*Enlightenment Now*, the new Steven Pinker book

1. He is more likely right than wrong on the major points of optimism and progress and science.

2. The book is very clearly written, and it would do most of the world good to read it.

3. Contrary to Pinker, inframarginally I see the Enlightenment as a strong complement to Christianity/faith, even though the two at the margin often will clash.  The same is true for nationalism.

4. The Counterenlightenment, as Pinker calls it, is intellectually much stronger than he gives it credit for.  It’s time for yet another reread of Gulliver’s Travels.

5. I am uncomfortable with statements such as “Intellectuals hate progress.”  That sentence opens chapter four.  I know that he explains and qualifies it, but it is not how I like to organize concepts.

6. It is not a good book for understanding the Enlightenment.

7. Overall my main difference with Pinker might be this: I believe there is a certain amount of irreducible “irrationality” (not my preferred term, but borrowing his schema for a moment) in people, and it has to be “put somewhere,” into some doctrine or belief system.  That is what makes the whole bundle sustainable.  It also means that a move toward greater “Enlightenment” is never without its problematic side, and that a “Counterenlightenment” can be more progressive than it might at first appear.  In contrast, I read Pinker as believing that Enlightenment simply can beat ignorance more and more over time.

The book’s subtitle is The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.  And here is my earlier discussion with Pinker, video, podcast, and transcript.

Comments

Most reason oriented believers are sure that there is a "God shaped space" inside of almost everybody.
Something will be in that space. Whether Christianity, Islam; Objectivism / Libertarianism, Climate Change/ environmentalism, feminism, atheism...
Something.

My view on history is that when & where Christianity fills that space, Civilization and human rights are better, overall.

See rule #2 https://medium.com/@russroberts/my-twelve-rules-for-life-4041fb11a1b3

'Believers' by definition believe in something. Empirical knowledge can be ontologically defined as 'justified true belief' (recognizing that the Gettier problem makes this complicated, and somewhat insufficient - https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/knowledge-analysis/ )

However, a Buddhist believer is extremely unlikely to believe that there is '“God shaped space” inside of almost everybody.' Neither do atheists, obviously, though the arrogant faith of new atheism is even more annoying than the various religious faiths that those atheists claim are false.

Of course, the first thing to do is to define 'belief' in a way that places god(s) in the center, even for the reason oriented (which does not really describe Buddhists, does it?). The Abrahamic religions are particularly skilled in this regard, especially in light of how they continue to come up with new versions and frameworks (absolute monotheism for a single chosen group to some sort of three in one monotheism mystery that is inclusive back to absolute monotheism that is fully inclusive).

"My view on history is that when & where Christianity fills that space, Civilization and human rights are better, overall."

Southern slaves in 1862 and Jews at the Middle Ages may have disagreed.

"Most reason oriented believers are sure that there is a 'God shaped space' inside of almost everybody." Most not-reason oriented believers, too. And, of course, feminism and (believing in Climate Change) are no more a replacement for religious faith than, say, segregationism, opposing the death penalty, federalism, States' rights or favoring the old Catholic Mass over the newer rite.

Southern slaves in the 1862 didn’t appreciate that Christians had abolished slavery first in the world and that there was a giant achristian abolitionist movement fighting for them? Jews in the Middle Ages didn’t appreciate the conditions created by Christian tolerance that saw ahewieh population and wealth increase faster in Christian lands than anywhere else?

Southern slaves took hold of Christian scriptures and theology and used them to undermine their enslavement. They went on to start a vibrant black church movement that produced another peaceful revolutionary in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. So it is not self-evident that the southern slaves of 1862 disagreed with the idea of religious faith in general or Christianity in particular. Rather they disagreed with how it was being used to oppress them, and transformed it.

"God shaped space"

There might be a god, or even many. That is unproven, but I accept a largely empty universe and the impermanence of all things.

Well, bless your heart.

This was my first sleepy comment of the morning. I wasn't really that happy with it, which was why I tried again, below.

There is (warning, this is my first sleepy comment this morning) something about those in a religious passion assuming that (from above) "Climate Change" is filling a "god shaped hole" which is dangerous.

Anti-enlightenment even.

For what it is worth, even though I am a bit agnostic, I do participate in a family events and celebrations which are religious, and not just Christian, or even just Western. I view them as positive. Generally I should say they have great positive potential, because there are counter-examples. Westboro Baptist Church, etc.

On the other hand, the "god shaped space" puts up my antenna in a different way. It is sometimes used to wave away a reasoned position.

Like you want to decide when my desire for protection for a specific wetlands is my "religion?"

I prefer sports

Your claim that the counterenlightenment is more progressive than it's given credit for is sort of implicitly made in Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise, insofar as Spinoza argues not to the democratic polis, but to the Stadholder tyrant, to see value in tolerance of philosophy (and, by implication, science). Spinoza assumes the masses will follow religion, and that they should. Still, I don't agree that Spinoza described what became the counterenlightenment. The counterenlightenment was an effort to impose terror and strict enforcement of censorship on the enlightenment. It never tried to leave enlightenment alone. The counterenlightenment was far worse than the Counter-Reformation; it had no Jesuits eager to learn or to teach science (or limit slavery, or ...). Its bloody-mindedness granted a license to Robespierre.

By enlightenment, we mean not discriminating--not taking one's race into account. By progressive, we mean racial quotas and gerrymandered racial-voting districts to ensure there are black congressman. They're mutually-exclusive.

By counter-enlightenment, we mean reverse-discrimination--punishing whites for being whites, like having black-only colleges but not having white only colleges; or punishing men for being men, like having women-only colleges, but not men only colleges.

I think that arguing the Enlightenment is all about race is a bit narrow. It would be alien to the French who came up with the idea because they just were not that concerned about racism. There is nothing un-Enlightened I can see about Black-only colleges. Or Jewish ones or Catholic ones or ones for women only or whatever.

The Enlightenment must surely be based on the idea that our intellect replaces God as the source of all values. We can make the world a better place through the application of that intellect. Or at least the best intellects. Now that is implicitly non-racial as skin color cannot be all that important if intelligence is the only measure of man. But there were plenty of racists on both sides of the Enlightenment debate - the Counter-Reformation was just as non-racist as the French Revolution. Perhaps more so.

'The Enlightenment must surely be based on the idea that our intellect replaces God as the source of all values.'

Laughably wrong - the Enlightenment did not seek this, and in the concrete example of the U.S., this text shows how a crowning achievement of the Enlightenment viewed the matter - 'In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.'

The Enlightenment, particularly at its pinnacle, sought to remove the blinders of theocratic correctness when looking at human affairs and the natural world.

So in other words, after you usually ridiculous cut and paste from Wikipedia, you agree I am right? Why do you bother?

What part of 'laughably wrong' did you not understand as a response to 'The Enlightenment must surely be based on the idea that our intellect replaces God as the source of all values.'?

Though if you wish to say that you did not mean 'replaces' and 'all values' in an absolute sense, well, fair enough.

That advertising flyer drivel has no place in a serious discussion of the Enlightenment. The Constitution of the US might, though.

Most of those passages in the Declaration were derived from John Locke, who was a major political thinker of the Enlightenment and Jefferson certainly knew more about the Enlightenment than the likes of you.

Try again. The "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" and the "Creator" only really amount to deism, which, as any good Straussian would point out, is the public position of the private atheist.

By counter-enlightenment, we mean getting rid of separation of church and state, the exclusionary rule, the miranda warning, the brady doctrine, brown v. board, and reinstating waiting periods, poll taxes, background checks, the military draft, etc.

Do we? I think it would be a mistake to assume that the passing political fads of last twentieth century North America define a major European political movement. Yes, the French Revolution did separate the Church and State. But the Miranda warning? Come on. The French Revolution rapidly rolled back its experiment with British-style civil liberties, limited juries as much as possible and introduced a system that assumed guilt.

And of course the French introduced military conscription. On a massive scale.

When it comes down to it your average Frenchman was vastly freer before the Revolution than during or after it.

The Revolution also abolished and then reimposed slavery, didn't it? What did it do about the female franchise?

Slavery was abolished by the Jacobins but restored by Napoleon

Whilst I think the Enlightenment was on balance clearly a good thing, Pinker's treatment of it sounds polemical and one-sided. There was an excerpt from his book in last week's newspaper (link below); these paragraphs stood out as a radical bit of cosmetic surgery. If the 20th century's rational re-engineering of society wasn't a product of enlightenment I don't know what is.

"The ideal of progress also should not be confused with the 20th-century movement to re-engineer society for the convenience of technocrats and planners, which the political scientist James Scott calls Authoritarian High Modernism. The movement denied the existence of human nature, with its messy needs for beauty, nature, tradition and social intimacy. Starting from a “clean tablecloth”, the modernists designed urban renewal projects that replaced vibrant neighbourhoods with freeways, high-rises, windswept plazas and brutalist architecture.

“Mankind will be reborn,” they theorised, and “live in an ordered relation to the whole.” Though these developments were sometimes linked to the word progress, the usage was ironic: “progress” unguided by humanism is not progress."

This excerpt suggests he believes that only good things can have stemmed from the Enlightenment. It weakens his case - strange that he seems to have no room for his hero Kant's crooked timber.

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/feb/11/reason-is-non-negotioable-steven-pinker-enlightenment-now-extract

Thanks for the link, a good read.

I think I get what you are saying, and I think Pinker is arguing for an ideal. He picks out an enlightenment at once reasoned but also in service to the positive and prosocial aspects of a (his) universal human nature.

"windswept plazas and brutalist architecture" got it wrong in that way.

Tom Wolfe was (as usual) one of the first, if not the first, to point out the horrible folly of Authoritarian High Modernism; see From Bauhaus to Our House among others. Pinker is in many ways a Canadian Wolfe with his emphasis on loathed-by-Progressives concepts such as human nature.

My view of human nature is heavily influenced by Pinker. He does make foils of far-left and would-be molders of "blank slates," but ideologues on the right play their own games. They like to pretend, for instance, that concepts of fairness and redistribution are artificial. Rather than components of more than human nature, they are present right down the evolutionary tree.

'If the 20th century’s rational re-engineering of society'

So, let's try a variation - 'If the Founder's rational re-engineering of society wasn’t a product of enlightenment I don’t know what is' Because the creation of the American Republic was both rational, and more radical than any 20th century re-engineering revolution, if only because a number of 19th and 20th century revolutions arose from the previously unimaginable radical ideas that the American Constitution was based on. After all, regardless of how horribly flawed in practice, Marx and his followers also preached the idea of a world in which all men are created equal..

Enlightenment cannot be separated from classical antiquity. Indeed, the emphasis on a more sophisticated study of Greek and Roman culture in Germany during the 18th century is what changed the Western view of history (the philosophical view), what is referred to as historicism. According to this view, individual events must be seen in the context of a wider, universal historical development, but such "development" did not assume progress. Although rooted in German Enlightenment's revival of Platonic idealism, historicism was also the product of interest in Roman law traditions of the Holy Roman Empire and in Germany's Augustinian theological heritage. This view also contributed to developing nationalism. Cowen's comments about Enlightenment and his interest in classical antiquity seem to reflect the influence of historicism.

The opposing view to historicism might be called adhocism. One can see the contrast between the two in Cowen's views about economics and in the views of economists with whom he often disagrees (you know who he is/they are).

Modern philosophy, especially the Enlightenment, was a rather sharp rejection of Classical philosophy, Aristotle and Plato as much as their Medieval followers. Also, people like Nietzsche and E.R. Dodds have noted, the actual Ancient Greeks were a much more religious and "irrational" culture than the Enlightenment let on.

So is that what America has become? Is that what the brave men died in Lexington, Concord, The Alamo, Gettysburg and Bataam for?

I see Christianity as this left-wing radical faith which introduced strong egalitarian impulses in western civilization which were non existent in the classical world.

Also it upturned the hierarchy of virtues in the western world. Classical virtues like forbearance, courage, conviction, prudence, justice who dominated the classical ethical landscape slowly went down the hierarchy with the rise of Chrstianity and were replaced by left-wing virtues like compassion, equality, charity, and magnanimity.

Islam went one step further to the left than Christianity and is clearly the most left-wing of all the major world religions today.

Both the Renaissance as well as the subsequent Enlightenment some 300 years later, represented a recovery and revival of the Cardinal virtues and classical culture in European life. In one sense, Europe moved back to the Right after close to 1500 years of universalist, anti-nationalist left-wing rhetoric. Nationalism revived. That was a big part of Europe's comeback.

"Also it upturned the hierarchy of virtues in the western world. Classical virtues like forbearance, courage, conviction, prudence, justice who dominated the classical ethical landscape slowly went down the hierarchy with the rise of Chrstianity and were replaced by left-wing virtues like compassion, equality, charity, and magnanimity."
Everyone knows how dedicated to justice devil-worshippers are...

"Islam went one step further to the left than Christianity and is clearly the most left-wing of all the major world religions today."
Because Islamic countries are kniwn to be very equalitarian and compassionate... Islamic (worshipping moon idol Allah) law resembles much more other devil-worshipping systems than Christianity.

In classical non abrahamic cultures, equality takes a backseat and personal conduct is paramount.

In the Hindu Manusmriti the emphasis is NOT on equality, but on proper conduct. You don't win any brownie points by just being compassionate or indiscriminate in your "giving", but by leading a life of purpose, austerity, and self-discipline.

The new testament teachings in contrast are very populist in the extreme. They have very little to say about virtues like courage, ambition, prudence, scholarship, persistence or even abstinence. In contrast Aristotle is all about cardinal virtues.

Modern western institutions like pensions, unemployment insurance, social security are all vicious ideas that go against the ideas of justice, prudence and austerity that classical cultures stress on!

I do not care about words, I care about Justice. There is nothing regarding Justice in the devil-worshipping mindset. His mindset concerns only preying on his weaker brothers as Satan teaches him. Looting, human sacrifices, etc.

"They have very little to say about virtues like courage, ambition, prudence, scholarship, persistence or even abstinence."

Except of course for an entire rigorous sexual moral, resisting in the faith even in face of brutal persecution, "he who doesn't work won't eat", etc. But, yes, the Word of the real God has nothing to do with preying on one's brothers, sacrificing human beings or worshipping idols. As for ambition, prudence and hard work, just look at India. Such underdevelopment can not improvised. It is he product of a culture, of Satan's mindset. As we say, "a good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit". The fruits of devil-worship is tyranny, povert, oppression, ignorance.

Haha...Look who is talking about "justice".

Some of the highest rates of crime today are in Catholic Latin America. And some of the lowest rates of crime are in Shinto / Buddhist Japan, Hindu India.

The culture of equality bred by Christianity can only breed an indifference towards virtue.

"The culture of equality bred by Christianity can only breed an indifference towards virtue."
Evidently. Why being virtuous if one can not prey on one's brothers. And how will one be virtuous without being preyed on by one's brothers. Treating all people as human beings is madness! Madness, I say!! As for Shinto, Japan's neighbours may have different ideas regarding its violence.

Oh and yeah...

Christianity's universalism is only skin deep. As evident by its contempt for living beings other than humans. You can slaughter, eat and devour any living thing, as long as it is not human.

That's a hypocrisy of Christianity.

"You can slaughter, eat and devour any living thing, as long as it is not human."
Yep, I care about human beings, I am so bad. I should put the cow goddess over low-caste human babies. After all, you know the babies did something to deserve it!

http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/web-edits/why-is-vegetarianism-in-india-linked-to-purity/ - Indian vegetarianism, as a mass concern, mostly linked to purity and not welfare.

'“The morals of Indian vegetarians continue to be based less on compassion for humans and animals and more driven by ideas of hierarchy and purity,” writes Suryakant Waghmore, professor of sociology at IIT Bombay.'

(Also turns out Jewish people have other reasons to avoid shellfish and pigs because of their deep respect for the lives of all the creatures that crawl in the seas and roll in the dirt.)

That's just wrong.

Sure it is linked to notions of purity. It is also undoubtedly linked to notions of abstinence, austerity on one hand, as well as non violence / ahimsa on the other.

Christianity created a synthesis on moral thinking (and on metaphysics as well) whereby a good deal of classical Greco-Roman thought was incorporated into Christian doctrine. The Four Cardinal virtues were certainly included. The medievals, who loved counted lists, discoursed a lot on the Seven Great Virtues: Faith, Hope and Love, but also Prudence, Justice, Courage and Temperance.

That is one of Nietzsche's big points. Read Yuri Slezkine's "The House of Government."

True.

Which is why I have always regarded Christian conservatism as an oxymoron.

Christianity is a left-wing progressive force. Not opposed to that. Maybe it was the corrective that the classical world needed. But I think what's needed today is a corrective against the culture of egalitarianism and populism initiated by Christianity.

Forces of conservatism on the Right should embrace Hindu / Shinto / Buddhist / Greco-Roman thought. As opposed to reading Christian gospels.

It's hard to take anyone seriously who thinks Shinto is something anyone can embrace. Shinto is a collection of folk tales, ceremonies, and vague rules about purification that are only for the Japanese. It isn't a faith or a moral code of conduct, and it doesn't promote any real virtues. It's more of a civic mythology, a hyper-amplified version of stories about Paul Bunyan, Pecos Bill, hoop snakes, and how you take chicken soup and Sprite when you are sick.

Fair. I meant to say Japanese thought and ended up writing Shinto.

Another contribution of Judeo Christian civilization is this idea of "natural right".

The idea that things are right or wrong in an absolute time invariant sense. And the contempt for diversity, flexibility, contextual morality, context sensitive reasoning, respect for historical wisdom and time-tested prejudices.

All the conservative virtues I mentioned were / are attacked by Judeo Christian civilization as well as Islam.

So Abrahamic cultures not just breed a culture of extreme populism and egalitarianism but also a culture of extreme fanaticism and absolutism.

Classical thinkers like Aristotle, Solon, Xenophon, Cleisthenes, Yajnavalkya, Confucius, Apasthamba, Baudhayana, Veda Vyasa, shunned absolutism and fanaticism. They were sceptical of natural right, with the exception of the odd thinker like Plato who had a penchant for abstractions. They believed in context-sensitive thinking. Compromise. Deal making. All virtues that Christianity holds in contempt!

"The idea that things are right or wrong in an absolute time invariant sense. And the contempt for diversity, flexibility, contextual morality, context sensitive reasoning, respect for historical wisdom and time-tested prejudices."
There is right and there is wrong, they do not depend on where your interests lie. You may think stealing and murdering would be convenient tonight, but it does not matter. It will still be wrong. You may think expedient worshipping this devil here and that devil there, but there is only one god. Reality matters and it does not cre for your feelings.

Haha...and the dumbed down idea of "right" that comes to us from Christianity is -

"All men are equal" - v v cliched and untrue.

"God cares for everyone equally" - again indicative of an evil God. A virtuous God would care more for the virtuous souls than for vicious souls. The idea that God will treat all souls the same regardless of their respective Karmas is just insane.

Your soul is redeemed only by your conduct. By your Karma. Karma matters. Karma cant be sidelined and brushed away as unimportant. Virtue is paramount. Conduct is paramount. You can't use the "equality" card to bypass the demands of virtue.

"All men are equal” is certainly much betterhan he castes system, which is just an excuse to opress one's brothers.
“God cares for everyone equally”
God doesn't care more for he powerful or the "well-born" castes. He cares for all and want all people repent. He cares even for the decil worshippers. He wanst hem to kniw the real God. Here are not Karma. He idea was invented by the rich and powerful to support their right to enslave their brothers. "And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment". God judges people for their deeds, not how powerful they are. One can't pretend one's social position gives one the right to prey on one's brothers.

Deal making in the context of devil-worshipping is, "I have a sword, and you don't. Then, I will take your harvest and your cattle and leave you your life so you can raise more cattle and harvest more for me. Deal?"

The idea of a “natural right” is preposterous. Man is a social animal: his rights derive from the society of which he is a part.

Yet, we recognize some societies are fairier than others and are more accordingly the eternal laws - societies who do not sacrifice babies to Moloch, for example

But not sacrificing babies to Moloch is self-evidently not an eternal law.

Surely, it is. Which does not mean all societies followed it. We, however, regard highly those who followed them.

+1 Novelty point - this has a new quality of insanity that I have never encountered on the internet - "Charlemagne and William of Normandy were Communists! Because Christianity does not have a Caste system! The Roman Empire and Classical Antiquity was nationalist!"

The Roman Empire does not represent the peak of classical antiquity but its fag end, and it in fact overlaps with the rise of Christian universalism. In fact very early in the 4th century, Rome turned officially Christian.

The Roman Republic as well as the Greek city states were definitely natioanlistic and particularist, and very sceptical of notions of universalism.

So more than four centuries of Roman Empire before Christianization - the Empire precedes Christ's birth -, longer than Athens' existence from first rising to promenience to the Peloponnesian War - doesn't count a classiscism because... reasons.
What you call "universalism" is just acknowledging he truth. Gravity is universal. The laws of universe are universal. You do not get to choose. It is not that this demon exists here, that demon exists there. What is true is true, independent of whatmpwople may think. Reality is independent if people's whims.

Classical city states were not "nationalist", the Roman Empire was not "universalist". The Roman Republic was not some nationalistic entity that happened to become universalist just at the point it conquered the rest of the Oikumene. No scholars who study such things think of these in these terms; you have made this up on the basis of fact informed by any understanding of the period.

I am not sure why you are nitpicking.

The fact is this -

Christianity represents a universalist streak in human nature. Most aspects of Christianity are universalist. And it is not surprising that Christianity originated and spread in the Roman empire during its heyday.

Classical antiquity, as represented by Greek city states or the early Roman republic, was not big on universalism. Definitely not universalism in religion. Pre-Christian classical culture was less sure in matters of morality. More tolerant of philosophy and debate. More sceptical of natural right. More sceptical of absolutist notions of right and wrong. More sceptical of the notion of equality.

The ancient Greeks reinterpreted foreign gods as their own gods under different names. Hence the Libyan God Ammon, noted for its desert oracle whom Alexander visited, was known them as Zeus Ammon. The Romans very consciously identified many of their gods with the gods of Greece (there often was a valid connection as both people had inherited the same pantheon of Indoeuropean deities from their ancestors).

Christianity is thoroughly hierarchical. It just has a different hierarchy than that of various pagan societies.

Traditional Christianity was hierarchial in both its Eastern and Western forms, true. In the Reformation the Lutherans and Anglicans retained that. But the Calvinists were deeply suspicious of hierarchies (and that carried over into politics), and the Anabaptists outright rejected hierarchies.

I was lucky enough to get a book over Christmas break. I love this book, perhaps as much or more than Gates. I have read it close to three times.

1. Despite the title, the Enlightenment is not actually the main focus of the book. Plus, at the end of chapter 1 Pinker basically says that he cherry picks his favorite ideas. I certainly learned a lot about the intellectual history of the Enlightenment, but I knew very little going in, so the skepticism of Cowen and others is good to know.

2. For me, the part of this book that has not received enough (if any) discussion -- and the part that stands out as most original -- is chapter 2 (on entropy) and how that should affect our perspective on everything. Basically, the universe is a pitiless place where stuff generally goes wrong. We thus need to work hard to maintain life, wealth, and human flourishing is something that -- not against a particular enemy, but just as an ongoing collective effort. In retrospect this paradigm seems so obvious, but only because Pinker does such a good job weaving it through his chapters about progress.

3. The last 8 paragraphs of the book are a small little masterpiece. Jump ahead to that for a summary of the whole book.

I have not read this new book, but it is easy to see how this idea might grow out of The Blank Slate:

"We thus need to work hard to maintain life, wealth, and human flourishing is something that — not against a particular enemy, but just as an ongoing collective effort."

We are a social species of middling intelligence and with some hangups. Let's do the best we can.

Not encouraging. The layman has an endless capacity to talk drivel about entropy, just as he has about quantum theory and relativity.

Has any philosophy or religion ever opined that Nature is wholly benign and friendly to human interests? We may get away with that delusion today, but the pre-modern past, with its horrific childhood mortality numbers, its famines and plagues and ill-understood natural disasters, held no such notion

Has any philosophy or religion ever opined that Nature is wholly benign and friendly to human interests? We may get away with that delusion today, but the pre-modern past, with its horrific childhood mortality numbers, its famines and plagues and ill-understood natural disasters, held no such notion

Re #7 I feel as if most people I know have at least one or two crazy things they insist on believing. Maybe it's pharma companies are keeping the cure for cancer secret, the moon landing was a hoax, OJ didn't do it, something has to be believed that defies our 'system 2'. Perhaps our mental systems demand some portion of 'equal time'?

This also ties into the evolutionary case of 'tenth man'. Generally a rule that no decision should be unanimous. If 9 people agree the 10th should always take the opposite case and argue for it. Evolution wise I could see how humans may have a 'tenth man trigger'. If everyone in the village believes something, the itch to become the 'tenth man' goes up. I suspect this prevented our reasoning ability from getting locked in as simply a bunch of hard wired instincts. That would have allowed natural selection to pull back resources from our brains (which consume a huge amount of energy) but left us with less flexibility. A tenth man trigger keeps us flexible but will always keep us from being a fully rational species. One way or the other there will always be those with crank theories among us regardless of the evidence.

+1

Please don't use words that are not in the dictionary, e.g. inframarginally.

It would be very helpful if you expand on your elliptical, oracular statements and give supporting arguments to your beliefs.

How is the "Enlightenment as a strong complement to Christianity/faith" ? Why do they only clash at the margin? The clash seems fundamental to me. As Pinker writes: "[a popular alternative to] reason, science, humanism, and progress ... is religious faith. To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason. ... As for incompatibilities with science, these are the stuff of legend and current events, from Galileo and the Scopes Monkey Trial to stem-cell research and climate change."

"The Counterenlightenment, as Pinker calls it, is intellectually much stronger than he gives it credit for." What do you call it? Why is it intellectually much stronger than he gives it credit for?

"It is not a good book for understanding the Enlightenment." Why? What is a good book for understanding the Enlightenment?

“irrationality (not my preferred term)" What is your preferred term? Why are you using it if it is not your preferred term?

" 'irrationality' ... in people, and it has to be 'put somewhere,' into some doctrine or belief system." Why? I agree that Pinker believe that that we should work to "beat ignorance", to try to counter, as he writes "destructive motives such as greed, lust, dominance, vengeance, and self-deception." How exactly do you propose we deal with these and ignorance and irrationality?

"That is what makes the whole bundle sustainable. " What are you trying to say?

I think Tyler must be thinking of how science and protestant/reformed religions co-evolved. They became compatible. You could have religion, and family life, and work the deep evolution of gene sequences 5 days a week.

On the other hand, there is no such compatibility with fundamentalist religions (and there are many the world over) which deny fundamental empiricism.

"'destructive motives such as greed, lust, dominance, vengeance, and self-deception.' How exactly do you propose we deal with these and ignorance and irrationality?"

Perhaps high-g people shoudn't propagate radical notions of personal autonomy that low-g people aren't equipped to handle. Christianity, and other religious faiths, teach moderation and that greed, lust, etc. are considered grave sins. Perhaps that's what Tyler, in his elliptical way, is getting at.

It is Aristotle who taught Western civilization the virtue of moderation. Not Christianity.

Christianity has always had an absolutist streak. All good things in it are basically a result of the integration and reconciliation of Plato and Aristotle with it.

If Christianity isn't quite as bad as Islam today, it has to thank Plato and Aristotle, whose beneficial influence has moderated its extremism.

Christianity and Islam are genera, not species. The species are quite varied, especially on "absolutism."

If I had said "Buddhism" or "Taoism" I guess you'd have let it slide. You're tripping over mouse poop. I tried (poorly, apparently) to make the larger point that the lack of a transcendent belief system may work out just fine for big-brained Steven Pinker but the folks further down the food chain might need something more than Human Reason to keep their kids from becoming single moms and drug addicts. Or school-shooters. I expect this is also why Jordan Peterson will eventually announce his conversion to some sect of Christianity.

I get your point totally

I am not against Christianity. Though I am from a different religious tradition. I favor any religion over no religion.

All I am saying is moderation isn't a Christian thing. It is Aristotlean

Maybe we should fund Bahá'í evangelism.

@Anonymous - or Sufi Islam, though I think the Aga Khan has plenty of money.

You raise a good point: the most potent belief systems seem very wedded to a particular people and culture, even if historically it was always Year the First for whichever one wherever.

Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?

Also, probably the single biggest influence on post-Incarnate Christianity was St. Paul, a Hebrew scholar who never mentions Plato or Aristotle in his numerous Epistles exhorting the faithful to lead sober, virtuous lives. He would have been intimately familiar with the Proverbs and other Old Testament writings, which also teach moderation.

"“That is what makes the whole bundle sustainable. ” What are you trying to say?"

The idea that society can subsist on Enlightenment rationality is utopian. Jefferson (a notorious skeptic) admitted as much when he wrote: "Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?" Washington formulated it as: "Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle." You can even take it one step further a la Burke in arguing that man is foremost a religious animal and therefore the religious impulse must be satisfied in some way or else (speaking of the Counter-Enlightenment) "man would rather will nothingness than not will." (Nietzsche)

To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason

While this may be the popular notion of faith, it isn't the traditional Catholic position. For the Catholic, faith is trusting in a particular special revelation. But you're supposed to have reasons for that trust.

Irrationality and the will to believe can't be educated out of. They just get transferred into things more plausible for the person to rationalize. Newer cults, often without any of the safeguards organized religion has, like appealing across class barriers, or humility. The non-religious rationalist falls under the Less Wrong spell, venerates Yudilowsky and religiously reads the sequences, and worries about paperclip maximizers even though we have yet to get a decent AI enough to recommend a movie they might like.

Or, if you prefer more historical outlooks, Futurism was far worse a religion for irreligious people than Christianity would be. Christianity has the specter of religious warfare, but Jesus never declared that war was the hygiene of the state, nor exulted in it in the way a futurist does.

Can the Enlightenment be reconciled with libertarianism? https://www.vox.com/conversations/2018/2/16/16870408/public-education-libertarianism-democracy-bryan-caplan

I think the more apt question is whether the Enlightenment is squaring so well with democracy.

I think the more apt question is at what point should everybody leave Ezra Klein and his ilk to their continued diving into each others' sphincters. A couple of years ago is my answer to that question.

The two most basic tenets of Christianity are forgiveness and redemption. Neither of these are present to any degree in the American version of the religion or its Enlightenment adjunct.

How can I tell which tenet is 'basic'?

It loves Autumn, drinks pumpkin spice lattes, and is the proud owner of an Instagram account.

That’s how I tell if something is basic.

Perhaps in spite of himself TC here models "die Zwischenwelt" as the point from which to proceed: a thorough re-reading of Swift's Gulliver's Travels provides whatever antidote to Pinker's untethered optimism.

From Swift's satire: "rationality", "reason", and "rationalism" are not intrinsic or inherent human traits: they are mere cognitive capacities that we sometimes (and often do not) participate in or avail ourselves of. No one is a thorough-going "rationalist"--certainly no scientist any more than any academic philosopher.

"Science": with our Applied Technology Establishment "science" has given us--unsolicited and free of charge--the technologies and tools with which to wage nuclear warfare and to inflict Technogenic Climate Change on the entire planet, perhaps lethally by the time all is said and done. What amazing accomplishments for intellectual and cognitive disciplines (chemistry, physics, math) priding themselves on their abilities to measure repeatable phenomena in order to yield useful predictions. (Whatever became of pragmatism?)
Swift's Flying Island was populated with the ingenious forebears of our contemporary Science and Applied Technology establishments.

"Humanism": which one, the paltry Gulliver variety, the Yahoo type, or the Houyhnhnm stock? (I'm guessing that Pinker does not employ this apt definition: "Human being--a fruit or vegetable with animal aspirations and a mineral destiny.")

"Progress" is a temporal myth underwritten by modernity: what business does Pinker have invoking myth? (The myth of progress being that we live already, incontestably so, in an irreversible and non-degradable future.) I rather doubt Pinker's devotion to science itself is what equips him to assert future states with whatever assurances he brings or to extrapolate with requisite accuracy from present circumstances.

Apologias for omnicidal science, untethered reason, illusory progress, and vapid humanism are all far too late. (Does Pinker dare take on Feyerabend's critiques of "rationalism" and "Science" [in its theocratic aspect], or does he conveniently ignore the distinct challenges that science poses, not to humanity's dominion but to its very survival?)

The retreat of our effete elites continues apace . . . .

"The retreat of our effete elites continues apace . . . ."

Yeah. I get the sense some of them are worried, but how can they back off their public pronouncements at this point? So they retreat into ideation and non-profit sinecures. Eliminating all the gatekeepers and goodthink enforcers so that elites can again feel comfortable preaching what they in their personal lives actually practice is hard, career-ending work.

You're too polite to say it, Tyler, but this was Pinker's worst book.

Most people are easily confused on the science vs. religion thing. Comparing science and religion is like comparing apples and oranges. Science describes the physical world around (as well as our own physiology and biochemistry). Religion is necessary for SOME (maybe most) people for ascribing things like purpose, meaning, intent, and the like. It is these latter things that science itself is rather useless for.

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