Embedded Public Reasoning: A Response to Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind
Michael J. DeMoor
The King’s University, Edmonton, CA
About Michael J.
Michael J. DeMoor is Associate Professor of Social Philosophy in Politics, History and Economic at the King’s University. His research focuses on rationality and normativity in social life, particularly in discussions of deliberative democracy.
Jonathan Haidt is a moral psychologist whose influential book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, explains the origins of our political disagreements. The aim of the book is to encourage understanding and civility in our public life. Deliberative democrats also have a significant stake in understanding the sources of our disagreements and see rational deliberation as the key to civility and democratic legitimacy. However, Haidt’s empirical studies give reasons to suggest that the “faith” of deliberative democrats in reasoning may be misplaced, particularly as that faith tends be inflected in terms of a “Kantian” moral psychology.
This article analyzes four different explanatory “stories” that Haidt weaves together: (1) a “causal” evolutionary account of the development of morality; (2) a “causal” story about the psychological mechanisms explaining human action; (3) a “causal” story about the historical and cultural determinants of our political attitudes; and (4) a “normative” story about the grounds and justification of human action. The article then examines these stories to discern how deliberative democrats might rearticulate their conception of public reasoning, and their normative hopes for it, in light of Haidt’s findings by introducing the “embedded” conception of public reasoning.