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Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress Paperback – January 15, 2019
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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. By the author of the new book, Rationality.
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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“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
- Publisher : Penguin Books; Reprint edition (January 15, 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 576 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0143111388
- ISBN-13 : 978-0143111382
- Item Weight : 1.05 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.46 x 1.22 x 8.37 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #34,723 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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In his new 550-page book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress (Viking, 2018), Pinker aligns himself with what he interprets as Enlightenment Humanism. The Enlightenment in Western culture is also known as the Age of Reason. In addition to invoking the Enlightenment and Reason and Humanism in the title of his new book, he also invokes Science and Progress. Scattered throughout his new book are 75 figures illustrating certain trends that he discusses in his text. These 75 figures illustrate a dizzying array of stuff that he sees as supporting his thesis about progress.
Pinker’s new book is a follow up to his 800-page earlier book The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined (Viking, 2011). Yes, when you advance a controversial thesis, as he did in his 2011 book, you are supposed to stand by it and further advance it to the best of your ability. In general, I do not necessarily disagree with his thesis about progress. But I wonder about the strong sense of urgency he expresses in his main title Enlightenment Now. But where does his sense of urgency come from? It engenders in him a strong sense of impatience with the various people who evidently do not subscribe to his various claims about progress. But if a significant percentage of Americans were to strongly agree with his claims about progress, would their agreement make a significant difference in our American way of life? Evidently, Pinker thinks it would.
Now, in the poem “Andrea del Sarto” (1855), a dramatic monolgue, the British poet Robert Browning (1812-1889) writes, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp/ Or what’s a heaven for?” Me thinks Pinker’s reach in his new book exceed his grasp. However, in the spirit of giving credit where credit is due, I will give him credit for being ambitious in his new book.
But let us be clear here. Even though Pinker may appear to be an equal-opportunity critic of both right-wing and left-wing ideologues, he himself is a secular humanist, and he is most likely to appeal to other secular humanists. Secular humanists of the world, unite, eh? In the Republican Party, economic libertarians such as the Koch brothers may be secular humanists. In the Democratic Party, secular humanists tend to be over-represented. But would it be shrewd politically for either of the two major political parties in the United States to openly embrace Pinker’s secular humanism as its own preferred way of proceeding? But don’t the two major political parties still need to attract voters who do not identify themselves as secular humanists? Of course, they do. Therefore, neither of the two major political parties is likely to endorse Pinker’s secular humanism or turn it into a party platform. Consequently, his discussion of right-wing and left-wing ideologues is just a patina to make his book seem relevant politically. However, his new book can prompt discussion in the court of public opinion that could indirectly influence one or the other of the two major political parties – or perhaps both.
Now, because Pinker criticizes both right-wing and left-wing ideologues, he may strike many young people as a deep thinker – but he is not a deep thinker, as I will explain momentarily. Therefore, I want to call attention to two deep thinkers, both of whom were Jesuit priests, which may make them anathema to Pinker: The Canadian Jesuit philosopher and theologian Bernard Lonergan (1904-1984) and the American Jesuit Renaissance specialist and polymath Walter J. Ong (1912-2003). Like all Jesuits of their generation, they studied Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy as part of their Jesuit training. Up to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) in the Roman Catholic Church, Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy was part of the core curriculum in all American Catholic colleges and universities. However, despite their Jesuit training, both Ong and Lonergan diverged significantly from the dominant pre-Vatican II tradition in Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy, each in his own way. Nevertheless, even though each diverged in his own way, both of their divergences involved a similar critique of the visualist tendency in Western philosophical thought. In Ong’s case, in his all-important book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (Harvard University Press, 1958), he explicitly acknowledges (page 338, note 54) that he borrowed the visual versus aural contrast in cognitive processing from the French philosopher Louis Lavelle (1883-1951). Evidently independently of Lavelle, Lonergan worked out his critique of the visualist tendency in Western philosophical thought in his 1957 philosophical masterpiece, which I will discuss momentarily.
Now, despite Pinker’s spirited defense of modern science, I am reasonably certain that Pinker has not studied Lonergan’s philosophical masterpiece Insight: A Study of Human Understanding, 5th ed. (University of Toronto Press, 1992; orig. ed., 1957), in which he works out what he refers to as a generalized empirical method (from the Greek word hodos, meaning way, as in a way of proceeding).
Similarly, I am reasonably certain that Pinker has not studied the American Jesuit William Rehg’s book Cogent Science in Context: The Science Wars, Argumentation Theory, and Habermas (MIT Press, 2009).
Now, if a significant percentage of Americans were to grasp the import of Lonergan’s generalized empirical method, would their grasp of Lonergan’s thought make a significant difference in our American way of life? Perhaps those people could somehow make a significant difference in our American way of life. Realistically, however, I do not expect to see a significant percentage of Americans grasp Lonergan’s thought. At best, his 1957 philosophical masterpiece could renew the Western tradition of philosophy. In theory, this renewal of philosophy could help reinvigorate our broad American tradition of thought and our American way of life. But I am admittedly indulging in utopian thought here.
Now, the humanism that I subscribe to is basically Renaissance humanism – the kind of humanism of Erasmus (1466-1536), the author of The Praise of Folly (1511), and St. Thomas More (1478-1535), the author of Utopia (1516). Roughly, Renaissance humanism flowered in full bloom in Western culture alongside the emergence of the Gutenberg printing press in the mid-1450s. The humanism that Pinker celebrates in connection with the Enlightenment emerged later on.
Ong’s lengthy encyclopedia entry on Renaissance humanism is still worth reading. It appears in volume seven of The New Catholic Encyclopedia, edited by William J. McDonald and others (McGraw-Hill, 1967, pages 215b-224b); reprinted in volume four of Ong’s Faith and Contexts (Scholars Press, 1999, pages 69-92). Ong sees Jesuit education as part of the larger trend of Renaissance humanist education. Renaissance humanists, including Jesuit educators, tended to be theistic humanists, not atheistic humanists.
Concerning Jesuit education, see John O’Malley’s book The First Jesuits (Harvard University Press, 1993, esp. pages 200-242).
Also see The Ratio Studiorum [of 1599]: The Official Plan for Jesuit Education, translated and annotated by Claude Pavur, S.J. (St. Louis: Institute of Jesuit Sources, 2005).
For a relevant study, see Anthony Grafton and Lisa Jardine’s book From Humanism to the Humanities: Education and the Liberal Arts in Fifteenth- and Sixteenth-Century Europe (Harvard University Press, 1986).
Also see Ong’s review of their book in the journal Style, volume 21, number 4 (Winter 1987): pages 71-72.
For further information about Jesuit history, see The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Jesuits, edited by Thomas Worcester (Cambridge University Press, 2017). However, the entry about Renaissance humanism (pages 371-373) leaves something to be desired. But the entry about Ong (pages 575-576) is solid.
Now, Ong’s massively researched Harvard University doctoral dissertation was published, slightly revised, in two volumes: the book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason (1958), mentioned above, and the book Ramus and Talon Inventory (Harvard University Press, 1958), an annotated bibliography of 750 or so volumes that Ong tracked down in more than 100 libraries in the British Isles and Continental Europe. Peter Ramus (1515-1572) was a French logician, Renaissance humanist educational reformer, and Protestant martyr. In the seventeenth century, the curriculum at Harvard College (founded in 1636) was centered on teaching Ramist logic (also known as dialectic). Similarly, when John Milton (1608-1674) studied at Cambridge University, the curriculum there was centered on Ramist logic. Later in Milton’s life, he himself wrote a textbook in logic based on Ramus’ work. Ong and Charles J. Ermatinger translated Milton’s Logic (1672) in volume eight of Yale’s Complete Prose Works of John Milton, edited by Maurice Kelley (Yale University Press, 1982, pages 139-407). Ong’s lengthy introduction is reprinted as “Introduction to Milton’s Logic” in volume four of Ong’s Faith and Contexts (Scholars Press, 1999, pages 111-142).
In any event, the Art of Reason that Ong refers to in his 1958 subtitle emerged historically in authors in the Enlightenment period – the Age of Reason. But I seriously doubt that Pinker has carefully studied Ong’s account of the historical emergence of the Art of Reason. According to Ong, the Art of Discourse historically involved explicitly referring to a real or imagined adversary or adversarial position. But the Art of Reason dispensed with such explicit references in favor of presenting one’s own line of thought (in a kind of monologue, not a dialogue with real or imagined adversaries or adversarial positions). Ironically, Pinker routinely refers to real adversaries and adversarial positions, thereby aligning himself with the historical Art of Discourse, not with the Art of Reason as it emerged historically in the Enlightenment writers. Consequently, Pinker’s book sounds polemical.
Now, in the controversial book The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (University of Toronto Press, 1962), Ong’s former teacher and lifelong friend the Canadian Renaissance specialist Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) in English at St. Mike’s at the University of Toronto followed up Ong’s breakthrough insights in his 1958 book. (In the late 1950s, McLuhan had also studied Lonergan’s 1957 philosophical masterpiece.)
As a young man fresh from graduate studies in English at Cambridge University, McLuhan was formally received into the Roman Catholic Church in the spring of 1937. In part, his conversion involved his attraction to Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy. In McLuhan’s lifetime, the two leading centers of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy in North America were St. Mike’s at the University of Toronto and Saint Louis University, the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri. From the fall of 1937 to 1944, he taught English at Saint Louis University, where he continued to work on his 1943 Cambridge University doctoral dissertation on the history of the verbal arts of grammar, rhetoric, and logic (also known as dialectic), centering his attention on the English Renaissance writer Thomas Nashe (1567-1601). Ong dedicates his book Ramus and Talon Inventory to McLuhan “who started all this” – meaning that McLuhan started Ong’s interest in Ramus.
McLuhan’s first book The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (Vanguard Press, 1951). His most widely known book is Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (McGraw-Hill, 1964). McLuhan’s 1962 book and 1964 book catapulted him to extraordinary fame in a decade of extraordinary ferment.
Now, Ong reviewed McLuhan’s 1962 book in the Jesuit-sponsored magazine America, volume 107 (September 15, 1962): pages 743 and 747; reprinted in An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry (Hampton Press, 2002, pages 307-308). In his review Ong says that certain readers who are “completely dominated by the habits of thought incident to the typographical society that McLuhan is standing off from and evaluating will either be unable to make head or tail of what he is saying or will reject it with a show of hostility” (page 308). Indeed, most academics rejected what McLuhan says in that book with a show of hostility. Nevertheless, despite certain flaws in the book that scholars have pointed out, McLuhan’s 1962 book The Gutenberg Galaxy still has enough merit to make it worth reading today, because we can learn from reading it how to stand off from and evaluate the typographical society that emerged in Western culture after the Gutenberg printing press emerged in the mid-1450s. For example, I think that Pinker could upgrade his thinking by carefully studying McLuhan’s 1962 book – and Ong’s 1958 book and Lonergan’s 1957 philosophical masterpiece.
Now, I should point out here that Ong followed up his 1958 book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason by publishing further books and articles in which he develops the breakthrough insights he explores in his 1958 book. But Ong usually does not refer to adversaries (critics) or adversarial positions (criticisms of him and his work). In other words, he usually does not write in the way that he himself describes as the Art of Discourse. Instead, he characteristically writes in the way that he himself describes as the Art of Reason. Consequently, he usually sounds irenic – compared to the way that Pinker sounds polemical in his new 2018 book. However, Ong tends to use foils to make certain points. For example, he likes to use Plato as a foil at times to make certain points.
In addition, at times, Ong uses the spirit of modern science as a foil to accentuate certain orientations that he wants to emphasize. Nevertheless, despite Ong’s longstanding critique of the spirit of modern science, I do not think that he would object seriously to Pinker’s celebration of the spirit of modern science, because Ong’s own position does not involve throwing out the baby (modern science) with the bath water. But Ong’s critique enables him to avoid being uncritical of modern science and claims made by scientists.
Now, the spirit of the Enlightenment that Pinker celebrates emerged historically after the Gutenberg printing press emerged in the mid-1450s in Western culture. According to Ong, our contemporary communications media that accentuate sound are now remixing the human sensorium in Western culture, thereby distancing us from the sensory mix out of which the Enlightenment emerged historically. No doubt this emerging new sensory mix in the human psyche contributes to the sense of unease expressed by both the right-wing and the left-wing ideologues discussed by Pinker – and to Pinker’s own sense of unease. Let me explain.
In theory, the critical mass of communications media that accentuate sound impacts and influences people in Western culture, including people in American culture. But this prompts different reactions in different people, depending on their personal affective orientations. Consequently, you could argue that secondary orality is involved, on the one hand, in prompting various left-wing ideologues and, on the other hand, in prompting various right-wing ideologues. In addition, secondary orality is involved in prompting Pinker and me and perhaps others to say, “A plague on both your houses” to the left-wing and right-wing ideologues. But there is a catch in play here. Pinker invokes the Enlightenment. But our contemporary secondary orality has superseded the cultural matrix out of which the Enlightenment emerged historically. Consequently, we are not going back to any idealized moment in our Western cultural history.
Nevertheless, as a thought experiment, let’s imagine that Pinker had drawn the inspiration for the title of his new book from the Renaissance humanist St. Thomas More’s Utopia (1516) and had titled his new book Utopia Now: Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. This title would involve borrowing More’s title for an imaginative vision of the future. Granted, Pinker prefers secular humanism, as distinct from the theistic humanism that More preferred. Nevertheless, the title Utopia Now would clarify that Pinker is setting forth his own imaginative vision of the future, not nostalgically invoking a backward-looking idealized moment in our Western cultural history. In our American tradition, Edward Bellamy wrote the widely read utopian novel Looking Backward: 2000-1887 (1888). I mention Bellamy’s novel because it strikes me that Pinker wants to have the kind of influence among book-reading Americans that Bellamy’s utopian novel had. But can Pinker be influential?
Now, Ong died in August 2003. To celebrate his life, the University of Chicago Press arranged to reissue Ong’s 1958 book Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue: From the Art of Discourse to the Art of Reason in a new paperback edition in 2004 with a new foreword by Adrian Johns of the University of Chicago, author of the book The Nature of the Book: Print and Knowledge in the Making (University of Chicago Press, 1998). In his new foreword to Ong’s reissued book, Johns says, “It is hard to imagine how different our sense of the ‘printing revolution’ of early modern Europe would be without Ong’s pioneering researches. And in consequence, it is hard to imagine how different our sense of ourselves might be” (page xii). “Amen,” I say to that.
The text on the back cover of the 2004 paperback edition of Ong’s book says, “A key influence on Marshall McLuhan, with whom Ong enjoys that status of honorary guru among technophiles, this challenging study remains the most detailed account of Ramus’ method ever published.” No doubt it is a challenging study. No doubt it was a key influence on McLuhan’s 1962 book.
But I am not sure what the “status of honorary guru among technophiles” means. You see, if we were to imagine a technophobe/technophile spectrum with a mid-point, McLuhan would be to the technophobe side of the mid-point; and Ong, to the technophile side, although he is not uncritical of technology.
In addition to differing from one another in this respect, Ong and McLuhan differ from one another in another significant way. As noted, Ong refers to our contemporary communications media that accentuate sound as collectively representing secondary orality, not primary orality. But McLuhan regularly refers to them as representing primary orality. But so what – what difference does this make? McLuhan’s view represents a cyclic view of cultural history – cyclicism, for short. But Ong does not subscribe to cyclicism. On the contrary, he explicitly sees his basic view as evolutionary in spirit.
However, Pinker shows no sign of being familiar with Ong’s technology thesis, as I would style Ong’s thesis about our Western cultural history. In my estimate, what I style Pinker’s thesis about progress is not necessarily incompatible with Ong’s technology thesis.
Ong himself describes what I am here styling his technology thesis as relationist in orientation, but not reductive. He says that his thesis “is sweeping, but it is not reductionist, as reviewers and commentators, so far as I know, have all generously recognized. [The thesis does] not maintain that the evolution from primary orality through writing and print to electronic culture, which produces secondary orality, causes or explains everything in human culture and consciousness. Rather, the thesis is relationist: major developments, and very likely even all major developments, in culture and consciousness are related, often in unexpected intimacy, to the evolution of the word from primary orality to its present state. But the relationships are varied and complex, with cause and effect often difficult to distinguish.” Quoted from Ong’s preface to his book Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture (Cornell University Press, 1977, pages 9-10).
Major developments would include modern science, modern capitalism, modern democracy, the Industrial Revolution, and the Romantic Movement in philosophy and the arts. But I would paraphrase Ong’s “relationist” orientation here by saying that he is drawing attention to contributing factors and interactive factors (his Interfaces). Nevertheless, the contributing factors leave wiggle room for human creativity and free decision making.
Ong develops his technology thesis not only in his 1958 book, but also in his book Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology: Studies in the Interaction of Expression and Culture (Cornell University Press, 1971).
Ong himself succinctly details his technology thesis in his most widely known book Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (Methuen, 1982), which Ong was commissioned to write for the New Accents series in literary studies.
As Renaissance specialists, Ong and McLuhan were familiar enough with our ancient Greek heritage that they quickly recognized how the classicist Eric A. Havelock’s book Preface to Plato (Belknap Press/ Harvard University Press, 1963) enriched the technology thesis that Ong, in effect, advanced in his 1958 book and that McLuhan, in effect, further advanced in his 1962 book. Ong’s review of Havelock’s 1963 book is reprinted in An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry (2002, pages 309-312), mentioned above. Ong never tired of referring to Havelock’s 1963 book.
As Renaissance specialists, Ong and McLuhan were also familiar with our ancient Hebrew heritage. But they did not live long enough to see James L. Kugel’s new book The Great Shift: Encountering God in Biblical Times (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017). But the great shift that Kugel writes about in connection with biblical times can be related to the great shift that Havelock writes about in connection with ancient Greek philosophical thought. Indeed, this kind of relating would be consonant with Ong’s relationist thesis.
As I noted above, I admittedly indulged in utopian fantasy by imagining that Lonergan’s philosophical thought might be widely grasped by a significant percentage of Americans. It would be equally utopian for me to imagine that Ong’s thought might be widely grasped by a significant percentage of Americans.
Concerning Ong’s 400 or so publications, see Thomas M. Walsh’s “Walter J. Ong, S.J.: A Bibliography 1929-2006” in the book Language, Culture, and Identity: The Legacy of Walter J. Ong, S.J., edited by Sara van den Berg and Walsh (Hampton Press, 2011, pages 185-245).
In any event, even though neither Ong nor Lonergan is tainted by Marxist ideology, as certain academics today are, neither of them argues in detail against both right-wing and left-wing ideologues, as Pinker does. But I do not expect the right-wing or the left-wing ideologues themselves to be persuaded by Pinker’s criticisms. Even though both right-wing ideologues and left-wing ideologues tend to be vociferous in advocating their respective arguments, they tend to be impervious to counter-arguments.
In conclusion, Pinker alerts young people today to the shortcomings of certain claims made by right-wing and left-wing ideologues. Nevertheless, he is not himself a deep thinker compared to Ong and Lonergan. Consequently, I would urge young people today to study Ong’s all-important 1958 book and Lonergan’s 1957 philosophical masterpiece – as McLuhan did before he wrote his controversial 1962 book. Ah, but couldn’t Pinker study Ong’s 1958 book and Lonergan’s 1957 philosophical masterpiece, as McLuhan did? In theory, yes, he could. However, as I noted above, I suspect that Ong and Lonergan are anathema to Pinker.
“…. I will show that this bleak assessment of the state of the world is wrong. …. I will present a different understanding of the world, grounded in fact and inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment: reason, science, humanism, and progress.”
The book starts with three chapters that explain the Enlightenment, some basic science, and the counter-Enlightenment. The majority of the books, seventeen chapters, deal with progress in life, health, sustenance, wealth, inequality, the environment, peace, safety terrorism, equal rights, knowledge, quality of life and happiness. The final three chapters deal with reason, science and humanism in our world.
First, Pinker asks: What is the Enlightenment? He starts with Immanuel Kant’s 1784 definition:
“Enlightenment is man's release from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is man's inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! "Have courage to use your own reason!" -- that is the motto of enlightenment.” 
Of course, if the Enlightenment was so great, why aren’t all human problems solved? Pinker says:
“And if you’re committed to progress, you can’t very well claim to have it all figured out. It takes nothing away from the Enlightenment thinkers to identify some critical ideas about the human condition and the nature of progress that we know and they didn’t. Those ideas, I suggest, are entropy, evolution, and information.”
Pinker next explains entropy, evolution, and information. I found this chapter a bit hard to grasp. Perhaps my engineering background causes me to yearn for straightforward definitions. Let’s say that entropy is the tendency towards disorder (such as my office) and that energy is required to counteract entropy. A brief synopsis of Pinker’s description:
[Entropy]“Living things are made of organs that have heterogeneous parts which are uncannily shaped and arranged to do things that keep the organism alive (that is, continuing to absorb energy to resist entropy).”
[Evolution]“The replicating systems would compete for the material to make their copies and the energy to power the replication. Since no copying process is perfect—the Law of Entropy sees to that—errors will crop up, and though most of these mutations will degrade the replicator (entropy again), occasionally dumb luck will throw one up that’s more effective at replicating, and its descendants will swamp the competition.”
“Information may be thought of as a reduction in entropy—as the ingredient that distinguishes an orderly, structured system from the vast set of random, useless ones.” 
Here’s a summary of why we should care about entropy, evolution, and information:
“Getting back to evolution, a brain wired by information in the genome to perform computations on information coming in from the senses could organize the animal’s behavior in a way that allowed it to capture energy and resist entropy. …. Energy channeled by knowledge is the elixir with which we stave off entropy, and advances in energy capture are advances in human destiny.” 
Next chapter, there are some details of the counter-Enlightenment. Pinker provides four alternatives:
1. Religious faith
2. “People are the expendable cells of a superorganism…”
3. [declinism] “One form of declinism bemoans our Promethean dabbling with technology.”
4. [scientism] “… the intrusion of science into the territory of the humanities ….
A brief summary of why the counter-Enlightenment should be transcended:
“Our greatest enemies are ultimately not our political adversaries but entropy, evolution (in the form of pestilence and the flaws in human nature), and most of all ignorance—a shortfall of knowledge of how best to solve our problems.”
The majority of “Enlightenment Now” deals with progress in many areas of human life. Here are a few of my most significant findings from Pinker’s extensive research, supported by much data.
“ … in spite of burgeoning numbers, the developing world is feeding itself. Vulnerability to famine appears to have been virtually eradicated from all regions outside Africa.” . … “Famine as an endemic problem in Asia and Europe seems to have been consigned to history.” …
“Once the secrets to growing food in abundance are unlocked and the infrastructure to move it around is in place, the decline of famine depends on the decline of poverty, war, and autocracy.” 
“Among the brainchildren of the Enlightenment is the realization that wealth is created. It is created primarily by knowledge and cooperation: networks of people arrange matter into improbable but useful configurations and combine the fruits of their ingenuity and labor. The corollary, just as radical, is that we can figure out how to make more of it.”
…. “Also, technology doesn’t just improve old things; it invents new ones. How much did it cost in 1800 to purchase a refrigerator, a musical recording, a bicycle, a cell phone, Wikipedia, a photo of your child, a laptop and printer, a contraceptive pill, a dose of antibiotics? The answer is: no amount of money in the world. The combination of better products and new products makes it almost impossible to track material well-being across the decades and centuries. “ 
“Inequality is not the same as poverty, and it is not a fundamental dimension of human flourishing.”
… “As globalization and technology have lifted billions out of poverty and created a global middle class, international and global inequality have decreased, at the same time that they enrich elites whose analytical, creative, or financial impact has global reach. The fortunes of the lower classes in developed countries have not improved nearly as much, but they have improved,….” 
“The key idea is that environmental problems, like other problems, are solvable, given the right knowledge. …. humanity is not on an irrevocable path to ecological suicide.”
“An enlightened environmentalism recognizes that humans need to use energy to lift themselves out of the poverty to which entropy and evolution consign them.” 
“Homo sapiens, “knowing man,” is the species that uses information to resist the rot of entropy and the burdens of evolution. ….
But some of the causal pathways vindicate the values of the Enlightenment. So much changes when you get an education!
• They are less racist, sexist, xenophobic, homophobic, and authoritarian.
• They place a higher value on imagination, independence, and free speech.
For all these reasons, the growth of education—and its first dividend, literacy—is a flagship of human progress.” 
[The Future of Progress]
“Ever since the Enlightenment and the invention of science, we’ve managed to create a tiny bit more than we’ve destroyed each year. But that few percent positive difference is compounded over decades into what we might call civilization. . . . [Progress] is a self-cloaking action seen only in retrospect. Which is why I tell people that my great optimism of the future is rooted in history.”
Hans Rosling, who, when asked whether he was an optimist, replied, “I am not an optimist. I’m a very serious possibilist.” 
The final part of “Enlightenment Now” explains the importance of reason, science, and humanism. Pinker makes a strong case for the use of reason in explaining the world. Here’s a brief selection of why reason matters:
“Making reason the currency of our discourse begins with clarity about the centrality of reason itself.”
“The human brain is capable of reason, given the right circumstances; the problem is to identify those circumstances and put them more firmly in place.”
“People understand concepts only when they are forced to think them through, to discuss them with others, and to use them to solve problems. A second impediment to effective teaching is that pupils don’t spontaneously transfer what they learned from one concrete example to others in the same abstract category.” 
Pinker advocates that science is the best tool humanity has to understand the world. Here is his explanation of what distinguishes science from other exercises of reason:
“All the methods are pressed into the service of two ideals, and it is these ideals that advocates of science want to export to the rest of intellectual life.
1. The first is that the world is intelligible.
2. The second ideal is that we must allow the world to tell us whether our ideas about it are correct.
When scientists are pressed to explain how they do this, they usually reach for Karl Popper’s model of conjecture and refutation, in which a scientific theory may be falsified by empirical tests but is never confirmed.” 
The final chapter of the book is an explanation of humanism, why it matters, and how it should be substituted for religion in the modern world. Here are some of Pinker’s explanations of humanism:
“Spinoza: “Those who are governed by reason desire nothing for themselves which they do not also desire for the rest of humankind.” Progress consists of deploying knowledge to allow all of humankind to flourish in the same way that each of us seeks to flourish. The goal of maximizing human flourishing—life, health, happiness, freedom, knowledge, love, richness of experience—may be called humanism.”
“There is a growing movement called Humanism, which promotes a non-supernatural basis for meaning and ethics: good without God.”
Pinker addresses many of the deficits of religion in this chapter. It’s not really possible for me to synopsize all his arguments but here one quote that stuck in my mind:
“To begin with, the alternative to “religion” as a source of meaning is not “science.” No one ever suggested that we look to ichthyology or nephrology for enlightenment on how to live, but rather to the entire fabric of human knowledge, reason, and humanistic values, of which science is a part.”
One issue I see, current representations of all of human knowledge aren’t in a holistic framework that cover “entire fabric of human knowledge” that’s accessible to most humanity. It would be useful to have an accessible form of humanism, the closest that I’m aware of are Unitarian Universalists.
To summarize, “Enlightenment Now” makes a strong case, using data, references and cogent explanations, that life is improving for most of humanity. As Pinker asserts:
“As always, the only way to know which way the world is going is to quantify.” 
The author makes a strong case that reason and science are the root cause for the progress of human life across many dimensions. In contrast, while Pinker well explains the importance of humanism, in the end, I’m not sure how to truly put humanism into practice in my life and community. That said, “Enlightenment Now” is a profound and encouraging book. I agree with Pinker:
“We will never have a perfect world, and it would be dangerous to seek one. But there is no limit to the betterments we can attain if we continue to apply knowledge to enhance human flourishing.” 
 As quoted in “Enlightenment Now”, Part III
 “Enlightenment Now”, Preface.
 Kant, Immanuel. "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?" (Was ist
Äufklarung?), 30 September, 1784. Pinker translates the Latin “Sapere aude!” as “Dare to understand!” Instead of “Have courage to use your own reason!"
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 2. I’d note that the majority of living things are single cell organisms but that doesn’t change Pinker’s observation.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 3.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 3.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 7.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 8.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 9.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 10.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 16.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 20.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 21.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 22.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 23.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 23.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 14.
 “Enlightenment Now”, Chapter 23.
Top reviews from other countries
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.
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.
It's an especially good read for those of us who like to see religion and simplistic tribal politics get a kicking ...