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Henry James Sr. Stole My Idea (100 years before I had it)

He called it personality type, I call it cognitive style, but we’re talking about the same thing; the end points of a spectrum of different ways of thinking.  This, I believe, might be the ingredient that’s missing from Moral Foundation Theory that would allow it to explain what it currently cannot.  It is number three of my Eight Challenges to Moral Foundations Theory.

Social Justice Warriors, mainstream liberals, and open minded liberals like Jonathan Haidt and Liz Joyner all lean left in terms of moral foundations but occupy distinctly different segments of the ideological spectrum (extreme left, left, and center-left).  The difference between them seems to be that they vary in the degree to which they fit James’ “Tender Mindedness” and “Tough Mindedness” personality types or what I call the WEIRD-Platonic-Rationalist-Idealist-Rousseauian and the Holistic-Aristotelian-Intuitionist-Empiricist-Burkean cognitive styles.  

We might be able to nitpick James’ list (below) or my description, but I think the general idea of both is on the right track.  The following quote is from The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization:

[James’] gift for putting abstruse problems in ordinary language also allowed him to redefine the old battle between rationalism and empiricism—or ideas versus facts—as essentially a clash between two types of human personality, the “tough-minded” and the “tender-minded.” “Empiricist,” he wrote in 1907, “means your lover of facts in all their crude variety, rationalist means your devotee to abstract and eternal principles.… The individual rationalist is what is called a man of feeling, [while] the individual empiricist prides himself on being hardheaded.” He drew up their character in two contrasting columns:


  • Rationalistic (going by principles), Empiricist (going by facts)
  • Intellectualistic, Sensationalistic
  • Idealistic, Materialistic
  • Optimistic, Pessimistic
  • Religious, Irreligious
  • Freewillist, Fatalistic
  • Monistic, Pluralistic
  • Dogmatical, Skeptical

The two philosophers James saw as epitomizing the tender-minded versus tough-minded split were probably Hegel and John Stuart Mill. 28 Still, with the exception of optimism and pessimism (and here James was thinking of the optimism of Hegelians and Marxists in believing history has a final purpose), it’s clear he was really talking about the perennial split between Platonists and Aristotelians in a distinctly American guise.”


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