Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Steven Pinker is one of the greatest philosophical thinkers of our time. He’s written extensively in the field of ethics, environment ethics, and animal rights. This book was started before the presidential election of 2016 but accelerated to address the fomenting and destabilizing effects of nationalism, identity politics, and anti-science and anti-reason currents popping up in the US and abroad. Pinker explores an extensive lists of macro measures of “quality and quantity” of life since the Enlightenment with his central thesis being that humanity has made considerable progress across almost all measure DESPITE the “sense” that we aren’t and that we’re perpetually headed for decline. He explores these facts with extensive empirical evidence and also describe the varying hypotheses (not all his own) as to why we “feel” the sense of dread and decline. He speaks to political rhetoric coupled with increasingly massive volumes of sensationalist and offense seeking media, mixed in with our natural cognitive biases like negativity biases (many brought about as useful evolutionary adaptions but which have been coopted in our modern age through marketing and political messaging). I did a podcast with graduate student Dustyn Addington and co-host Whitney Johnson (find the podcast here) on the subject which is pretty entertaining. I recommend the book for anyone interested in history and the philosophy of science, as well as those interested in long range planning, macro economics and economic development, empirical evidence based analyses at a micro and macro level, and philosophy of history as well. This book I believe is a helpful North Start when you’re feeling adrift or overly negative/cynical/frustrated with where you “feel” things are headed. This book will lay out the empirical evidence that supports that while short term events and narratives may sway you emotions, reason will prevail with supported empirical evidence.