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Cognitive Style is a Moral Foundation. Different Styles Yield Different Insights. Eschewing a Style Deprives Us of its Insights, Decreases Viewpoint Diversity, and Exacerbates the Coming Apart.

The amazing 1969 prophecy that racial preferences would cause the exact grievances of protesters today by Jonathan Haidt at Heterodox Academy helps to illustrate my theory.

I propose that the analyses by Haidt, Jussim, and Macklin are examples of the intuitionist, Aristotelian, holistic, empiricist cognitive style of the non-WEIRD majority of human beings. I’m calling this Cognitive Style Two.

I further propose that the Social Justice Warriors, campus protesters, and others described by Haidt, Jussim, and Macklin are thinkers of the rationalist, Platonic, WEIRD, idealist cognitive style of the minority of humans. This is what I called Cognitive Style One.

I suggest that cognitive style is a moral foundation in the sense that it is part of the low hanging fruit of psychological factors that are the major influences of ideology. It is one of the “evolved psychological mechanisms” of morality.

I’m aware that Cognitive Style probably does not meet all of the official criteria for foundationhood and therefore technically can not be moral foundation.

That’s part of my point.

It seems to me that cognitive style is just as much, or more, of a determinative factor of morality as are the moral foundations, but it operates differently. Moral foundations are various flavors of the same basic mechanism. Cognitive style is an entirely different mechanism. BOTH mechanisms have a role in determining our morality.

Imagine it this way: The moral space can be described as a two dimensional X-Y graph, where the ends of the X axis are the individualizing and binding foundations, and the ends of the Y axis are Cognitive Style One and Cognitive Style two. Moral foundations are one dimension of the moral space. Cognitive style is another dimension of the moral space.

In this hypothetical example, The liberal left and the illiberal left, both, lean toward the individualizing foundations of care, fairness, and liberty. They’re at approximately the same place on the X axis.

But they’re at widely different places on the Y axis. The illiberal left is almost pure Cognitive Style One. The liberal left, people like Haidt, and Liz Joyner of “The Village Square,” are much stronger in Cognitive Style Two.

The two major cognitive styles seem to be universal and timeless. The book “The Cave and the Light: Plato versus Aristotle and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization” by Arthur Herman traces the two styles through 2400 years of human history. Tomas Sowell describes them in a chapter of “A Conflict of Vision.” Michael Oakeshott describes them in “Rationalism in Politics.” Jon Haidt describes them as rationalism and intuitionism in “The Righteous Mind.”

One of the main reasons for the “Coming Apart” seems to be that Western Culture has become thoroughly dominated by Cognitive Style One. It is seen as the only legitimate and valid path to truth, to the point that Cognitive Style Two is more likely than not to be thought of as “superstition” or “blind faith,” and eschewed as an invalid source of knowledge and truth.

When we deny or deny the possible fruits of one cognitive style we deny ourselves access to a potentially rich and fertile source of knowledge, understanding, and insight.

By denying intuitionist thought as “superstition” or “faith” we effectively deny ourselves access to hundreds of millions of years of hard earned wisdom programed into our brains by the ruthless hard knocks of evolution.

If we really, truly, want to learn everything we can about human nature then we owe it to ourselves to use ALL of its tools.

Rather than eschewing and vilifying intuitionist thinking we should be finding ways to become more attuned to our intuitions and the clues they give us about ourselves, and we should be finding ways to leverage those clues to our advantage.

Colin Barnes makes this point in “The Liberal Arts & the Limits of Social Science” at ‘The Imaginative Conservative.’  Below is an excerpt. I added the emphasis of the all caps text because it is an important aspect of the program of education that is my recommendation for ameliorating the Coming Apart:

“Insistence that the experimental method is needed to sort out the truth or falsity of propositions like “bad company corrupts good character” under different conditions denies to us our intelligence as veteran participants in life together as social beings. Surely we are not that inane. Of course, this does not mean we are always right when we say that Y follows X in society, but it does credit us with the capacity to get around to seeing situations properly through our informal (and sometimes non-conscious) strategies for testing our social beliefs.

Now if I am right, and only unmindful persons ignore the conditional truth of folk wisdom, THE QUESTION FOR AN INSTRUCTOR BECOMES HOW TO HELP STUDENTS BECOME RESPONSIBE WIELDERS OF THE INTUITIONS they have been brought up with, not how to supplant these intuitions with a method that only indoctrination into a scientistic viewpoint would lead them to recognize as the golden road to true social knowledge. Imagine, for instance, students who saw experimentation not as the starting point of inquiry about social facts, but as one of many tools to put to the task—a tool that should be used with limited questions and with a dose of reluctance. I myself imagine this at times, and it leads me to think that successful students of social psychology trained in this vein would not be dispassionate objectifiers of social situations and persons but sensitive perceivers of them.


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A politically diverse group of social scientists, natural scientists, humanists, and other scholars who want to improve our academic disciplines and universities. We share a concern about a growing problem: the loss or lack of “viewpoint diversity.” When nearly everyone in a field shares the same political orientation, certain ideas become orthodoxy, dissent is discouraged, and errors can go unchallenged.

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