There is a website for the book, full pdf, figures, a summary and other summary by other readers that I think are interesting. I've included several pages of excerpts here and more limited excerpts below.
This is overall a well written book presenting interesting material. It is one of the most well organized books I can remember reading. In each chapter and each section the author lays out what he is going to explain, explains it well and then summarizes the key points. A subset of the aforementioned excerpts follow(emphasis mine):
I study moral psychology, and I’m going to make the case that morality is the extraordinary human capacity that made civilization possible.But I chose the title The Righteous Mind to convey the sense that human nature is not just intrinsically moral, it’s also intrinsically moralistic, critical, and judgmental.Our righteous minds made it possible for human beings—but no other animals—to produce large cooperative groups, tribes, and nations without the glue of kinship. But at the same time, our righteous minds guarantee that our cooperative groups will always be cursed by moralistic strife. Some degree of conflict among groups may even be necessary for the health and development of any society.Part I is about the first principle: Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.Part II is about the second principle of moral psychology, which is that there’s more to morality than harm and fairness.But people have so many other powerful moral intuitions, such as those related to liberty, loyalty, authority, and sanctity.Part III is about the third principle: Morality binds and blinds. The central metaphor of these four chapters is that human beings are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee. Human nature was produced by natural selection working at two levels simultaneously. Individuals compete with individuals within every group, and we are the descendants of primates who excelled at that competition.
Once you see our righteous minds as primate minds with a hivish overlay, you get a whole new perspective on morality, politics, and religion.
I’ll show that religion is (probably) an evolutionary adaptation for binding groups together and helping them to create communities with a shared morality. It is not a virus or a parasite, as some scientists (the “New Atheists”) have argued in recent years.
We’re born to be righteous, but we have to learn what, exactly, people like us should be righteous about.
We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgment.Anyone who values truth should stop worshipping reason. We all need to take a cold hard look at the evidence and see reasoning for what it is. The French cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber recently reviewed the vast research literature on motivated reasoning (in social psychology) and on the biases and errors of reasoning (in cognitive psychology). They concluded that most of the bizarre and depressing research findings make perfect sense once you see reasoning as having evolved not to help us find truth but to help us engage in arguments, persuasion, and manipulation in the context of discussions with other people. As they put it, “skilled arguers … are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views.”Hume got it right. When he died in 1776, he and other sentimentalists10 had laid a superb foundation for “moral science,” one that has, in my view, been largely vindicated by modern research.11 You would think, then, that in the decades after his death, the moral sciences progressed rapidly. But you would be wrong. In the decades after Hume’s death the rationalists claimed victory over religion and took the moral sciences off on a two-hundred-year tangent.
The remaining three foundations—Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, and Sanctity/degradation—show the biggest and most consistent partisan differences. Liberals are ambivalent about these foundations at best, whereas social conservatives embrace them.
Liberals have a three-foundation morality, whereas conservatives use all six. Liberal moral matrices rest on the Care/harm, Liberty/oppression, and Fairness/cheating foundations, although liberals are often willing to trade away fairness (as proportionality) when it conflicts with compassion or with their desire to fight oppression. Conservative morality rests on all six foundations, although conservatives are more willing than liberals to sacrifice Care and let some people get hurt in order to achieve their many other moral objectives.
Until Democrats understand the Durkheimian vision of society and the difference between a six-foundation morality and a three-foundation morality, they will not understand what makes people vote Republican.
We are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee.93 If you take that claim metaphorically, then the groupish and hivish things that people do will make a lot more sense.
Durkheim argued, in contrast, that Homo sapiens was really Homo duplex, a creature who exists at two levels: as an individual and as part of the larger society. From his studies of religion he concluded that people have two distinct sets of “social sentiments,” one for each level.
Religions are social facts. Religion cannot be studied in lone individuals any more than hivishness can be studied in lone bees. Durkheim’s definition of religion makes its binding function clear: A religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden—beliefs and practices which unite into one single moral community called a Church, all those who adhere to them.3 In this chapter I continue exploring the third principle of moral psychology: Morality binds and blinds. Many scientists misunderstand religion because they ignore this principle and examine only what is most visible. They focus on individuals and their supernatural beliefs, rather than on groups and their binding practices.
In Wilson’s account, human minds and human religions have been coevolving (just like bees and their physical hives) for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. And if this is true, then we cannot expect people to abandon religion so easily. Of course people can and do forsake organized religions, which are extremely recent cultural innovations. But even those who reject all religions cannot shake the basic religious psychology of figure 11.2: doing linked to believing linked to belonging. Asking people to give up all forms of sacralized belonging and live in a world of purely “rational” beliefs might be like asking people to give up the Earth and live in colonies orbiting the moon. It can be done, but it would take a great deal of careful engineering, and even after ten generations, the descendants of those colonists might find themselves with inchoate longings for gravity and greenery.
Societies that forgo the exoskeleton of religion should reflect carefully on what will happen to them over several generations. We don’t really know, because the first atheistic societies have only emerged in Europe in the last few decades. They are the least efficient societies ever known at turning resources (of which they have a lot) into offspring (of which they have few).
Moral communities are fragile things, hard to build and easy to destroy. When we think about very large communities such as nations, the challenge is extraordinary and the threat of moral entropy is intense. There is not a big margin for error; many nations are failures as moral communities, particularly corrupt nations where dictators and elites run the country for their own benefit. If you don’t value moral capital, then you won’t foster values, virtues, norms, practices, identities, institutions, and technologies that increase it.
Nonetheless, if you are trying to change an organization or a society and you do not consider the effects of your changes on moral capital, you’re asking for trouble. This, I believe, is the fundamental blind spot of the left. It explains why liberal reforms so often backfire,43 and why communist revolutions usually end up in despotism. It is the reason I believe that liberalism—which has done so much to bring about freedom and equal opportunity—is not sufficient as a governing philosophy. It tends to overreach, change too many things too quickly, and reduce the stock of moral capital inadvertently.
If you destroy all groups and dissolve all internal structure, you destroy your moral capital. Conservatives understand this point.
The philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrestled throughout his career with the problem of the world’s moral diversity and what to make of it. He firmly rejected moral relativism: I am not a relativist; I do not say “I like my coffee with milk and you like it without; I am in favor of kindness and you prefer concentration camps”—each of us with his own values, which cannot be overcome or integrated. This I believe to be false.1 He endorsed pluralism instead, and justified it in this way: I came to the conclusion that there is a plurality of ideals, as there is a plurality of cultures and of temperaments.… There is not an infinity of [values]: the number of human values, of values which I can pursue while maintaining my human semblance, my human character, is finite—let us say 74, or perhaps 122, or 27, but finite, whatever it may be. And the difference this makes is that if a man pursues one of these values, I, who do not, am able to understand why he pursues it or what it would be like, in his circumstances, for me to be induced to pursue it. Hence the possibility of human understanding.
Intuitive foundations of morals, multifaceted moral dimensions and competition among groups with identity tied to differing emphasis on these dimensions. All very interesting. This doesn't really settle anything, but it does give some perspective on the nature of some pretty deep rooted conflicts in societies.