This is one of those rare occasions when we totally agree with something and want to bring it to your attention. We found this in the U.S. edition of London’s Guardian. Their headline is ‘Reason is non-negotiable’: Steven Pinker on the Enlightenment.
It appears to be from a book by Steven Pinker, described by Wikipedia as: “a Canadian-American cognitive psychologist, linguist, and popular science author. He is Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, and is known for his advocacy of evolutionary psychology and the computational theory of mind.” Here are some excerpts, with bold font added by us for emphasis:
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.
This is good, but it’s long, so we have to skip a lot. Pinker says:
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.
Sounds like the theme of your Curmudgeon’s blog. We’ll quote what he says about reason and science, leaving you to read the rest for yourself. He tells us:
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.
Great, huh? He continues:
That leads to the second ideal, science, the refining of reason to understand the world. That includes an understanding of ourselves. 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.
He also talks about free enterprise:
The Enlightenment also saw the first rational analysis of prosperity. Its starting point was not how wealth is distributed but the prior question of how wealth comes to exist in the first place. Specialisation works only in a market that allows the specialists to exchange their goods and services and [Adam] Smith explained that economic activity was a form of mutually beneficial cooperation (a positive-sum game, in today’s lingo): each gets back something that is more valuable to him than what he gives up. Through voluntary exchange, people benefit others by benefiting themselves; as he wrote: “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love.” Smith was not saying that people are ruthlessly selfish, or that they ought to be; he was one of history’s keenest commentators on human sympathy. He only said that in a market, whatever tendency people have to care for their families and themselves can work to the good of all.
That’s enough. Now go ahead and read it all for yourself. Oh, here’s Pinker’s book at Amazon: Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. There are no reviews yet, but Amazon does give us this: “My new favorite book of all time.” –Bill Gates.
You gotta admit, dear reader, this is a welcome change from posting about ol’ Hambo and the Discoveroids.
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