October 1, 2012

"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."

Said the psychologist Jonathan Haidt, quoted by Michael P. Lynch, who says:
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...
That reminds me: new Supreme Court term starts today.
... we tend to accept that which confirms what we already believe (psychologists call this confirmation bias). And the tendency goes beyond just politics....
Lynch thinks Haidt goes too far:
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 na├»ve. 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.
Haidt's new book is "The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion."

38 comments:

Michael said...

Lynch is right, of course. Reasoning is not just the application of the rules of logic to inputs; it is also determining which inputs are relevant, whether the desired output or goal is correct (in the sense of asking the right question), and building a model of reality that helps connect the input with the output. The primary utility of reason is not in reaching a decision so much as in demonstrating -- to oneself and others -- why that decision is the one that should be accepted.

Nomennovum said...

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."

I see what you're doing here. Of course, if what he says is true, it doesn't make our emotional decisions right. It is good to recognize them, and then deal with them.

I feel Obama is a bad guy. I can articulate many objective facts to back up my contention is has been and would be a bad president. The fact that he makes my skin crawl has nothing to do with these facts and they are not a rationalization of my emotional response. My first emotional response to him, in fact, was probably similar to the response many had: "Hmmm. Seems intelligent. Looks presidential. Who the hell is this guy?"

edutcher said...

You mean it's OK to get rid of this non-judgmental, value-neutral nonsense after 40 years?

It's funny, the "Go With Your Gut" crowd is also the "Well, we shouldn't sit in judgment" crowd, too.

Rusty said...

"We all need to take a cold, hard look at the evidence and see reasoning for what it is."

This will not end well.

Rusty said...

.. we tend to accept that which confirms what we already believe




We tend to accept that which has been proven to be correct.

FTFY


Yes. You can have a car that gets 60, hell 75, miles to the gallon, but you're going to have to accept the reality that it will be small, light, and inherently dangerous.

sykes.1 said...

Of course, Haidt is correct. There is no such thing as reason in political or social discourse. What is called reason is merely post hoc rationalization of prejudices.

Reasons does sometimes occur in the natural (but not social) sciences because there is an objective reality that can be used to test the results of scientific reasoning. However, even in the sciences someone must actually do the test and it must be done honestly and correctly. Moreover, other scientists must accept the results of the tests.

The history of science is full of stupid theories that had wide acceptance for many years. Usually this was the result of collusion between scientists and politicians. The relationship between Lysenko and Stalin is the classic example and climate "science" is a modern day example.

rhhardin said...

we tend to accept that which confirms what we already believe (psychologists call this confirmation bias).

Confirmation bias comes up all over, if you look for it.

Astro said...

Optical illusions can trick our eyes into seeing what isn't real.
Reasoning is what let's us see behind the illusion and discover that our eyes have been tricked. Reason gives us the truth.

Reasoning is what let's a pilot fly an aircraft through a storm at night, relying on the aircraft's instruments to tell him which way is up and down and to know if the plane is in level flight or not, when his own senses might fail him. JFK, Jr., learned that lesson too late.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

Criticism of Reason is like criticism of Romney.

Even if some of it is correct, you're going to do what?? - go with the other guy????

Crimso said...

I think he really meant "truthiness" rather than "truth." A common sleight-of-hand for those who want to downplay the usefulness of reason. Think our betters would rather go back to a time before the Age of Reason? The task of being a better was soooo much easier then. Those uppity thinkers weren't always pointing out the gaping holes in your "truth."

wyo sis said...

What a bunch of bullshit.

Gabriel Hanna said...

Those who invalidate reason ought seriously to consider whether they argue against reason with or without reason; if with reason, then they establish the principles that they are laboring to dethrone: but if they argue without reason (which, in order to be consistent with themselves they must do), they are out of reach of rational conviction, nor do they deserve a rational argument.

Ethan Allen (yes, THAT Ethan Allen).

So people are arguing, based on empirical evidence, that people are not rational, but rationalizing. They haven't indicted reason, they've indicted humans who fail to apply it.

It's like a little like abstinence --the practice of abstinence is blamed for the things that happen to people who fail to apply abstinence. But condoms are never blamed for people who refuse to use them.

Rusty said...

rhhardin said...
we tend to accept that which confirms what we already believe (psychologists call this confirmation bias).

Confirmation bias comes up all over, if you look for it.


Much like the "hammer theory".

phx said...

A balanced human has both reason and the rational, as wells as intuition, emotion, the irrational. Respect for them both, yin and yang.

I try to employ the methodology of checking with reason first, always first. After that intuition, or even randomness.

Reason is a very powerful tool, obviously. But I need more than that in my toolbox. An insistence that everything in your life be resasonable leads to very dangerous delusions.

The communists thought they were being completely rational. Of course they weren't. Someday you'll know you aren't either.

Bryan C said...

"The communists thought they were being completely rational. Of course they weren't. Someday you'll know you aren't either."

Hmm. I think many communists were being completely rational. They wanted power and control and devised a system which allowed them to have it.

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...


Heinlein had it very close to correct when he observed that Man is not so much a rational animal as he is a rationalizing animal.

Reason is very often put into service to support the rationalizing of whatever behavior we want it to.

raf said...

Are those who believe reason is just post-hoc rationalization just rationalizing, post-hoc, their own inability to reason?

SomeoneHasToSayIt said...

raf said...
Are those who believe reason is just post-hoc rationalization just rationalizing, post-hoc, their own inability to reason?


No. Reason is reason, and is, of course, of immense value.

Just pointing out that we all like to use its powers in service of rationalization, much of the time.

phx said...

And good luck wrapping your hands around that "truth" thing as well.

The Crack Emcee said...

I don't know what any of that means.

I just know, when it comes to reasoning, I'll continue taking this approach, gladly, over this one.

If I can ever stop gagging, that is,...

mishu said...

I really fucking hate postmodernism. There, I'm not being reasonable.

Pastafarian said...

It's a good thing you're wrong about this, Althouse.

If, as you're suggesting, all of us made all important decisions based on gut instinct, you should never fly again, avoid all bridges and tunnels, and never stand next to or occupy a tall building for very long.

But fortunately, engineers don't make decisions about designs based on feelings and intuition. They don't have the luxury to do this, like someone in education or law does. It's a damned shame from my perspective because flying by the seat of my pants would save me a fuckload of time and effort.

Shades of grey. Some people make themselves a spreadsheet in order to determine what they're going to eat for lunch. Others decide who they think should lead the free world based on how their hormones are raging that morning. Don't project your own proclivities onto the rest of us by claiming "we all do it." Bullshit.

gerry said...

Ah, more postmodern bullshit.

Jim S. said...

I wonder if Haidt applies this to her own reasoning, specifically the reasoning that led her to the conclusion that reasoning isn't trustworthy. Well, no, I don't really wonder; these kinds of claims always tend to exclude the claims themselves from their own scope. It's always other people who can't trust their reasoning processes, other claims that can't be trusted. But the person pointing this out is oddly excluded from this sweeping condemnation.

phx said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
phx said...

I think a lot of you are interpreting this in binary fashion. "This says reason is no fucking good. And how do you come to THAT conclusion without using reason??? Christ, I HATE postmodernists."

I know, I know, life seems like it's black and white, either for or against, one or the other. But this about some limitations on reason. It's not about throwing reason away in favor of a psychotic experience.

Not that all you standard-bearers of reason are paragons of logic or reason yourself, at least given some of your comments... It might be news but most of you could be a little more humble when thinking of yourselves as always reasonable or logical.

Rusty said...

phx said...
I think a lot of you are interpreting this in binary fashion. "This says reason is no fucking good. And how do you come to THAT conclusion without using reason??? Christ, I HATE postmodernists."


I just went with my gut.

I know, I know, life seems like it's black and white, either for or against, one or the other. But this about some limitations on reason. It's not about throwing reason away in favor of a psychotic experience.


Well that doesn't go very far in explaining democrats, does it?

Not that all you standard-bearers of reason are paragons of logic or reason yourself, at least given some of your comments... It might be news but most of you could be a little more humble when thinking of yourselves as always reasonable or logical.


Why?
When it comes down to the decision to cut the blue wire or the red one, I want an electrical engineer on call.

phx said...

Why?
When it comes down to the decision to cut the blue wire or the red one, I want an electrical engineer on call.


Yeah, so do I. If only all of life's questions could be referred to an electrical engineer.

See "Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him" via Amazon. Order through Althouse.

Night2night said...

Is this a replay of this past weekend's Obama racist video, where subconsious fear of racism in an individual results in tumultous claims of not so (of course Nixon was destroyed once he decided to declare "I am not a crook!"). I still dislike dealing with folks constantly attempting to discredit evidence based practices because it just doesn't feel right (which may work for you when everything is filtered through your emotions). As for me, I usually tell folks inferential statistics may not be an ideal process, but they're better than the alternative.

traditionalguy said...

Some one once told me. That's true, but it's not the truth."

It is a king's glory to identify what is the truth.

We used to sort of expect science to tend towards truth, but for the last 25 years it has become a dangerous center for faked truth.

I seriously ask myself how the USA can survive when we know Obama and his media team only lies about everything all of the time, and we seem to like that.

Roadkill said...

The point that Haidt was making is that moral judgements (as opposed to other, non-moral/political/religious judgements), originate in the emotions or intuition. Think how someone would react to a story about a man having sex with the body of his dead spouse - or dead cat, for that matter - its repugnant, but does it really harm anybody? No. Reason would say no harm, no foul, no moral condemnation. But most people would say "That's outrageous and is wrong" without knowing why they think that way.

rhhardin said...

I'd go with maxims.

Revenant said...

"Anyone who values truth should stop worshiping reason"

That's a very silly statement. "People seldom use reason" does not equate to "it is good to not use reason".

Emery Calame said...

Don't let this guy design a bridge. Ever. Because gravity and weather won't care how he feels inside in his heart.

BarryD said...

"We all need to take a cold, hard look at the evidence and see reasoning for what it is."

Does that sound as stupid to others as it does to me?

"Confirmation bias comes up all over, if you look for it."

LOL

That about sums it up. :)

Jim S. said...

I think a lot of you are interpreting this in binary fashion. ... But this about some limitations on reason. It's not about throwing reason away in favor of a psychotic experience.

Well, if Haidt is just saying our reasoning capacities are not always reliable, he's saying what everyone, everywhere has always known. The first person who ever got drunk figured that out. He seems to be making a more radical claim: that our reasoning capacities are generally unreliable. But if so, it would apply to his reasoning capacities -- specifically his reasoning capacities when he formed the belief that our reasoning capacities are not reliable. He is arguing that arguments are invalid. He is reasoning that reasoning is untrustworthy.

Rory said...

"Im not saying we all should stop reasoning and go with our gut feelings. Gut feeelings are sometiems better guides than reasoning for making consumer choices and interpersonal judgements, but they are often disastrous as a basis for public policy, science, and law. Rather, what im saying is that we must be wary of any individual's ability to reason."

-Jonathan Haidt

Rory said...
This comment has been removed by the author.