you're reading...

Theory of Cognitive Style in Three Sentences

The essence of my thesis is that a great many factors that contribute to partisan divisiveness are common to all humans regardless of ideology – things like the confirmation bias, tribalism, hypocrisy, and on and on – and that the actual number of things that separate left and right are small, but their effects are huge. Those things, I suggest, are 1) Moral Foundations, and 2) Cognitive Style.

As for cognitive style, I suggest there are two, described by Arthur Herman in his book The Cave and the Light: Plato Versus Aristotle, and the Struggle for the Soul of Western Civilization in which Plato and Aristotle serve as metaphors for them.  Here’s a quote from that book:

By the time we close the last pages of the Politics, we realize we are standing on the brink of two different ways of thinking about governing human beings. Politics on Plato’s terms becomes prescriptive, a series of formulae for shaping man and society into what they should be rather than accepting things as they are. Politics on Aristotle’s terms will be largely descriptive, in which the more we discover about human nature, the more we recognize our powerlessness to effect real change.

Here are three sentences which convey a central idea of my theory of cognitive style:

1) Cognitive style is organized in advance of experience

2) it is not true that Plato and Aristotle invented contrasting epistemic systems out of thin air

3) it is true that each man merely articulated the system with which he was born.


3 thoughts on “Theory of Cognitive Style in Three Sentences

  1. Bravo, Truer words were never spoken. So, let’s take the next step and apply this 2400 year old truth to the left and right of today’s linear political divide. Both sides are reacting to how they innately see the world. Decisions of trust and belief begin to form in the mind within 167 milliseconds, so we are reacting first and filling in the blanks later with justifications from the prefrontal cortex. By the time these rationalizations are reached they have been seamlessly converted to a set of beliefs in narrative form. That is how liberalism and conservatism are born, or more accurately, stillborn in the mind.

    This is exactly why our political system is so divided and dysfunctional today – we have two clashing narratives that have no common denominator by which to intelligently debate solutions. This is why we continually flip back and forth between left and right because both sides are linear systems in a complex world and it is only the perpetual failure of both sides of Washington that determines the lack of advancement by our government.


    Posted by tomrossman2017 | April 29, 2017, 1:12 pm
    • Thank you.

      On the surface you’re right. But dig a little deeper and it’s clear that the ideological divide is not symmetrical as you seem to suggest. It is not true that both sides are equally right or wrong about human nature, and it is not true that the policies of both sides are equally helpful or harmful to society.

      By virtue of using the full suite of “evolved psychological mechanisms” of social perception, subconscious intuitions, and conscious reasoning (the moral foundations) the right has a better, truer, innate, 167 millisecond, grasp of the social world, in comparison to the left which uses only about half the mechanisms and of those mostly just one.

      See “A Conflict of Visions: The Ideological Origins of Political Struggles” by Thomas Sowell. The “constrained” vision of the political right is far more congruent with the realities of human nature (the Venn diagrams of the two are practically coincident), whereas the “unconstrained” vision of the political left is adrift in a sea of idealism for the most part unmoored from practical reality.

      Because of this, the right is generally more right than wrong and the left is generally more wrong than right, and conservative policies are generally more helpful than harmful and liberal policies are generally more harmful than helpful.

      Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, is essentially a proof of this.

      Here’s Thomas Sowell:

      “The two great revolutions in the eighteenth century—in France and in America—can be viewed as applications of these differing visions, though with all the reservations necessary whenever the flesh and blood of complex historical events are compared to skeletal theoretical models. The underlying premises of the French Revolution more clearly reflected the unconstrained vision of man which prevailed among its leaders. The intellectual foundations of the American Revolution were more mixed, including men like Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson, whose thinking was similar in many ways to that in France, but also including as a dominant influence on the Constitution, the classic constrained vision of man expressed in The Federalist Papers. Where Robespierre looked forward to the end of revolutionary bloodshed, “when all people will have become equally devoted to their country and its laws,”55 Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers regarded the idea of individual actions “unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good” as a prospect “more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected.”56 Robespierre sought a solution, Hamilton a trade-off.” – Sowell, Thomas. A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles (pp. 25-26). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

      Here’s Forefare Davis,

      “The irony is that it has taken a century for sociologists like Haidt, et al, to only begin to understand what the Founders already knew and applied so well in their statecraft. The Founders were haunted by the long history of brittle Republics of the past as chronicled by the likes of Livy and Tacitus. Indeed, if you were to read Haidt’s text then venture to read Madison’s Federalist 10 you would realize there is very little that Haidt learned in his extensive sociological studies that the Founders didn’t already divine from their deep reading of history. Man is by nature tribal and factitious. Republics must therefore be so constituted with this feature in mind. The Founders solution was two-fold, a Republic structured with redundancies that required constant checks and accountability between multiple centers of political power, and a system of education that sought to form citizens who were citizenship-minded. The tragedy is that during the last century, our experts have succeeded in virtually leveling any remnant of that system designed to override our most factitious instincts.”

      Read more at: http://www.nationalreview.com/postmodern-conservative/422823/black-lives-matter-donald-trump-and-perils-unexamined-political-rage


      Posted by The Independent Whig | April 29, 2017, 1:29 pm
    • You’re right about the absence of a common denominator.

      Which is why the solution I recommend in my Thesis is to use the education system provide that common denominator; to provide an accurate, fair, and scientifically correct understanding of how the human mind and action ACTUALLY works, and to bust many of the myths that underlie ideological positions and replace them with the facts.

      “It’s not what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”


      Posted by The Independent Whig | April 29, 2017, 1:33 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

I Support Viewpoint Diversity


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.

An Interpretation of Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundations Theory

This sidebar lists a series of posts which together make up an essay relating Moral Foundations Theory to today's politics, and even a little history, as viewed through The Independent Whig's six-foundation moral lens.


Venn Diagram of Liberal and Conservative Traits and Moral Foundations and

%d bloggers like this: