Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
If you follow the headlines, the world appears to be sinking into chaos, hatred, and irrationality. But this is an illusion: a symptom of historical amnesia and statistical fallacies. If you follow the trend lines, you discover that our lives have become longer, healthier, safer, richer, happier, and more peaceful—not just in the West, but worldwide. This progress is no accident. It is the gift of a set of ideas that many of us embrace without even realizing it. These are the ideals of the Enlightenment: reason, science, and humanism. They impel us to use our faculties of reason and sympathy to solve the problems that inevitably come with being products of evolution in an indifferent universe.
The challenges we face today are formidable, including climate change and nuclear weapons. But the way to deal with them is not to moan that we’re doomed or to lurch back to a mythical age of greatness. It’s to treat them as problems to solve, as we have solved other problems in the past. We will never have a perfect world, but we can continue to make a better world.
Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist who conducts research in visual cognition, psycholinguistics, and social relations. He grew up in Montreal and earned his BA from McGill and his PhD from Harvard. Currently Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard, he has also taught at Stanford and MIT. He has won numerous prizes for his research, his teaching, and his ten books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Sense of Style. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Humanist of the Year, a recipient of nine honorary doctorates, and one of Foreign Policy’s “World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals” and Time’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” He is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and writes frequently for The New York Times, The Guardian, and other publications. His latest book is called Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.
One of the most well-known thinkers of the Enlightenment in Europe was Denis Diderot. Brush up on your French and explore Diderot’s philosophy and perspective on the eighteenth-century world in works such as Collection complette des oeuvres philosophiques, littéraires et dramatiques de M. Diderot (1773) and Encyclopédie, ou, Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751-1765), which he co-edited with Jean Le Rond D’Alembert.