Book Preview – Evolution and the Six Core Values of Humankind

Next week Jonathan Haidt’s much-awaited The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Religion and Politics   will be published.   I didn’t get a preview copy of the book but have read other writings of his, have seen his TED Talk   (which has been viewed more than a million times) and recent interview with Bill Moyers, and have also had contact with him at NYU’s Stern School of Business (where he is a visiting professor of business ethics and I am an adjunct professor in the same discipline).  Based on all of this, I think his book will be an important source of ideas and information for C&E professionals.

Haidt’s focus is on moral intuitions.  As described in this profile in a Scientific American Blog , he and a colleague “developed the idea that humans possess six universal moral modules, or moral ‘foundations,’ that get built upon to varying degrees across culture and time. They are: Care/harm, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation, and Liberty/oppression. Haidt describes these six modules like a ‘tongue with six taste receptors.’”  

As is evident from its title, the book is principally about moral standards and politics – and particularly how liberals and conservatives tend to differ with respect to the six “modules.”  But, understanding these modules should be relevant, too, to the  business ethics realm, as they represent deeply engrained “core values” of the human race. So, learning more about their basis in evolution – how they shape what Haidt (quoting psychologist Gary Marcus) calls the “first draft” of our moral minds – could be invaluable for those seeking to promote effective values-based C&E programs.

And, as is evident from his position at NYU, Haidt himself is also interested applying moral intuitionism to the field of business ethics. As he states in his introduction to the Ethical Systems project at NYU: “While ‘bad apples’ certainly exist, the general finding in social psychology is that evil is far better explained by properties of situations and systems. You can spend a lot of time and money giving people training in ethics, yet there is hardly any evidence that such training will change anyone’s behavior beyond the classroom. Or you can make small, cheap, and simple changes to environments and get big, instant effect.” In other words, given how engrained they are, any realistic strategy of promoting ethical behavior in business should entail working with – and certainly not against – our moral intuitions.

Similar to what I’ve been trying to do with prior posts on behavioral ethics, I hope to be back after the book is published with additional posts on how all of this relates to C&E programs – and I encourage readers of the COI Blog to buy the book and join the conversation.



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