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

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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.
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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.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Penguin
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Published on
Feb 13, 2018
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Pages
576
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ISBN
9780698177888
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Language
English
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Genres
Psychology / Social Psychology
Science / Philosophy & Social Aspects
Social Science / Violence in Society
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The Explanation of Social Action is a sustained critique of the conventional understanding of what it means to "explain" something in the social sciences. It makes the strong argument that the traditional understanding involves asking questions that have no clear foundation and provoke an unnecessary tension between lay and expert vocabularies. Drawing on the history and philosophy of the social sciences, John Levi Martin exposes the root of the problem as an attempt to counterpose two radically different types of answers to the question of why someone did a certain thing: first person and third person responses. The tendency is epitomized by attempts to explain human action in "causal" terms. This "causality" has little to do with reality and instead involves the creation and validation of abstract statements that almost no social scientist would defend literally. This substitution of analysts' imaginations over actors' realities results from an intellectual history wherein social scientists began to distrust the self-understanding of actors in favor of fundamentally anti-democratic epistemologies. These were rooted most defensibly in a general understanding of an epistemic hiatus in social knowledge and least defensibly in the importation of practices of truth production from the hierarchical setting of institutions for the insane. Martin, instead of assuming that there is something fundamentally arbitrary about the cognitive schemes of actors, focuses on the nature of judgment. This implies the need for a social aesthetics, an understanding of the process whereby actors intuit intersubjectively valid qualities of complex social objects. In this thought-provoking and ambitious book, John Levi Martin argues that the most promising way forward to such a science of social aesthetics will involve a rigorous field theory.
In a ground-breaking series of articles, one of them written by a Nobel Laureate, this volume demonstrates the evolutionary dynamic and the transformation of today's democratic societies into scientific-democratic societies. It highlights the progress of modeling individual and societal evaluation by neo-Bayesian utility theory. It shows how social learning and collective opinion formation work, and how democracies cope with randomness caused by randomizers. Nonlinear `evolution equations' and serial stochastic matrices of evolutionary game theory allow us to optimally compute possible serial evolutionary solutions of societal conflicts. But in democracies progress can be defined as any positive, gradual, innovative and creative change of culturally used, transmitted and stored mentifacts (models, theories), sociofacts (customs, opinions), artifacts and technifacts, within and across generations. The most important changes are caused, besides randomness, by conflict solutions and their realizations by citizens who follow democratic laws. These laws correspond to the extended Pareto principle, a supreme, socioethical democratic rule. According to this principle, progress is any increase in the individual and collective welfare which is achieved during any evolutionary progress.
Central to evolutionary modeling is the criterion of the empirical realization of computed solutions. Applied to serial conflict solutions (decisions), evolutionary trajectories are formed; they become the most influential causal attractors of the channeling of societal evolution. Democratic constitutions, legal systems etc., store all advantageous, present and past, adaptive, competitive, cooperative and collective solutions and their rules; they have been accepted by majority votes. Societal laws are codes of statutes (default or statistical rules), and they serve to optimally solve societal conflicts, in analogy to game theoretical models or to statistical decision theory. Such solutions become necessary when we face harmful or advantageous random events always lurking at the edge of societal and external chaos.
The evolutionary theory of societal evolution in democracies presents a new type of stochastic theory; it is based on default rules and stresses realization. The rules represent the change of our democracies into information, science and technology-based societies; they will revolutionize social sciences, especially economics. Their methods have already found their way into neural brain physiology and research into intelligence. In this book, neural activity and the creativity of human thinking are no longer regarded as linear-deductive. Only evolutive nonlinear thinking can include multiple causal choices by many individuals and the risks of internal and external randomness; this serves the increasing welfare of all individuals and society as a whole.
Evolution and Progress in Democracies is relevant for social scientists, economists, evolution theorists, statisticians, philosophers, philosophers of science, and interdisciplinary researchers.
“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)

Selected by The New York Times Book Review as a Notable Book of the Year

The author of Enlightenment Now and The New York Times bestseller The Stuff of Thought offers a controversial history of violence.

Faced with the ceaseless stream of news about war, crime, and terrorism, one could easily think we live in the most violent age ever seen. Yet as New York Times bestselling author Steven Pinker shows in this startling and engaging new work, just the opposite is true: violence has been diminishing for millenia and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species's existence. For most of history, war, slavery, infanticide, child abuse, assassinations, programs, gruesom punishments, deadly quarrels, and genocide were ordinary features of life. But today, Pinker shows (with the help of more than a hundred graphs and maps) all these forms of violence have dwindled and are widely condemned. How has this happened?

This groundbreaking book continues Pinker's exploration of the esesnce of human nature, mixing psychology and history to provide a remarkable picture of an increasingly nonviolent world. The key, he explains, is to understand our intrinsic motives--the inner demons that incline us toward violence and the better angels that steer us away--and how changing circumstances have allowed our better angels to prevail. Exploding fatalist myths about humankind's inherent violence and the curse of modernity, this ambitious and provocative book is sure to be hotly debated in living rooms and the Pentagon alike, and will challenge and change the way we think about our society.  
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