Enlightenment Now: The Case lowest for Reason, Science, Humanism, and wholesale Progress outlet online sale

Enlightenment Now: The Case lowest for Reason, Science, Humanism, and wholesale Progress outlet online sale

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INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK OF 2018
ONE OF THE ECONOMIST''S BOOKS OF THE YEAR

"My new favorite book of all time." --Bill Gates

If you think the world is coming to an end, think again: people are living longer, healthier, freer, and happier lives, and while our problems are formidable, the solutions lie in the Enlightenment ideal of using reason and science.


Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? In this elegant assessment of the human condition in the third millennium, cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, which play to our psychological biases. Instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise, not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is not the result of some cosmic force. It is a gift of the Enlightenment: the conviction that reason and science can enhance human flourishing.

Far from being a naïve hope, the Enlightenment, we now know, has worked. But more than ever, it needs a vigorous defense. The Enlightenment project swims against currents of human nature--tribalism, authoritarianism, demonization, magical thinking--which demagogues are all too willing to exploit. Many commentators, committed to political, religious, or romantic ideologies, fight a rearguard action against it. The result is a corrosive fatalism and a willingness to wreck the precious institutions of liberal democracy and global cooperation.

With intellectual depth and literary flair, Enlightenment Now makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.

Review

One of The Guardian’s “Books to Buy in 2018”

“An excellent book, lucidly written, timely, rich in data and eloquent in its championing of a rational humanism that is — it turns out — really quite cool.”— New York Times Book Review

"The world is getting better, even if it doesn’t always feel that way. I’m glad we have brilliant thinkers like Steven Pinker to help us see the big picture. Enlightenment Now is not only the best book Pinker’s ever written. It’s my new favorite book of all time.” —Bill Gates

“A terrific book…[Pinker] recounts the progress across a broad array of metrics, from health to wars, the environment to happiness, equal rights to quality of life.” —Nicholas Kristof, The New York Times

"Steven Pinker’s mind bristles with pure, crystalline intelligence, deep knowledge and human sympathy." —Richard Dawkins
 
“Pinker is a paragon of exactly the kind of intellectual honesty and courage we need to restore conversation and community.” —David Brooks, The New York Times
 
“[ Enlightenment Now] is magnificent, uplifting and makes you want to rush to your laptop and close your Twitter account.” The Economist

“If 2017 was a rough year for you, look no further than Steven Pinker’s engaging new book, Enlightenment Now, to cheer you up. Conceived before Donald Trump even announced his candidacy, it could not have been better timed to clarify — and, for some, refute — the habits of mind that brought Trump and the GOP to power.” —The Washington Post

“Vindication has arrived in the form of Steven Pinker’s latest book.  Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress is remarkable, heart-warming, and long overdue." Christian Science Monitor

“Pinker is a paragon of exactly the kind of intellectual honesty and courage we need to restore conversation and community, and the students are right to revere him.”  —The Seattle Times
 

“[A] magisterial new book… Enlightenment Now is the most uplifting work of science I’ve ever read.” Science Magazine
 
“A passionate and persuasive defense of reason and science…[and] an urgently needed reminder that progress is, to no small extent, a result of values that have served us - and can serve us - extraordinarily well.” The Philadelphia Inquirer

“A meticulous defense of science and objective analysis, [and] a rebuttal to the tribalism, knee-jerk partisanship and disinformation that taints our politics.” San Francisco Chronicle
 
“Brimming with surprising data and entertaining anecdotes.” Financial Times
  
“[Pinker] makes a powerful case that the main line of history has been, since the Enlightenment, one of improvement.” Scientific American

“Let’s stop once in a while to enjoy the view—I’m glad Pinker is pushing for this in a world that does it too rarely… It’s hard not to be convinced.” —Quartz
 
Enlightenment Now is formidable.” Financial Times
 
“As a demonstration of the value of reason, knowledge, and curiosity, Enlightenment Now can hardly be bettered.” The Boston Globe
 
“With a wealth of knowledge, graphs and statistics, a strong grasp of history, and an engaging style of writing… Enlightenment Now provides a convincing case for gratitude.” Pittsburgh Post Gazette

“A forceful defense of the democratic, humanist institutions that [Pinker] says brought about these changes, and a declaration that reason, science and humanism can solve the problems to come.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“A masterly defense of the values of modernity against ‘progressophobes’.” Times Higher Education
 
“Enlightenment Now strikes a powerful blow against the contemporary mystifications being peddled by tribalists on both the left and the right.” —Reason 

“Pinker presents graphs and data which deserve to be reckoned with by fair-minded people. His conclusion is provocative, as anything by Pinker is likely to be.” Colorado Springs Gazette

“Elegantly [argues] that in various ways humanity has every reason to be optimistic over life in the twenty-first century…. A defense of progress that will provoke deep thinking and thoughtful discourse among his many fans.” Booklist

“Pinker defends progressive ideals against contemporary critics, pundits, cantankerous philosophers, and populist politicians to demonstrate how far humanity has come since the Enlightenment…In an era of increasingly “dystopian rhetoric,” Pinker’s sober, lucid, and meticulously researched vision of human progress is heartening and important.” Publishers Weekly
 
“[An] impeccably written text full of interesting tidbits from neuroscience and other disciplines…The author examines the many ways in which Enlightenment ideals have given us lives that our forebears would envy even if gloominess and pessimism are the order of the day.” — Kirkus Review


Praise for The Better Angels of Our Nature:

“If I could give each of you a graduation present, it would be this—the most inspiring book I''ve ever read." Bill Gates (May, 2017)

About the Author

Steven Pinker is the Harvard College Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and the winner of many awards for his research, teaching, and books, he has been named one of Time''s 100 Most Influential People in the World Today and Foreign Policy''s 100 Global Thinkers.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Part I 
 
Enlightenment
 
The common sense of the eighteenth century, its grasp of the obvious facts of human suffering, and of the obvious demands of human nature, acted on the world like a bath of moral cleansing. —Alfred North Whitehead
 
In the course of several decades giving public lectures on language, mind, and human nature, I have been asked some mighty strange questions. Which is the best language? Are clams and oysters conscious? When will I be able to upload my mind to the Internet? Is obesity a form of violence?
 
 But the most arresting question I have ever fielded followed a talk in which I explained the common place among scientists that mental life consists of patterns of activity in the tissues of the brain. A student in the audience raised her hand and asked me:
 
 “Why should I live?”
 
The student’s ingenuous tone made it clear that she was neither suicidal nor sarcastic but genuinely curious about how to find meaning and purpose if traditional religious beliefs about an immortal soul are undermined by our best science. My policy is that there is no such thing as a stupid question, and to the surprise of the student, the audience, and most of all myself, I mustered a reasonably creditable answer. What I recall saying—embellished, to be sure, by the distortions of memory and l’esprit de l’escalier, the wit of the staircase—went something like this:
 
In the very act of asking that question, you are seeking reasons for your convictions, and so you are committed to reason as the means to discover and justify what is important to you. And there are so many reasons to live!
 
As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish. You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating. You can seek explanations of the natural world through science, and insight into the human condition through the arts and humanities. You can make the most of your capacity for pleasure and satisfaction, which allowed your ancestors to thrive and thereby allowed you to exist. You can appreciate the beauty and richness of the natural and cultural world. As the heir to billions of years of life perpetuating itself, you can perpetuate life in turn. You have been endowed with a sense of sympathy—the ability to like, love, respect, help, and show kindness—and you can enjoy the gift of mutual benevolence with friends, family, and colleagues.
 
And because reason tells you that none of this is particular to you, you have the responsibility to provide to others what you expect for yourself. You can foster the welfare of other sentient beings by enhancing life, health, knowledge, freedom, abundance, safety, beauty, and peace. History shows that when we sympathize with others and apply our ingenuity to improving the human condition, we can make progress in doing so, and you can help to continue that progress.
 
Explaining the meaning of life is not in the usual job description of a professor of cognitive science, and I would not have had the gall to take up her question if the answer depended on my arcane technical knowledge or my dubious personal wisdom. But I knew I was channeling a body of beliefs and values that had taken shape more than two centuries before me and that are now more relevant than ever: the ideals of the Enlightenment.
 
The Enlightenment principle that we can apply reason and sympathy to enhance human flourishing may seem obvious, trite, old-fashioned. I wrote this book because I have come to realize that it is not. More than ever, the ideals of reason, science, humanism, and progress need a wholehearted defense. We take its gifts for granted: newborns who will live more than eight decades, markets overflowing with food, clean water that appears with a flick of a finger and waste that disappears with another, pills that erase a painful infection, sons who are not sent off to war, daughters who can walk the streets in safety, critics of the powerful who are not jailed or shot, the world’s knowledge and culture available in a shirt pocket. But these are human accomplishments, not cosmic birthrights. In the memories of many readers of this book—and in the experience of those in less fortunate parts of the world—war, scarcity, disease, ignorance, and lethal menace are a natural part of existence. We know that countries can slide back into these primitive conditions, and so we ignore the achievements of the Enlightenment at our peril.
 
In the years since I took the young woman’s question, I have often been reminded of the need to restate the ideals of the Enlightenment (also called humanism, the open society, and cosmopolitan or classical liberalism). It’s not just that questions like hers regularly appear in my inbox. (“Dear Professor Pinker, What advice do you have for someone who has taken ideas in your books and science to heart, and sees himself as a collection of atoms? A machine with a limited scope of intelligence, sprung out of selfish genes, inhabiting spacetime?”) It’s also that an obliviousness to the scope of human progress can lead to symptoms that are worse than existential angst. It can make people cynical about the Enlightenment-inspired institutions that are securing this progress, such as liberal democracy and organizations of international cooperation, and turn them toward atavistic alternatives.
 
The ideals of the Enlightenment are products of human reason, but they always struggle with other strands of human nature: loyalty to tribe, deference to authority, magical thinking, the blaming of misfortune on evil doers. The second decade of the 21st century has seen the rise of political movements that depict their countries as being pulled into a hellish dystopia by malign factions that can be resisted only by a strong leader who wrenches the country backward to make it “great again.” These movements have been abetted by a narrative shared by many of their fiercest opponents, in which the institutions of modernity have failed and every aspect of life is in deepening crisis—the two sides in macabre agreement that wrecking those institutions will make the world a better place. Harder to find is a positive vision that sees the world’s problems against a background of progress that it seeks to build upon by solving those problems in their turn.
 
If you still are unsure whether the ideals of Enlightenment humanism need a vigorous defense, consider the diagnosis of Shiraz Maher, an analyst of radical Islamist movements. “The West is shy of its values—it doesn’t speak up for classical liberalism,” he says. “We are unsure of them. They make us feel uneasy.” Contrast that with the Islamic State, which “knows exactly what it stands for,” a certainty that is “incredibly seductive”—and he should know, having once been a regional director of the jihadist group Hizb ut-Tahrir.
 
Reflecting on liberal ideals in 1960, not long after they had withstood their greatest trial, the economist Friedrich Hayek observed, “If old truths are to retain their hold on men’s minds, they must be restated in the language and concepts of successive generations” (inadvertently proving his point with the expression men’s minds). “What at one time are their most effective expressions gradually become so worn with use that they cease to carry a definite meaning. The underlying ideas may be as valid as ever, but the words, even when they refer to problems that are still with us, no longer convey the same conviction.”
 
This book is my attempt to restate the ideals of the Enlightenment in the language and concepts of the 21st century. I will first lay out a framework for understanding the human condition informed by modern science—who we are, where we came from, what our challenges are, and how we can meet them. The bulk of the book is devoted to defending those ideals in a distinctively 21st-century way: with data. This evidence-based take on the Enlightenment project reveals that it was not a naïve hope. The Enlightenment has worked—perhaps the greatest story seldom told. And because this triumph is so unsung, the underlying ideals of reason, science, and humanism are unappreciated as well. Far from being an insipid consensus, these ideals are treated by today’s intellectuals with indifference, skepticism, and sometimes contempt. When properly appreciated, I will suggest, the ideals of the Enlightenment are in fact stirring, inspiring, noble—a reason to live.
 
 
 
Chapter 1
 
Dare to Understand!
 
 
 
What is enlightenment? In a 1784 essay with that question as its title, Immanuel Kant answered that it consists of “humankind’s emergence from its self-incurred immaturity,” its “lazy and cowardly” submission to the “dogmas and formulas” of religious or political authority. Enlightenment’s motto, he proclaimed, is “Dare to understand!” and its foundational demand is freedom of thought and speech. “One age cannot conclude a pact that would prevent succeeding ages from extending their insights, increasing their knowledge, and purging their errors. That would be a crime against human nature, whose proper destiny lies precisely in such progress.”
 
A 21st-century statement of the same idea may be found in the physicist David Deutsch’s defense of enlightenment, The Beginning of Infinity. Deutsch argues that if we dare to understand, progress is possible in all fields, scientific, political, and moral:
 
Optimism (in the sense that I have advocated) is the theory that all failures—all evils—are due to insufficient knowledge. . . .Problems are inevitable, because our knowledge will always be infinitely far from complete. Some problems are hard, but it is a mistake to confuse hard problems with problems unlikely to be solved. Problems are soluble, and each particular evil is a problem that can be solved. An optimistic civilization is open and not afraid to innovate, and is based on traditions of criticism. Its institutions keep improving, and the most important knowledge that they embody is knowledge of how to detect and eliminate errors
 
What is the Enlightenment? There is no official answer, because the era named by Kant’s essay was never demarcated by opening and closing ceremonies like the Olympics, nor are its tenets stipulated in an oath or creed. The Enlightenment is conventionally placed in the last two-thirds of the 18th century, though it flowed out of the Scientific Revolution and the Age of Reason in the 17th century and spilled into the heyday of classical liberalism of the first half of the 19th. Provoked by challenges to conventional wisdom from science and exploration, mindful of the bloodshed of recent wars of religion, and abetted by the easy movement of ideas and people, the thinkers of the Enlightenment sought a new understanding of the human condition. The era was a cornucopia of ideas, some of them contradictory, but four themes tie them together: reason, science, humanism, and progress.
 
Foremost is reason. Reason is nonnegotiable. As soon as you show up to discuss the question of what we should live for (or any other question), as long as you insist that your answers, whatever they are, are reasonable or justified or true and that therefore other people ought to believe them too, then you have committed yourself to reason, and to holding your beliefs accountable to objective standards. If there’s anything the Enlightenment thinkers had in common, it was an insistence that we energetically apply the standard of reason to understanding our world, and not fall back on generators of delusion like faith, dogma, revelation, authority, charisma, mysticism, divination, visions, gut feelings, or the hermeneutic parsing of sacred texts.
 
It was reason that led most of the Enlightenment thinkers to repudiate a belief in an anthropomorphic God who took an interest in human affairs. The application of reason revealed that reports of miracles were dubious, that the authors of holy books were all too human, that natural events unfolded with no regard to human welfare, and that different cultures believed in mutually incompatible deities, none of them less likely than the others to be products of the imagination. (As Montesquieu wrote, “If triangles had a god they would give him three sides.”) For all that, not all of the Enlightenment thinkers were atheists. Some were deists (as opposed to theists): they thought that God set the universe in motion and then stepped back, allowing it to unfold according to the laws of nature. Others were pantheists, who used “God” as a synonym for the laws of nature. But few appealed to the law-giving, miracle-conjuring, son-begetting God of scripture.
 
Many writers today confuse the Enlightenment endorsement of reason with the implausible claim that humans are perfectly rational agents. Nothing could be further from historical reality. Thinkers such as Kant, Baruch Spinoza, Thomas Hobbes, David Hume, and Adam Smith were inquisitive psychologists and all too aware of our irrational passions and foibles. They insisted that it was only by calling out the common sources of folly that we could hope to overcome them. The deliberate application of reason was necessary precisely because our common habits of thought are not particularly reasonable.
 
That leads to the second ideal, science, the refining of reason to understand the world. The Scientific Revolution was revolutionary in a way that is hard to appreciate today, now that its discoveries have become second nature to most of us. The historian David Wootton reminds us of the understanding of an educated Englishman on the eve of the Revolution in 1600:
 
He believes witches can summon up storms that sink ships at sea. . . . He believes in werewolves, although there happen not to be any in England—he knows they are to be found in Belgium. . . . He believes Circe really did turn Odysseus’s crew into pigs. He believes mice are spontaneously generated in piles of straw. He believes in contemporary magicians. . . . He has seen a unicorn’s horn, but not a unicorn.
 
He believes that a murdered body will bleed in the presence of the murderer. He believes that there is an ointment which, if rubbed on a dagger which has caused a wound, will cure the wound. He believes that the shape, colour and texture of a plant can be a clue to how it will work as a medicine because God designed nature to be interpreted by mankind. He believes that it is possible to turn base metal into gold, although he doubts that anyone knows how to do it. He believes that nature abhors a vacuum. He believes the rainbow is a sign from God and that comets portend evil. He believes that dreams predict the future, if we know how to interpret them. He believes, of course, that the earth stands still and the sun and stars turnaround the earth once every twenty-four hours.
 
A century and a third later, an educated descendant of this Englishman would believe none of these things. It was an escape not just from ignorance but from terror. The sociologist Robert Scott notes that in the Middle Ages “the belief that an external force controlled daily life contributed to a kind of collective paranoia”:
 
Rainstorms, thunder, lightning, wind gusts, solar or lunar eclipses, cold snaps, heat waves, dry spells, and earthquakes alike were considered signs and signals of God’s displeasure. As a result, the “hobgoblins of fear” inhabited every realm of life. The sea became a satanic realm, and forests were populated with beasts of prey, ogres, witches, demons, and very real thieves and cut throats. . . . After dark, too, the world was filled with omens portending dangers of every sort: comets, meteors, shooting stars, lunar eclipses, the howls of wild animals.
 
To the Enlightenment thinkers the escape from ignorance and superstition showed how mistaken our conventional wisdom could be, and how the methods of science—skepticism, fallibilism, open debate, and empirical testing—are a paradigm of how to achieve reliable knowledge.
 
 
 
 

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Top reviews from the United States

Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Just more Anti-Trump propaganda
Reviewed in the United States on December 25, 2018
I''m not a fan of Trump, but I didn''t pay for this book, to only find out halfway through that it''s yet another Trump bashing book. I hear this stuff every day in the news, I''m tired of it.
334 people found this helpful
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Mark Abel
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Humanism, science and democracy have made our lives much better in the last 500 years. Forget the naysayers.
Reviewed in the United States on April 29, 2018
Pinker argues that humanism (a reasoned commitment to maximizing human flourishing), science, and democracy have resulted in substantial, measurable human progress over the last 500 years. There are 17 chapters setting out evidence (illustrated in some 75 charts) that... See more
Pinker argues that humanism (a reasoned commitment to maximizing human flourishing), science, and democracy have resulted in substantial, measurable human progress over the last 500 years. There are 17 chapters setting out evidence (illustrated in some 75 charts) that globally humans are living longer healthier lives (pp. 53-67); developing agricultural methods that are making great strides toward eliminating famine (68-78); increasing per capita income and reducing income inequality (71-120); working on technology and global cooperation to address pressing environmental problems (121-55); decreasing war-related deaths (156-66); increasing safety (167-90); reducing deaths caused by terrorism (191-98); adopting democratic forms of government that promote higher economic growth (200); spreading equal rights (214-32); increasing literacy and the quality of education (247-61); dramatically improving the quality of life (247-61); leading happier lives (262-89); and addressing the existential threats of overpopulation, resource shortages, and the threat of nuclear war (290-321). The book is not triumphalist but consistently evidence-based. I do not have the expertise to assess the details of the evidence Pinker relies on, but he does cite recognized authorities. And some of his conclusions are irrefutable. People are living longer. They are better fed. The rule of law does make people living in democracies safer.
Despite some criticism to the contrary, Pinker does recognize that we still have a long way to go in providing food security, a living wage, and better health to some seven hundred million people who still live in extreme poverty (e.g., 87-89; 325). His argument is that we are not wasting money on trying to eliminate world poverty, that we have made substantial progress in reducing the number of people in extreme poverty by getting some things right. Communism has failed, totalitarian, planned economies are in retreat, and market economies coupled with improved agricultural practices and access to global markets have lifted billions out of extreme poverty in the last 75 years (89-96).
Pinker argues we should think scientifically, not that we should let science decide value questions (390-91). A scientific approach is based on two characteristics: the world is intelligible and we should allow the world to tell us whether our ideas about it are correct (329-93). We should let the facts on the ground, not our tribal, cultural allegiances, guide us toward policies and practices that help all people flourish (357-69).
Many will find Pinker''s rejection of religion as a guide to human flourishing (30, 392-94, 421, and 428-33) disquieting, if not repulsing. I don''t think that argument is essential to the book''s main message. Human flourishing is a goal that all of the many religions that populate the globe can agree with. As Pinker points out, basic moral rules have always been agreed to by all societies. He asserts that two thousand five hundred years ago Plato argued in Euthyphro that the gods are not necessary to tell us what is moral (428). We all know that we should treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves, that we should not cause injury to others, or steal their property. Our religious disagreements are not about morality but prescribed practices, rituals, and theological beliefs. Those conflicts should not get in the way of all of us, whatever our religion beliefs, supporting secular society''s goal of promoting human flourishing.
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Charles T. WhiteTop Contributor: Watches
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
This Book Changed My Life
Reviewed in the United States on May 4, 2018
This book is Steven Pinker‘s masterpiece. If you choose just one of his books to read, this is the one. He takes an optimistic view of the current political and social upheavals plaguing our world and puts them in context with both recent and ancient history. In... See more
This book is Steven Pinker‘s masterpiece. If you choose just one of his books to read, this is the one. He takes an optimistic view of the current political and social upheavals plaguing our world and puts them in context with both recent and ancient history.

In his perfect-pitch prose, Pinker makes the case that although many people decry the times in which we live, he disagrees, in essence saying, “let the good times roll.“ He doesn’t think we’re nearing the end of The Enlightenment, either — he thinks it’s a set of ideas and a way of reasoning that can and should be renewed with each successive generation.

He cites numerous statistics showing how people are richer, wealthier, and live longer than any other time in history. There are hundreds of examples that give ample reason for optimism as we navigate this era of confusion and frustration in U.S. and world politics.

Enlightenment Now is a long and dense book, but be sure to read it all the way to the end, because all through this masterful narrative of our society, there are some of the most profound paragraphs, pages and chapters I’ve ever read.

This is one of my favorite books of all time, perhaps my most favorite. I need a long time to think about and sort out all the ideas in this book. After spending the past month reading and studying it, it’s become clear to me that I need to adjust my point of view on many issues. One thing is certain: I will carry with me the ideas, concepts, and most importantly, the way of thinking that I’ve learned in Enlightenment Now for the rest of my life.
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Kyle B.Top Contributor: Philosophy
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Thought Provoking Argument for Progress
Reviewed in the United States on May 14, 2018
This is an interesting book to review. I''ve read a lot of reviews of the book before actually reading the book which is fairly rare for me. I usually only read one or two book reviews at most. To be upfront, I personally enjoy Pinker''s style, and agreed with him on most... See more
This is an interesting book to review. I''ve read a lot of reviews of the book before actually reading the book which is fairly rare for me. I usually only read one or two book reviews at most. To be upfront, I personally enjoy Pinker''s style, and agreed with him on most of the issues he presented already. I also appreciate that Pinker does a great job of explaining his ideas clearly, in a way that I understand how he came to such an idea, whether or not I actually agree with the reasoning process.

For the most part, I have found that the criticisms of Pinker seem less strong after having read the book. Not all criticisms, but many. Pinker''s data of some progress for humans is, in totality, certainly hard to argue with. The picture painted is of great progress in the past couple centuries, and it is almost perverse to disagree with this. We certainly still have a long way to go, but Pinker''s point that we should appreciate what we''ve already accomplished is well-taken.

Some have taken issue with Pinker''s presentation of the Enlightenment. I would certainly agree that Pinker does not provide a strong history of the Enlightenment. On the other hand, Pinker uses the word "Enlightenment" to mean a set of ideas associated with reason, science, and humanism. While I agree this may not be a typical or even historically useful definition, he makes this association clear very early on, so that I don''t see it as much of a criticism. He mostly uses Enlightenment for the set of ideas he proposes are important for human flourishing.

As I said, I find most of what Pinker says credible, but I think that he sometimes too easily vanquishes an argument. His environmentalism and anti-AI arguments seem to me to defeat the arguments of his opponents a bit too easily. I personally am skeptical of an intelligence boom in AI, but I don''t think Pinker argues against the strongest arguments in favor of such an intelligence boom (or the reasons to invest in containing a superintelligence). For the most part, though, I think he fairly represents opponents''s arguments in the book where I have some familiarity with the background. It appeared to me he may have painted some environmentalism a bit too negatively, but it seems mostly so that he can embrace neo-environmentalism (i.e., ecomodernism or ecopragmatism)

The final part of the book on humanism was also an interesting addition. It is certainly the section with the least number of graphs and data. What stood out most to me here was that Pinker has a very negative opinion of Nietzsche (I don''t know enough about Nietzsche to determine how biased a perspective this is).

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Pinker is a very clear, concise writer for the most part, and his arguments don''t require more than a bit of sense and data to understand. That''s not to say that these are obvious or necessarily true arguments, but that the reasons for believing them are laid out for all to see. I don''t really see how the idea that we''ve made a ton of progress in human flourishing in the past couple of centuries could be controversial, but perhaps I just agree too much with the measurements of flourishing that Pinker uses.
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Michael DeBellis
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Pinker succumbs to Sam Harris syndrome
Reviewed in the United States on October 29, 2018
Polemics now would be a more authentic title. This was one of the most disappointing books I’ve ever read. Not just because it was so boring (although it was, I ended up skimming over sections) but because in the past Pinker has always been such an excellent author. The... See more
Polemics now would be a more authentic title. This was one of the most disappointing books I’ve ever read. Not just because it was so boring (although it was, I ended up skimming over sections) but because in the past Pinker has always been such an excellent author. The way he ignores issues such as nuclear proliferation, imperialism, and climate change is just pathetic. Especially the way he ignores the responsibility of the US for all these issues. Pinker seems to be turning into another Sam Harris, someone who cheers on the immorality of the US and capitalism in the name of science and reason. He should go back to writing about Cognitive Science and Linguistics or if he is going to continue writing about social issues he should take one of Chomsky’s classes on politics at the University of Arizona first.
73 people found this helpful
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Dr. Lee D. Carlson
2.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Fails to deliver
Reviewed in the United States on April 15, 2018
It is probably fair to say that the author of this book believes that reading and studying this book would take a reader a fair amount of time.The actual reading time would of course be dependent on the reader''s level of skepticism. Readers who approach the book with a... See more
It is probably fair to say that the author of this book believes that reading and studying this book would take a reader a fair amount of time.The actual reading time would of course be dependent on the reader''s level of skepticism. Readers who approach the book with a scientific and critical background will demand that every cited reference be checked and will meticulously analyze the presented data and graphs. This will involve an immense amount of time as compared to a reader who is willing to trust the author as an expert or authority and will not engage in any critical thinking or analysis of the author''s claims.

When reading the first few chapters of the book, it is clear that the author has the second class of reader in mind. In the book he bemoans for example the existence of populist "progressophobe" movements that are "contemptuous of experts" and "deniers" who reject the reality of climate change even though over a hundred Noble laureates have stated their support for this reality. The author is clearly making an appeal to authority in both of these cases, forgetting that authority is never a justification or foundation for any belief or assertion. Arguments from authority are absolutely worthless and have no place in a book such as this, or indeed in any other book serving as an apology for progress and enlightenment. One can only judge a person to be an expert on a subject if one takes the time to learn the subject matter with a critical and very skeptical frame of mind. In that sense, one should always be "contemptuous of experts", and in fact this attitude is what distinguishes Enlightenment thinkers from others who are willing to swallow any belief, doctrine, or assertion that is presented to them.

The author''s stance on climate change is even more puzzling when he refers to the "chaotic cycles of weather". He does not articulate on the what these "chaotic cycles" are. If he did it would take him to the theory of chaotic dynamical systems, wherein there is discussion of limit cycles and sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Chaotic behavior in weather patterns may also preclude predictive ability for climate change. Even though the use of the concept of entropy dominates the early chapters, the author clearly has a very limited understanding of dynamical systems.

The philosopher Frederick Nietzsche takes a lot of the blame for the anti-Enlightenment attitudes, and the author asserts naively that the influence of Nietzsche on contemporary social and political attitudes is "obvious". But to really prove this influence would be an enormous undertaking, requiring statistical sampling and other tools of social science, and would certainly take huge blocks of time. The author is merely giving his opinion here, not backed up by any empirical or statistical evidence. What may seem "obvious" to him may be in fact completely untrue when revealed by an objective and rigorous study of Nietzsche''s purported influence.

The author also takes potshots at various other individuals in the book. For example, the author and philosopher Ayn Rand is completely miss-characterized as being sympathetic to Nietzsche, and the author''s rejection of her is surprising considering that she is one of the best apologists of the twentieth century for scientific and technological advancement. Rand is right along with the author when for example one of the characters in her stories expresses worry that the day may come when people who use "test tubes and logic" will be considered to be "old-fashioned superstitious fools".

Careers are now being built on attacking religion and spreading atheistic doctrine, and some of this is reflected in the pages of this book. The author complains a lot about religion and "theoconservatism" and does not apparently impute any credibility to the ideas of Max Weber and the protestant work ethic since Weber''s ideas on capitalism and bureaucratic efficiency are not discussed in this work. Weber''s thesis and the author''s are clearly very different justifications for technological progress, but what they share in common is a lack of scientific justification for their theses.

It should also be remembered that it is perfectly rational to assume that some self-proclaimed religious people can also be scientific, which is revealed from an anecdotal point of view by we atheists who work with these people on a daily basis. If a person goes to church for one hour (but with focused religiosity) on Sunday but clearly does brilliant scientific work throughout the week, are we to label this person religious or scientific? Does one hour of religious devotion negate the scientific contributions? Are we to think of this person as irrational or anti-Enlightenment because of this one hour of devotion? Of course not.

From a scientific point of view therefore the book is very disappointing, even though the intentions are good. The lack of a self-critical attitude, the lack of humility in the face of complexity, the frivolous name-calling, and the uncritical adulation of authority makes this book one that would take considerable revision to make it a viable case for technological and moral progress, and would swell its page count way beyond what it currently is.
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T. V. Robertson
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Best Defense of Reason Since Ayn Rand?
Reviewed in the United States on May 14, 2018
It''s apparent from some of the reviews here that Steven Pinker, like Ayn Rand, can strike a nerve that raises a reader''s blood pressure. Not too surprising, since both have written about ideas that matter a lot to humankind and to each of us as individuals. They would both... See more
It''s apparent from some of the reviews here that Steven Pinker, like Ayn Rand, can strike a nerve that raises a reader''s blood pressure. Not too surprising, since both have written about ideas that matter a lot to humankind and to each of us as individuals. They would both say "ideas matter", so I want to address their ideas rather than their politics.

Ayn Rand developed a philosophical system that articulated the foundational importance of reason, and that recognition of an objective reality is a cornerstone for science and human progress. I''ve always thought she got some important things right, and left some things out that are important to me. "Man is the rational animal" is true enough, but seems an oversimplified description, or an unproductive prescription. And is liaisez-faire capitalism by itself an effective framework for humanity as a whole, and for us as individuals?

(By the way, Pinker dismisses Rand''s philosophy as Nietzchean, which I also think is an oversimplification.)

I think Pinker has done a great job articulating the power of reason, in a broader context than I understood from Ayn Rand. I think Pinker achieves this broader context by embracing the concept of entropy, in the sense that no matter how capable we humans are to learn, discover, and know, the universe (including us humans) will always be partly unknown and unpredictable. From this standpoint, Pinker looks at philosophy not just as coherent systems of ideas, but as prescriptions for approaches that need to be evaluated based on results in the messy universe.

I didn''t really find a concept of "humanism" in Ayn Rand''s philosophy, and I think that''s because it is difficult to derive it from her first principles. And, in fact, it may be difficult to include humanism in any philosophy based on principle only, without demoting reason. Pinker justifies humanism on ideological and psychological grounds, but his primary argument is the evidence that it works. And in our entropy-happy universe, this is very rational.
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Falstaff
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
I Rarely Write A Bad Review
Reviewed in the United States on March 8, 2019
I rarely write a bad review, particularly when a book is well-written and captures your attention. However, for all the statistics Pinker presents there are relevant opposing views. Let''s not fall into the trap of being convinced w/his work until we read those views. In... See more
I rarely write a bad review, particularly when a book is well-written and captures your attention. However, for all the statistics Pinker presents there are relevant opposing views. Let''s not fall into the trap of being convinced w/his work until we read those views. In one rare moment, Pinker confirmed my thoughts ... I’ve seen Legislators in action after victimization by my HOA board. Pinker confirmed that Legislators listen to the party NOT constituents. An HOA board doesn’t listen to Members; Legislators don’t listen to constituents and the political parties have determined far in advance how the party platform will work AFTER the election is over. Ergo, no reason to vote on any level. Is the world getting kinder? Maybe, but doubtful. It’s currently controlled by corporate tyrants and that may turn back on the country. For me the book is a snow job and I''ll leave it as a fail. Still a good read, for PollyAnna''s looking for confirmation.
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CharlesTop Contributor: Doctor Who
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Brilliant – with one flaw
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on June 17, 2019
Most of this book is a feelgood delight, worth a million antidepressants, and totally compelling. Pinker convincingly makes the case that in the last two hundred years human life has been getting better and better – and that rate of improvement is speeding up, despite there...See more
Most of this book is a feelgood delight, worth a million antidepressants, and totally compelling. Pinker convincingly makes the case that in the last two hundred years human life has been getting better and better – and that rate of improvement is speeding up, despite there being greater numbers of people on Earth than ever before. Scores of graphs show this to be true. On the verge of repetition, Pinker rams home the message that life is getting much better in almost every way. My only gripe? Some of the chapter entitled ‘The Future of Progress’. In it, he slams what he calls ‘populism’, and he particularly has it in for Trump. I’m not American and can’t fully comment on his opinions, but I am British so I did get riled when he lumped Brexit in with Trump’s election as proof of an undesirable populist surge. Firstly, it is lazy thinking to lump them together just because they happened in the same year. Secondly, the vote to leave the UK was a progressive, humanistic vote, because it saw people wanting to return to a system of directly elected representatives, to lessen the gap between the rulers and the ruled, to live under laws that were suited to their own circumstances, as opposed to other circumstances in 27 other countries. In other words, it was a vote FOR democracy! In this chapter Pinker betrays himself as a liberal globalist who has no real understanding of the European Union; he sees it as an instigator of much of the processes that have led to the improvements he details elsewhere in the book. But there is absolutely no reason why a newly independent United Kingdom cannot continue to be at the forefront of pushing forward pro-market, pro-enlightenment, pro-human legislation. Pinker does actually say at one point in the book that the UK is among the three most influential countries in the world (the others being the US and Germany). So, apart from this small grumble, I’d praise this as an accessible, rationally positive, incredibly valuable book that everyone should read.
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Ricky
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Blinded by the light!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 4, 2018
There is no doubt that Steven Pinker is a very intelligent man. So was the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. What they also have in common is eternal optimism. Neville Chamberlain misjudged the intentions of the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler. ‘Peace for our...See more
There is no doubt that Steven Pinker is a very intelligent man. So was the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain. What they also have in common is eternal optimism. Neville Chamberlain misjudged the intentions of the Nazi regime under Adolf Hitler. ‘Peace for our time’ was his overoptimistic assessment of the situation because he failed to properly understand the evil before him. Steven Pinker is similarly misguided. He attempts to paint a picture of the world that is unrealistic. In a time of existential crisis, where there is no room for the skeptic and one is only allowed to back one side or the other, the split in society is only too evident. Far from this heading towards a better world, it does not bode well for democracy, real progress and proper enlightenment. Unless one calls enlightenment, ‘blinded by the light!’.
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Twelfth Monkey
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Oh, how I''ve ummed and ah-ed about reviewing this!
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 29, 2018
I have read (and re-read) The Better Angels of our Nature, and find it an exercise in how to put across a logically and rationally arrived at view, in spite of how the world seems through the eyes of the media. I can see why it caused irritation amongst those who could not...See more
I have read (and re-read) The Better Angels of our Nature, and find it an exercise in how to put across a logically and rationally arrived at view, in spite of how the world seems through the eyes of the media. I can see why it caused irritation amongst those who could not accept that things could be ''both bad and yet better'' (to quote Hans Rosling), but they are, perhaps, not those at whom it is aimed. This is not quite as overpoweringly persuasive, but then I think it would be impossible for it to be. Angels addresses the many aspects of one long-term trend in human history (the saw-tooth decline of violence over time, and its many causes, corollaries etc). Enlightenment addresses the greater sweep of a large number of such things, and cannot possibly devote the space that Angels did to one subject to each - hence the inevitability that it can''t feel quite as persuasive I note that several critics picked out areas that they felt were dealt with in a cursory manner, or where errors exist, and I would add to this is saying that whilst the ways in which a significant asteroid strike or supervolcano might be tackled are beginning to be understood, but I think Pinker believes that we are further along in these regards than I understand to be the case. But none of these criticisms matter - not a jot. The case presented is like a building. It is comprised of many things, and finding some fault with one or two of the bricks does nothing to undermine the worldview that is being advanced. So, less convincing that Angels perhaps, but if anything even more important.
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Eddie Starlink
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Life-changing
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on July 31, 2018
Every once in a while a book like this comes along - one that changes the way you look at almost everything. If someone summarises its central thesis, it hardly sound breathtaking: "Around the world most things are getting better - e.g. less poverty, less inequality,...See more
Every once in a while a book like this comes along - one that changes the way you look at almost everything. If someone summarises its central thesis, it hardly sound breathtaking: "Around the world most things are getting better - e.g. less poverty, less inequality, fewer wars and improved health - and reason, science and humanism take the credit." Even so, how Pinker supports his thesis is what makes the book a great read. It''s an especially good read for those of us who like to see religion and simplistic tribal politics get a kicking ...
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Dr A Butterworth
1.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Very disappointing
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on October 7, 2018
Rambling, repetitive, selective and extremely arrogant. If you disagree with Professor Pinker, then you are by definition a fool and an idiot.
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