Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker
  • Title: Enlightenment Now
  • Subtitle: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress
  • Author(s): Steven Pinker
  • Publisher: Penguin UK
  • Year: 2018-02-13
  • ISBN-10: 0141979100
  • ISBN-13: 9780141979106


In “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” renowned cognitive scientist Steven Pinker presents a captivating and thought-provoking exploration of the progress humanity has made over the centuries. Drawing from a wealth of data and research, Pinker argues that despite the prevailing perception of doom and gloom, the world is actually becoming a better place. He illustrates how human reason, scientific advancements, and humanistic values have been instrumental in promoting progress and improving the overall well-being of individuals across the globe.

Pinker begins by providing a historical and philosophical foundation, outlining how the Enlightenment period catalyzed the pursuit of reason, science, and humanism as guiding principles. He highlights how these principles, when applied correctly, have led to significant advancements in areas such as education, healthcare, poverty reduction, and environmental awareness. Pinker also sheds light on the positive impact of technology, debunking common fears and demonstrating how it has played a crucial role in empowering individuals and fostering global connectivity.

Throughout the book, Pinker analyzes various domains such as happiness, health, safety, democracy, and knowledge, meticulously examining statistics and trends to underscore his argument. He presents data that supports a decline in violence, including homicides and wars, while emphasizing the importance of democracy and human rights in sustaining progress. Pinker acknowledges challenges and setbacks but argues that by embracing reason, ongoing scientific research, and an appreciation for humanistic values, we can continue to improve and shape a more enlightened future.

In “Enlightenment Now,” Steven Pinker delivers a comprehensive and highly persuasive case for the power of reason, science, humanism, and progress. Through a compelling examination of historical trends and empirical data, Pinker establishes a compelling narrative: that humanity has made significant strides in improving the world, and this progress should be celebrated, acknowledged, and used as inspiration for continued advancements. With its optimistic outlook and evidence-based approach, this book challenges prevailing pessimism and offers a refreshing perspective on the potential of human endeavors to shape a better world.


Book Review

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress

Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker is a compelling and meticulously researched book that challenges prevailing notions of a gloomy and stagnant world. Pinker, a renowned cognitive scientist and author, draws upon a vast array of data, historical analysis, and philosophical discourse to make a powerful case for the virtues of reason, science, humanism, and progress. Throughout the book’s pages, Pinker masterfully argues that by embracing these principles, humanity has the potential to continue improving the world, shaping a brighter future for all.

Pinker begins by exploring the historical backdrop of the Enlightenment period, a time when reason, science, and humanism sparked a revolution of ideas. This foundation acts as a launching pad for Pinker to showcase the vast improvements that have occurred across an array of metrics, such as healthcare, education, life expectancy, and poverty reduction. He backs his claims with an avalanche of data, providing readers with a wealth of information and concrete examples. For instance, he presents the remarkable decline in global poverty rates from around 90% in 1820 to less than 10% in recent years, shining a light on the advancements humanity has achieved in eliminating extreme poverty.

One of the book’s overarching themes is the importance of scientific progress and its impact on improving quality of life. Pinker stresses the incredible advancements in health and longevity made possible through scientific discoveries and medical innovations. He illustrates this with examples such as the decline in infant mortality rates, the eradication or near-eradication of numerous diseases, and the development of life-saving treatments. Throughout these chapters, Pinker reminds readers that the scientific method, with its emphasis on evidence and rational thinking, has been instrumental in propelling progress and overcoming challenges.

Another significant aspect of the book is Pinker’s examination of violence and security. Contrary to popular belief, he argues convincingly that the world is becoming less violent and safer over time. Drawing on quantitative data and historical analysis, Pinker demonstrates that violence, including homicides, warfare, and terrorist attacks, has steadily decreased throughout history. He emphasizes the importance of democratic institutions, human rights, and rule of law in helping to ensure a peaceful society. By delving into historical records and global trends, Pinker challenges the prevailing narrative of an increasingly dangerous world, instead portraying a more nuanced perspective that recognizes the progress achieved.

Pinker explores various domains of progress, such as happiness, knowledge, and environmental concerns. He debunks preconceived notions and highlights the positive developments driven by reason, science, and humanistic values. For instance, he discusses how access to education has expanded globally, leading to increased literacy rates and a more informed population. Pinker also addresses concerns about the environment, adding a dimension of hope by showcasing the advancements in renewable energy, environmental awareness, and global cooperation to combat climate change. His comprehensive analysis provides readers with a balanced understanding of the challenges we face while maintaining an optimistic outlook.

While Pinker’s argument is compelling and his mastery of data impressive, one could argue that he occasionally downplays existing challenges and complexities. However, this seems to be a deliberate narrative choice to counterbalance prevailing pessimism and highlight the progress that often goes unnoticed. Additionally, some may find the quantity of data potentially overwhelming, although Pinker convincingly organizes and presents the information.

In conclusion, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress is a thought-provoking and well-researched book that challenges pessimism and presents a case for optimism. Steven Pinker’s ability to weave together data, historical analysis, and philosophical insights creates a compelling narrative that celebrates the achievements of humanity while acknowledging the work that still needs to be done. By emphasizing the role of reason, science, and humanism, Pinker inspires readers to embrace the potential of progress and actively contribute to shaping a brighter future. This book is a must-read for anyone seeking a counterbalance to prevailing narratives of decline and a refreshing perspective on the potential of human endeavors.

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By examining a range of metrics, from health and education to peace and prosperity, I argue that the principles of reason, science, and humanism have led to unprecedented advancements. This book serves as a defense of the Enlightenment ideals and a call to embrace the rational pursuit of knowledge for the betterment of society.

Key Ideas

In “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress,” Steven Pinker presents several key ideas that shape the overall argument of the book. These ideas are central to Pinker’s case for embracing reason, science, humanism, and progress as guiding principles in improving our world.

  1. The Power of Progress Pinker challenges the prevalent notion that the world is spiraling into chaos and decline. Through extensive data analysis and historical examination, he asserts that humanity has made significant progress across various domains, including health, education, poverty reduction, and violence reduction. Pinker argues that progress should be acknowledged and celebrated, as it provides the foundation for future advancements.

  2. The Role of Reason and Science Pinker advocates for the power of reason and the scientific method in driving progress. He highlights how rational thinking, empirical evidence, and critical inquiry have led to remarkable discoveries and advancements in fields such as medicine, technology, and environmental sustainability. Pinker emphasizes the importance of applying reason and scientific principles to address complex global challenges.

  3. Humanism as a Moral Compass Pinker argues for the value of humanism, which centers on the importance of human well-being, individual rights, and human flourishing. He asserts that embracing humanistic values, such as empathy, reason, and ethical conduct, can drive progress and promote a more just and compassionate society. Pinker calls for an emphasis on humanistic ethics, rather than dogmatic ideologies, to guide decision-making and policy formulation.

  4. Optimism and the Enlightenment Mindset Throughout the book, Pinker encourages adopting an optimistic outlook based on evidence and reason. He argues that the principles of the Enlightenment, which emphasized reason, science, and progress, are powerful tools for improving our world. Pinker suggests that by embracing the Enlightenment mindset, we can overcome challenges, fuel progress, and shape a brighter future for humanity.

  5. Challenges and the Need for Continuous Effort Although Pinker highlights the progress already achieved, he acknowledges that numerous challenges persist. He emphasizes that progress is not inevitable, and it requires ongoing effort, critical thinking, and collective action to overcome obstacles and maintain a trajectory of improvement.

Overall, “Enlightenment Now” presents a persuasive case for the power of reason, science, humanism, and progress. Pinker argues that by embracing these principles, humanity can build on the progress made, address existing challenges, and create a future marked by continuous improvement and the well-being of all individuals.


Target Audience

The book “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress” by Steven Pinker is targeted at a wide and diverse audience interested in topics related to progress, philosophy, social sciences, and contemporary issues. The book is recommended reading for the following audiences:

  • General Readers “Enlightenment Now” offers a compelling and accessible exploration of the progress humanity has made and the potential for further improvement. It presents a balanced and data-driven perspective that challenges prevailing pessimism, making it an engaging read for those interested in understanding the state of the world and the potential for positive change.

  • Advocates of Rational Thinking The book appeals to individuals who value reason and evidence-based decision-making. Pinker’s emphasis on the role of reason and the scientific method in driving progress will resonate with those who crave a nuanced understanding of how to approach complex problems and make informed choices.

  • Social and Political Activists “Enlightenment Now” provides a framework for understanding the positive impact of humanistic values, such as empathy, compassion, and respect for human rights. Activists seeking a solid grounding for their advocacy efforts will find Pinker’s arguments and evidence useful in supporting their cause.

  • Scholars and Researchers The book offers ample data and research, making it valuable reading for academics and researchers in disciplines such as sociology, psychology, political science, and philosophy. Pinker’s analysis of historical trends and statistical evidence contributes to scholarly discussions on progress and the impact of reason, science, and humanism.

  • Educators and Students “Enlightenment Now” serves as a valuable resource for educators and students interested in topics related to social progress, global challenges, and the potential for positive change. Pinker’s engaging writing style, coupled with his comprehensive research, provides a rich foundation for classroom discussions and research assignments.

In conclusion, “Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress” is recommended reading for its broad appeal and relevance to a diverse range of readers. It provides a compelling argument for embracing reason, science, humanism, and progress as guiding principles, and challenges prevailing pessimism. With its accessible style, extensive data analysis, and thought-provoking insights, the book engages readers and encourages critical thinking about the state of the world and the potential for a brighter future.

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