Righteous Mind Reader’s Guide


University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Summer Reading Study Guide and Assignment 2014

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion

By Jonathan Haidt

Introduction to Project Goals

The University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth (UMD) summer reading project is an important link to your coming academic experience.  In an effort to help you transition from high school to college we are asking that you carefully read the six goals outlined below, the study guide introduction, and then begin reading the assigned book. Please read the study questions prior to reading each chapter as you will need to take notes and ultimately choose a focus for your written response.  The Righteous Mind was chosen to help you understand the kinds of decisions you will be making next fall and the commitment to scholarship that will be expected from you. This guide outlines the project with assignments to help you understand the reading. There will also be an opportunity to write a short essay to be considered for the Provost’s Essay Contest. Please note, you are not required to answer all the questions here. Instead we ask that you use the questions as a guide for you to consider a variety of ideas and possibilities while you read. 

You will need to actively read The Righteous Mind—that means that you must read with a pen in your hand and make margin notes or get a notebook to write your first impressions of the material as you read. As an active reader you have the opportunity to write a first impression once, only once, so it is very important that you actively take notes of your reaction to the material as you go along.  (People new to this sort of reading may find it hard to come up with a comment for every paragraph and/or page they read—we recommend underlining and summarizing—in one or two words—those passages you find yourself liking the most or the least.)   This practice will help you to track how your ideas change as you are exposed to more information and enable you to quickly return to sections that you’d like to write about for the Righteous Mind FY Book Project essay contest.

The study guide asks questions to help you engage with each section of the book. After reading the book, please complete the essay assignment. The assignment is designed to help you to build the skills and understand the expectations of your professors in order to help you succeed in the university environment. Your essay will also be read and scored by members of the UMD community. Essays identified as the strongest will continue on to a final round where you and your peers will vote on your favorites (or the “best” of the best). The authors of the essays with the most votes will receive prizes and recognition from the Provost’s office for their work.

Project Goals

1. New students understand academic requirements

In college, you won’t always get a study guide, and you won’t always have someone checking to see if you have done the assigned work.  You won’t always discuss all the reading homework in class, but you will be expected to know the material.  You are going to have to rely on yourself to get the job done.  For this project you are being eased into the academic requirements at UMD through orientation, this study guide, online resources and the UMD summer reading blog, as well as small group discussions at convocation, and in-class assignments in ENL 101.  For more information on academic standards, see the student handbook: http://www.umassd.edu/studenthandbook/academicregs/ethicalstandards.cfm

The Reading & Writing Center offers free peer tutoring to help you develop your ideas into university level work. Details available at http://www.umassd.edu/arc/wrc/about.htm


2. Students introduced to learning communities

Whether you plan to live on campus or commute, the UMD community will be an essential part of your life for the next four years and the impact of your involvement will resonate for the rest of your life.  Whether you like this book or not, it will be a bridge to discussions with new friends, classmates and teachers, so make sure you are ready to discuss it when you arrive this fall.  Whatever you feel about this book it will change the way you think and will help you challenge assumptions as you engage with the many levels of community here at UMD.  Have you visited the homepage for your major yet? If you don’t have a major, why not consider your options? See the UMD website and read the academic requirements for different majors: http://www.umassd.edu/academics/


3. Students get a sense of civic engagement and commitment

In your past, you may have opted out of some required reading or activity. However, in this next phase of your life, you must remember that no one is forcing you to be here.   You are an adult.  You or someone in your life is paying a lot of money (tuition) for you to be a part of this community. You must take responsibility for your own education and reach out to all the opportunities available to you here. To see opportunities available to you on campus (clubs, student organizations, etc.), visit the UMD website: http://www.umassd.edu/studentlife/

4. New students are empowered to make decisions

Many of you are going to be free of supervision for the first time in your life. As a result, you will have many decisions to make which will have a real impact on your performance and your commitment to this school and your education. You will also be exposed to new sets of ideas, values and choices based on your interactions with members of the UMD campus community. There will be a difficult and bewildering set of choices and distractions before you. Decisions are tough and have consequences.  Some examples: To skip or not to skip? To party or not to party?  Which activity is best for me?  Should I do my homework or “borrow” from someone?  How will you get along with the strangers you will be living with? You will have to deal with a lot of choices as you make the transition from high school into college. This book will help you to understand some of the challenges associated with entering into a new community where values, ideals and belief systems vary greatly from person to person and personal responsibility becomes more and more important. For additional help with the transition to adult decisions and consequences, visit the UMD counseling center, details available at: http://www.umassd.edu/counseling/contact.cfm

5. Students learn how to communicate with faculty/staff/peers

A learning community is a place where differences in opinion are valued. The summer reading blog is your first opportunity to converse with peers and faculty. Some of you have already experienced blogs, while for others the conversation online will be entirely new.  You should feel comfortable voicing your opinion; however, there are a few things you should consider as you enter the conversation:

  • No email/text speak; use standard grammar and mechanics
  • Disagreements are about ideas—don’t attack the person
  • Keep an open mind; be willing to expand your ideas by listening to what others have to say

Start strong: read the book, consider the questions in this study guide, post a minimum of two responses on the UMD blog, and be prepared to actively claim your education this fall.  The blog can be accessed at: https://umdreads2014.wordpress.com/


6. Students take ownership for social responsibilities/experience

College is a great experience and the beginning of a new life for each of you.  Once you arrive, you can become who ever want.  Don’t miss the opportunity to take control of your future.

Read about Graduation 2014 here: http://www1.umassd.edu/commencement/


Questions to Guide Your Reading

NOTE:  These questions are designed to be answered as you complete each chapter.


The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion


A note before beginning: Welcome to the reader’s guide for UMD’s 2014-15 first year book project! In the following paragraphs, you’ll see each of the major parts of Haidt’s book broken down first by section and then by chapter with a “before you read” topic to consider and then some “after you read” questions and topics to consider as you progress through the book. This will (hopefully) help you navigate some of the important elements of the chapters and sections as well as give you topics and ideas to respond to for your two blog posts this summer.


The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion can appear dense and challenging at first. It is grounded in the discipline of “moral psychology” and essentially relates the efforts of a scholar in that discipline to explain—to a broad audience, the purpose and function of our views on politics and religions, views based on our ability to reason and intuitively navigate our moral universe. BUT, he’s a good writer and though his ideas are complex, he’s written about his topic very clearly. Here are some things to look for:


  •       Haidt clearly outlines the purpose of each chapter as he begins. Make sure to locate that and underline it for yourself when you find it. He also gives a preview, in each section and chapter of exactly how he will explain and explore that purpose. Here are some things to look for:

o   He previews the research questions that guided him, the scholars and ideas he’ll be relying on and uses a central “metaphor” to explain each section. Can you paraphrase those parts in the margins of your book? Can you locate them and connect them?

o   He connects each chapter to the one before it and the one after it. Can you find and underline some of that transition language as you read?

  •       Haidt includes a section at the end of each chapter and section, which sums up the main ideas in his section, how he presented those ideas and why. It will be tempting to skip to that section and not read the whole chapter but be careful! There are nuances of his language, explanation of terminology and history, ideas and theory that are not included in those sections and are important to understand so that you can follow his argument. However, it is a great idea to read the end of chapters first so that you have an idea of what you’re looking for as you read.
  •       He uses central metaphors for each section. Consider these metaphors carefully as they are useful in simplifying some of the complexity of ideas for you as the reader. They can, in effect, “keep you on track” as you navigate the new terminology, theoretical discussions and discipline-based approaches to the topic.
  •       Finally, can you connect his ideas to a larger discussion or context about religion and politics? About humanity and social evolution? Can you identify any holes in his reasoning? Who is the author? What can you find out about Haidt before you read?


Good luck and happy reading!


Introduction (XVII-XXIV)


Before you read: As you start your academic career, you’ll begin to discover that the best research, the strongest areas of study are ones that are inspired by good questions and lots of them. Haidt begins his book with the question first asked by Rodney King in May 1992, “Can we all get along?” (xvii) His purpose ultimately reveals itself to us as an effort to explore how, his field of “moral psychology” might answer that question. He is, in fact, beginning a conversation with us about the topics of politics and religion; two things he readily admits are often avoided in “polite company” (xxviii). In fact, he even tells us why he calls his book The Righteous Mind instead of something else. So, what does a discussion of religion, politics and “righteousness” mean to you? What are some possible implications for these conversations?


After you read:


In the introduction, Haidt discusses the nuances of language around morality, outlines the 3 sections of his book and uses a series of central metaphors that explain the reasoning behind each of the sections. They are as follows:


  1.      The mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant.


  1.      The righteous mind is like a tongue with six taste receptors.


  1.      Human beings are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee.


Which of these metaphors stands out to you most? Which one is most difficult to understand? Which one is the most important, do you think? Why do you think he chose metaphors to explain his central ideas? Is it successful?


What are some of the key terms and ideas from this introductory chapter for you that set the stage for the book?


Part One


Chapter One (3-31)


Before you read:

In “Where Does Morality Come From,” Haidt says that understanding that morality has variations around the world, in different time periods and different social settings is the first step to “understanding your righteous mind” (4). What preconceived notions do you already know you have about topics like morals, politics and religion? Do you know where they come from?



After you read:


1. Haidt traces the theories of several scholars here from Piaget and Kohlberg to Shweder and Turiel in an effort to map the evolution of his own field and how it relates to ideas of “moral thinking” and decision-making. Based on your reading and notes can you do the following:

  •       Generally describe the perspective of each theorist?
  •       See how their ideas connect to each other?
  •       See how they connect to Haidt’s main point?


2. In reading Haidt’s theory and the ideas of others, do you think they are all right, all wrong, some right and some wrong? Does this question matter to you as a reader? Do you think Haidt is making a logical conclusion given the information he’s looking at? Do you relate to any of the examples about learning and development? If so, which ones? Why do you think that is?


Chapter Two (32-60)


Before you read: Haidt titles this chapter “The Moral Dog and its Rational Tail” which hints that maybe we are moral beings with just a part of us that is rational. Do you agree? Do you find that you make your own choices from a more intuitive/emotional place or a rational one? As you enter into college, you will be confronted with new situations all of the time, new types of people with diverse and varying perspectives, new teachers, new ideas. How will you react? Do you have any hunches about how you will successfully navigate new situations? Do you have any problem solving strategies for making judgments in your back pocket?


After you read: Haidt looks at 3 models of “moral” thought in this chapter. He looks at Plato, Jefferson and Hume.


Here are some questions to consider:

  •       What are the merits of emphasizing “reason” like Plato?
  •       What about the dualistic model set forth by Jefferson?
  •       What about Hume’s idea that we are ruled by our passions and reason is merely at their service?


We know Haidt agrees with Hume but can you see some advantages and disadvantages of this view?


Chapter Three (61-83)


Before you read: In this chapter, “Elephants Rule,” Haidt outlines 6 examples to support his idea that we are largely, intuitive decision makers who use our rational minds to justify, ad hoc, our decisions and judgments. How do you think this might play into our moral decision making processes?


After you read: Now that Haidt has begun to explore, in specific detail, his framework of intuition vs. reason through the six examples. Consider the following:

  •       Which one of the six stands out to you most clearly?
  •       Which one connects best to his larger argument and why?


He also mentions the IAT test, which you can take. Go online to www.implicit.harvard.edu to see where you score on the reasoning test. Do your results confirm or contradict Haidt’s assertion about the way we associate and reason morally?


Chapter Four (84-108)


Before you read: In the chapter “Vote for Me (Here’s Why),” Haidt uses the ideas of Plato, Glaucon and others to argue that reason isn’t always our best guide. He argues that, left to our own devices, we will often act selfishly. He explains that reputation and accountability are, in fact, huge predictors of how we behave. So, have you ever done something you had a hunch wasn’t exactly ethical but you also knew you weren’t being watched and so you did it anyway? Or do you think ethics are implicitly a sign of our highest human nature like Plato argues?


After you read: Haidt explains that caring about what others think of us is actually a really good thing and in general, good for a society. He explains some of the pitfalls we might fall into in good decision-making and some of the ways we might be more successful. Consider the following:

  •       Which stands out most to you?
  •       Do you have experience working in groups for the “greater good” that supports Haidt’s claims?
  •       Do you think individuals are capable of doing the “right thing” all by themselves?
  •       Do you agree with his ultimate conclusion that our “worship of reason” is flawed? (107).


Part Two


Chapter Five (111-130)


Before you read: In this chapter, “Beyond WEIRD Morality,” Haidt explores morality from a cultural perspective. Why do you think different cultures share some moral values and not others? Are you a part of multiple cultures where the moral values of each come into contact or conflict? How do you know when this is happening?


After you read: In this chapter, the author complicates the idea of a singular morality and describes it with 3 terms: autonomy, community and divinity. Do these distinctions make sense to you? Do you agree that these factors might shape society itself? Or do you think it’s more complicated than that?


Haidt also uses his own experience to illustrate how perceptions of moral value can change. Have you ever had a similar change of perspective by coming into contact with a new set of moral values? Do you think you have to come into contact with a different culture to re-think your own moral values? Or is it even worth the effort?


Chapter Six (131-149)


Before you read: “The Taste Buds of the Righteous Mind” describes a framework for understanding our moral “tastes” using a variety of theories from moral foundations theory to Kant’s ideas on moralism to utilitarianism. He looks at patterns, moral response triggers and competing ideas in psychological theory, testing the validity of each. In the academic landscape, one of your primary jobs as a student will be to question the implications and validity of varying viewpoints. Now that you’re halfway through the book, what kind of case do you think Haidt is making? Does he use evidence that is useful in building his case? Does he take into account, multiple, competing viewpoints and explain them well? Are there places that don’t make sense? Places you feel are inaccurate?


After you read: Looking at the diagram on page 146 (fig. 6.2). Which of the moral “tastes” do you think you rely on more? Are there ones you find to be more or less important? This will become a critical point that Haidt develops later in the book and can begin to give you an idea of where your own values might lie on the moral spectrum.


Chapter Seven (150-179)


Before you read: In this chapter, Haidt breaks down each of the “foundations” for moral value that he’s identified in earlier chapters. Consider how your own moral reasoning and belief system was formed. Was it formed by teachers, school, church, family, social groups? Which values are most important to you (of the ones you’ve identified from the last chapter)?


After you read: Look at the chart on page 151 (fig. 7.1). How did you score? Next, examine some of the visual examples he offers to juxtapose or illustrate the differing moral viewpoints within a conservative/liberal framework. Do you agree? Do you think they are accurate? Which ones do you identify with more? Did any of your reactions surprise you?


Chapter Eight (180-216)


Before you read: In chapter eight, “The Conservative Advantage,” Haidt describes how the idea of the 6 moral “tastes” or “foundations” is more successfully put to use by conservatives in political races. Can this be true? What are your initial reactions to the idea that one political platform might be more successful based on their appeals to our evolutionarily evolved moral intuitions?


After you read: After reading this chapter, does it change any of your thoughts about where you fall on the spectrum of moralism? Do you think morals actually really do come down to political affiliations? Does it confirm your own beliefs in any way? Most importantly, does it help you to see the opposing side any more clearly?


Part Three


Chapter Nine (219-255)


Before you read: In chapter nine “Why Are We So Groupish?” Haidt begins to explain his third central metaphor we are 90 percent chimp and 10 percent bee. We know from the previous two sections that we act on our own self interests for a variety of reasons but that we will also act with “reciprocal altruism” when it serves our own group. Now he’ll explain why we do that. But before you dive in, do you have any guesses about why we might be, as Haidt says, mostly individualistic but partially hive minded? What do you think the purpose would be for these two opposing and complementary moral behaviors as we humans evolved over time?


After you read: as a UMD Corsair, you will be asked to engage in both individual and collective activities and look for common bonds with others. You ability to engage with others based on common values will be a source of strength in a new environment. Haidt says here, “anytime a group finds a way to suppress selfishness, it changes the balance of forces in a multilevel analysis: individual-level selection becomes less important, and group-level selection becomes more powerful” (225). Can you think of examples from your own life when you have already engaged in “suppressing” your own selfishness for the greater good of a team, a class, or any other social group you are a part of? What did it feel like? Do you agree with Haidt that this sort of moral reckoning elevates us somehow as a collective species? Do you think there are dangers in it as well?


Haidt also explains the metaphor of “crossing the Rubicon” and shows us that sometimes little choices lead to big changes. How do you know when you’re making the right choice? Do you have any moral values that guide you? Can you think of “Rubicon” moments in your own life?


Chapter Ten (256-284)


Before you read: In this chapter “The Hive Switch,” Haidt describes the moments when we engage in collective bonding as an actual, physical and neurological switch that makes us connected and better at working together. Such moments might come in dance, singing, playing sports, men marching to war together or any other variety of activities that engage our physical and mental selves. Do you have experiences like these yourself? What was that experience like? How did you interpret it later?


After you read: In the coming months at UMD, you will be asked to create new relationships and find balance between them: between school, work, activities, social time and family. Haidt sums his chapter up by saying “Happiness comes from between. It comes from getting the right relationships between yourself and others, yourself and your work, and yourself and something larger than yourself” (283). He uses the work of Durkheim and Ehrenreich to support this assertion. How do you think you can best create balance with your hive mind and your chimp nature? Do you tend to be more of an individual or a group member? How might you seek activities that connect you to others now that you know they are so important for creating successful communities like the one you are entering on a university campus?


Chapter Eleven (285-318)


Before you read: This chapter “Religion is a Team Sport” begins to discuss one of those difficult conversation topics, religious belief. Haidt talks about the possible purposes that religion serves in society. Can you think of some of those purposes before you read his ideas? Do you think your perception of religion in society is based in your own experience and faith? Do you have some picture of how religion functions in society, in your own life, in your home communities?


After you read: Haidt devotes a lot of this chapter to discussing the “New Atheists” and how they perceive religion. He then begins to refute their logic and reasoning. Do you think he makes a good case? What, ultimately, do you think he is setting out to prove? Did he leave anything out? If so, why do you think that might be? Does his narrative match or diverge fro your personal viewpoint? Have you ever thought about the purpose of religion this way?


Chapter Twelve (319-366)


Before you read: In this chapter “Can’t We All Disagree More Constructively,” Haidt begins to conclude his arguments about religion, politics, moral evolution and our “righteous” minds. He comes back around to his original question about whether or not we can really get along as a species. So far, what do you think? Where do you think he’ll end up at the end of this last chapter? Can we overcome the obstacles to our disagreements? How do you think you’ll handle your encounters with new situations, people and viewpoints as you enter into a university setting, knowing what you know now about why we all see the world a little differently from each other?


After you read: Haidt describes how our actual genetic makeup can describe the ways our belief systems might be formed. Do you think he is being fatalistic? Can we change our views anyway?


He continues by discussing social and moral capital, how we are both limited by and supported by our own belief systems. He also defines how he moved from being a “relativist” to a “pluralist” in terms of his own beliefs. Though it is difficult to see yourself from the outside, do you see places where your own moral beliefs can “bind” or “blind” you? Ultimately, do you buy Haidt’s argument that we need both liberals and conservatives and the tension between them to have a successful society?


Conclusion: (367-371)


Now that you’ve finished the book, can you reflect on, in a larger sense, the pieces of Haidt’s argument, his evidence and his conclusions? Do you think he proved what he set out to prove? Did he answer the questions he set out to answer? Did reading The Righteous Mind help you to understand your own “righteous mind” any better? How might the information from his book, inform your own choices and beliefs as you enter college? Do you think he used his central metaphors successfully? What flaws or holes do you find in his argument or evidence?


Will you try to follow Haidt’s final piece of advice and find “a few points of commonality” or establish “a bit of trust” before you go head to head with someone from the opposing team (371)?



“It is not enough to have a good mind.

The main thing is to use it well.”  —Rene Descartes

Works Cited


Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Pantheon Books, 2012. Print.


Lunsford, Andrea A. The Everyday Writer. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. Print








4 thoughts on “Righteous Mind Reader’s Guide

  1. Adam Callahan says:

    When I started reading The Righteous Mind I quickly realized that the author went to great lengths to portray the information in a way that the average reader would find appealing; even so I find moral psychology to be a dull topic although I do have to give the author credit for talking briefly about the movie The Matrix on pg 125 because that is one of my favorite sci fi movies of all time. I was elated to find on pg 13 there was a section on how the supernatural came into being as a social control mechanism “groups create supernatural beings not to explain the universe but to order there societies” (13). I was crestfallen when I realized that he was not going into detail on this topic because I am one of those people who binge reads fantasy, adventure, and the supernatural. I feel that this topic could have been a chapter or even a complete book. How about anyone else, want to read that?

  2. Amira Patterson says:

    I like how in “The Righteous Mind” there is a lot of personal relations that I have to the book. I have some of the same views as the author and I feel more attached to want to know how our opinions differs from one another. Me a student barley starting my own life compared to someone who has experienced life much longer than me and has studied psychology.

  3. Jonny Delva says:

    Jonathan Haidt uses a lot of metaphors and imagery to emphasize the his main points, but he also uses a lot of examples so people can engage easier. Something I liked in The Righteous Mind was how he used hypnosis to clear someone’s thoughts then went through a series of test on the Dartmouth College student to analyze her brain and prove his theories correct.

  4. Princess Mansaray says:

    The guide seems very helpful when reading, especially since the book can be very confusing. I’m not sure but are we suppose to do the essay on one of the metaphors posted above?

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