Jake McCrary's Reviews > Moral Tribes: Emotion, Reason, and the Gap Between Us and Them

Moral Tribes by Joshua D. Greene
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's review
Dec 07, 2016

really liked it
bookshelves: non-fiction, non-tech, read_2016

I'm not sure where this book recommendation came from but I'm glad it popped up on my radar. Despite my high rating, I'll admit to feeling like I needed to force myself through parts of this book. It isn't too challenging of a read but (and the author admits this) some chapters dive a bit deeper into responding to arguments against the philosophy the author is promoting.

The book demonstrates that solving moral dilemmas between "Me" and "Us" (you and your group or tribe) requires different thinking than solving dilemmas between "Us" and "Them" (your group and another group). Not only does it require different thinking but the thinking that works in "Me" vs "Us" fails when used for "Us" vs "Them". This is captured in this quote from the book: "They fight not because they are fundamentally selfish but because they have incompatible visions of what a moral society should be."

Much of this book is dedicated towards showing the usefulness of utilitarianism as a philosophy for navigating the dilemmas that come out of intergroup conflicts. The book defends utilitarianism from the compelling arguments against it.

Joshua Greene pulls together information from previously published works and studies to make a compelling read. The book touches on many subjects and at times goes off on slight tangents. I enjoyed his arguments against using Rights (example: right to life, right to choose) as reasonable parts of a convincing argument.

In no particular order, here are some quick summaries of things I found interesting enough to make a note of while reading the book. There were definitely more interesting things in the book than these, I'm just terrible about jotting down notes.

- Study asked Americans to consider six controversial policy proposals (example: single-payer healthcare) and asked for opinions about policies and an indication of how well they understood them. Then they asked the participants to explain in detail how the policies are supposed to work. Then they asked for the participant's opinion and indication of how well they understood the policies. After having to explain how the policies are supposed to work, participants downgraded their estimates of their own understanding and became more moderate in their opinions. A control group was only asked to provide reasons for their opinions. Follow up questions with control group after asking for reasons for opinions showed their strong opinions were intact.

- Donations to determined cause (example: feeding a specific hungry child) are larger than donations to a cause (example: feeding hungry children). The difference between the determined case and the general case does not have to be large to notice a difference (studies have shown going from one to two even dampens assistance)

- Experiment in the 1970s sent an attractive female experimenter to intercept men crossing two bridges. One bridge was wobbly and frightening. The other was sturdy and closer to ground. Attractive experimenter interviewed the stopped men (one a time) and gave them her phone number, in case they wanted to learn more about the study. The men from the wobbly bridge were far more likely to call her back and more likely to ask her out. As predicted, the fast heart rate and sweaty palms caused by the wobbly bridge were mistaken for feelings of attraction. "The lesson: When we don’t know why we feel as we do, we make up a plausible-sounding story and go with it."

- Identifying as a conservative or liberal is a better predictor of a person's perceived risk of climate change than that person's degree of scientific literacy and numeracy.

Here are some links to other reviews worth reading:
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Reading Progress

November 29, 2016 – Started Reading
November 30, 2016 – Shelved
December 7, 2016 – Finished Reading
December 8, 2016 – Shelved as: non-fiction
December 8, 2016 – Shelved as: non-tech
December 8, 2016 – Shelved as: read_2016

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