwards in a recent paper “Human genetic diversity: Lewontin’s fallacy.” R.C. Lewontin is an equally distinguished Cambridge (Mass.) geneticist, known for the strength of his political convictions and his weakness for dragging them into science at every possibile opportunity. Lewontin’s view of race has become near-universal orthodoxy in scientific circles.

We can all happily agree that human racial classification is of no social value and is positively destructive of social and human relations. This is Edwards’s point, and he reasons as follows: However small the racial partition of total variation may be, if such racial characteristics as there are highly correlated with other racial characteristics, they are by definition informative, and therefore of taxonomic significance.”