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The Moral Arc: How Science Makes Us Better People First Edition, Kindle Edition
|Length: 558 pages||Word Wise: Enabled||Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled|
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About the Author
“This is one of the best recent books that I have read, and it's the one that I expect to re-read most often. It's an honest, clear account of morality and justice that makes those theoretical concepts come alive as ubiquitous real-life choices. In the process of reading it, you'll learn about wrenching moral dilemmas such as paying ransoms to Somali pirates, maintaining nuclear weapons as deterrents, good people becoming Nazis, and the immorality of the Bible and of the Ten Commandments.” ―Jared Diamond, Pulitzer-prize-winning author of the best-selling books Guns, Germs, and Steel, Collapse, and The World until Yesterday
“I suspect that people will be arguing with Michael Shermer's premise before they read a page: ‘The moral arc is bending toward truth, justice, and freedom? Is he hallucinating? Just look at...' In these cynical times, where right and left foresee disaster and despair (albeit for different reasons), Shermer's monumental opus, spanning centuries, nations, and cultures, is bound to provoke debate and open minds. Exactly what an important work of skepticism, science, and reason should do.” ―Carol Tavris, Ph.D., social psychologist and author of The Mismeasure of Woman and coauthor of Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me)
“A thrilling and fascinating book, which could change your view of human history and human destiny. If you wanted a sequel to The Better Angels of Our Nature, one which explored all of our spheres of moral progress, not just the decline of violence, this is it.” ―Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard University and author of The Blank Slate and The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century
“It is difficult to imagine how the arc of morality can bend toward justice without rational examination of the consequences of one's actions. As Michael Shermer passionately describes in this ambitious, thoroughly researched, yet remarkably accessible work of scholarship, the fabric of modern morality derives not from religion, but in large part from secular notions of rational empiricism. This message needs to be shared more broadly for the good our society, and hopefully this book will do just that.” ―Lawrence M. Krauss, Foundation Professor and Director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University, and bestselling author of A Universe from Nothing and The Physics of Star Trek
“Michael Shermer makes the astonishing claim that science, precisely because of its rational, dispassionate, and enlightened attitude towards revealing the truth, has helped to lay the moral groundwork for modern society, pointing the way to a more just and moral world. Instead of being a passive observer to the dance of history and the evolution of ethics, Shermer makes the outrageous claim that science has in fact been one of the principle actors. Bravo, I say.” ―Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist, author of the best seller The Future of the Mind, and Physics of the Future
“Michael Shermer argues that science, reason, and critical thinking come first; these are the ideas that produce stable, peaceful democracies. He documents and assesses society's successes and failures through the troubled history of humankind--and he's relentless. He connects the arc of the rise of reason and science with a country's economic success, and the overall worldwide decline in violence and suppression of our fellow humans, especially women. If you are religious, have a look. Shermer takes your faith to task and celebrates science as a path to the better moral future that citizens everywhere long for.” ―Bill Nye, The Science Guy, CEO, The Planetary Society
“The Moral Arc displays the impressive depth of Michael Shermer's scholarship, wisdom and empathetic humanity, and it climaxes in a visionary flight of futuristic optimism. A memorable book, a book to recommend and discuss late into the night.” ―Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion
- Language: : English
- ASIN : B00LDR38LC
- File size : 7970 KB
- Print length : 558 pages
- Publisher : Henry Holt and Co.; First edition (January 20, 2015)
- Publication date : January 20, 2015
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Page numbers source ISBN : 0805096914
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #488,256 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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Shermer's point is this: "I argue that most of the moral development of the past several centuries has been the result of secular not religious forces, and that the most important of these that emerged from the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment are science and reason... Further, I demonstrate that the arc of the moral universe bends not merely toward justice, but also toward truth and freedom, and that these positive outcomes have largely been the product of societies moving toward more secular forms of governance and politics, law and jurisprudence, moral reasoning and ethical analysis."
Here, here! However, there are times when Shermer's modernity bias comes through. He writes, "For tens of millennia moral regress best described our species..." But laws that sought greater justice go all the way back to Sumer's Ur-nammu ca. 2150 BC, and likely to innovation of the city ca. 3500 BC when living in numbers contained by close quarters demanded it. Morality evolved. It seems to have been accelerated by Enlightenment, not born there. Shermer says, "It is the individual who is the primary moral agent—not the group, tribe, race, gender, state, nation, empire, society, or any other collective—because it is the individual who survives and flourishes, or who suffers and dies...Historically, immoral abuses have been most rampant, and body counts have run the highest, when the individual is sacrificed for the good of the group." The Amish remain my favored example of a true community that fights death by individualism, where it is that very community that provides its members meaning, purpose, and reference, not autonomy. Shermer contradicts himself by condemning all collectives because of the egregious errors of some, while he notes earlier that we can't write off science for what he sees as the error of Nagasaki. And was Hitler the outcome of community or individual fanaticism gone mad?
For me, this book will remain a rich source of analysis for comparing Shermer's full embrace of modernity with Chantal Delsol's indictment of Enlightenment's spiritual carnage in her "Icarus Fallen." Somewhere there must be a sustainable middle ground.
But there is another message I haven't seen anyone say: Look at the notes in the back and check out the resources Shermer cited in the text. This book is just the beginning of a great dive into the topic. Those citations are like binge-watching a great TV series. This book opens a door onto a big world of historical and new learning. I encourage you to walk through that door.
Top reviews from other countries
Shermer shows very little open-mindedness or (at least on some issues) engagement with opposing views. While quite sincerely outraged by some genuine human rights abuses, Shermer seems unconcerned by no less genuine outrages happening all around him. The tortoise-versus-goat Galapagos Islands issue is a "morally dumbfounding problem", but opposition to abortion is boringly introduced as all about male control. No grasp of what abortion really means for women or fetuses and no mention of forced abortion and gendercide responsible for millions more men than women in some parts of the world.
Shermer can't seem to make up his mind whether human rights are absolute (in many of his better moments he does seem to think that) or whether all moral precepts are provisional. Even on something he has serious qualms about such as nuclear warfare he not only defends Hiroshima/Nagasaki as the least immoral option but even speaks approvingly of a nuclear accord permitting nuking simply in retaliation for first use.
On religion, bigoted in ways too numerous to mention, with tone-deaf handling of biblical material - not just difficult Old Testament material but New Testament material a more open-minded person would approach in a less bumptious spirit. He even makes up a quote from Jesus re the episode where Mary wants to see him (and no doubt did eventually), "Send her away, you are my family now." Callow astonishment at Jesus' admonition that looking at a woman with lust is a sin; ludicrous objection to more than one of the Ten Commandments that they "violate the First Amendment."
Believing that your own religion is correct Shermer thinks "inexorably" leads to the conclusion that anyone who believes differently is "unprotected by our moral obligations". He attributes to the Enlightenment the Christian interpretation of our neighbour as 'everybody' - has he never read the Good Samaritan parable specifically in answer to the query "Who, then, is my neighbour?"
Morally, for Christians God decides when everyone passes to the next life but there are some things, at least, that God would not command, whatever human beings may command in his name. Yes, there's genuinely very difficult stuff in the Old Testament - but most serious Christian commentators don't assume either that the entire Old Testament is meant historically not allegorically or that everything mentioned as done or every thought recorded (from David, from Solomon or whoever) is supposed to be divinely approved. Or that every directive Moses gives is God-commanded (Jesus' words on divorce in fact suggest the reverse).
To sum up: Shermer is a lightweight, very bigoted author who shouldn't be taken too seriously, despite some genuinely nice sociological/criminological vignettes. An enthusiastic nerd who looks forward at the end of the book to a wonderful future communicating with aliens and populating far-off planets (dare I say it, transferred religious impulse?) If you want a popular introduction to some of the issues Shermer covers try Christopher Kaczor's 7 Myths book for a different perspective - not perfect but infinitely superior to Shermer and with some humility and grace.