Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pinker's new book promotes humanism

Harvard Jewish atheist psychologist Steven Pinker has a new book out about everything good can be credited to rationalist atheist Enlightenment thinkers a few centuries ago. They taught us that it is good to live in peace and harmony, and rescued us from the tyranny of narrow-minded Christians.

He writes a British summary:
The idea of a universal human nature brings us to a third theme, humanism. The thinkers of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment saw an urgent need for a secular foundation for morality, because they were haunted by a historical memory of centuries of religious carnage: the Crusades, the Inquisition, witch-hunts, the European wars of religion.

They laid that foundation in what we now call humanism, which privileges the wellbeing of individual men, women, and children over the glory of the tribe, race, nation or religion. It is individuals, not groups, who are sentient – who feel pleasure and pain, fulfillment and anguish. Whether it is framed as the goal of providing the greatest happiness for the greatest number or as a categorical imperative to treat people as ends rather than means, it was the universal capacity of a person to suffer and flourish, they said, that called on our moral concern.

Fortunately, human nature prepares us to answer that call. That is because we are endowed with the sentiment of sympathy, which they also called benevolence, pity and commiseration. Given that we are equipped with the capacity to sympathise with others, nothing can prevent the circle of sympathy from expanding from the family and tribe to embrace all of humankind, particularly as reason goads us into realising that there can be nothing uniquely deserving about ourselves or any of the groups to which we belong. We are forced into cosmopolitanism: accepting our citizenship in the world.
Also in the WSJ:
To what do we owe this progress? Does the universe contain a historical dialectic or arc bending toward justice? The answer is less mysterious: The Enlightenment is working. Our ancestors replaced dogma, tradition and authority with reason, debate and institutions of truth-seeking. They replaced superstition and magic with science. And they shifted their values from the glory of the tribe, nation, race, class or faith toward universal human flourishing.
So Pinker is a universalist egalitarian leftist who believes that he should sympathize with people on the other side of the world as much as his own family.

Pinker has no kids. He is married to a woman philosopher with no kids.

I am all for using reason and evidence, but this is kindergarten morality. Reason leads me to favor my family, tribe, and nation over others.

Even if you favor all those supposedly enlightened liberal values, most of the rest of the world does not. Helping the rest of the world means undermining those values.

Pinker complains about the Crusades, but he does not get to the heart of why the European Enlightenment was superior to what was happening in the Islamic world. An essential part was that the Christians were willing to fight wars to keep the Moslems out of Europe. That was far more important than the ramblings of those Jewish/Atheist thinkers that Pinker likes to cite.

He says that he favors a humanism that privileges individuals over groups, but has any great civilization ever been built with such thinking? Or without waging wars against enemies?

Bill Gates recommends Pinker's book. I haven't seen it. It probably has a lot of legitimate facts about how modern life is good, but his theorizing about causality is questionable.

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