Letters | The limits of loyalty, liqueur to the rescue

FAULTY FOUNDATIONS

Regarding Michael Peppard’s review (Christmas Critics, December 4) of Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion: I don’t believe all of Haidt’s “moral foundations” are created equal. Fairness and caring are genuinely moral values, it seems to me, because they can be self-correcting. Especially if we think of fairness as justice and justice as respect for all persons, it seems hard to imagine having too much justice (or too much caring). One might misunderstand or misapply such a value, but in that case justice or caring itself would provide the needed corrective. But what about loyalty, authority, and sanctity? Christopher Browning’s book, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, offers an admittedly extreme example of those values not being tempered by justice and caring. That is, those values are not self-correcting, individually or in combination. Those “ordinary” men slaughtered thousands of Jews in cold blood because they were ordered to (authority), their comrades were doing it (loyalty or conformity to the group), and the Jews were portrayed as vermin (sanctity). Their scores on Haidt’s instrument would have been, presumably, very high for those three values. I don’t doubt that many people act on those values in more benign contexts too, but that doesn’t make them properly moral values. In more ordinary contexts, of course, loyalty, authority, and sanctity might contribute to human flourishing—but not in the absence of the genuinely moral foundation of respect for all persons. 

A somewhat different critique is made by the eminent moral psychologists Anne Colby and William Damon in the first chapter of their new book, The Power of Ideals: The Real Story of Moral Choice. Both on ethical and methodological grounds, these authors subject “the new science” of Haidt and others to a scathing review. 

I do find myself explaining certain behaviors by reference to Haidt’s moral foundations theory, especially when, from my admittedly liberal perspective, they otherwise seem inexplicable (or unjustified) to me, as in the example above. Haidt does, it seems, get something merely descriptive right. But moral values are prescriptive, and it seems unwise to blur that difference.

Dr. Roger Bergman
Director & Associate Professor
Justice & Peace Studies Program, Creighton University
Omaha, Nebr.

 

HOLY SPIRITS

In “Mission Accomplished” (January 8, 2016), Lloyd Sederer gives us a touching and challenging picture of the declining Provencal abbey, Saint-Michel de Frigolet. The challenge involves both monks and mission. Consider the example of the Norbertine monks from Tuscany. One thing going for them is their historic liqueur de Frigolet, made from honey and herbs according to an old and no doubt secret recipe.

I can vouch for the liqueur: we found it in Aix on a Road Scholar program last spring. Frigolet has the color of absinthe, the weight of drambuie, the fragrance of benedictine, and the taste of strawberries. It’s unlike any cordial I have ever tasted in my eighty-one years of after-dinner inhalation. So here’s a challenge for the good monks of Frigolet: make the product, find a distributor and a winsome spokesman (how about Pope Francis?), and thrive. Avoir confiance, L’Abbaye de St. Michel, et bon appetit.

Richard H. Rupp
Boone, N.C.

Published in the February 12, 2016 issue: 
Also by this author
No Coward

Please email comments to letters@commonwealmagazine.org and join the conversation on our Facebook page.

Must Reads

Religion
Culture
Culture
Books
Books
Collections
Collections