I begin where Pinker ended.

Life is better than death, health is better than sickness, abundance is better than want freedom is better than coercion, happiness is better than suffering, knowledge is better than superstition and ignorance.

If you find these statements to be true, then Enlightenment Now is for you. Pinker uses this long, carefully-annotated and researched book to show that in all these areas – life, health, abundance, freedom, happiness, and knowledge – the world has gotten better since the Enlightenment. And that’s no coincidence. For hundreds of thousands of years, human beings struggled to make their lives safer, happier, freer from pain, and almost all failed. Only when we began applying the ideas of the Enlightenment did we make real and sustained progress in these areas.

What are those ideas? Pinker lays them out in chapter 1:

Reason – The belief in reason does not depend on humans being perfectly reasonable thinkers. Far from it. “The deliberate application of reason was necessary because our common habits of thought are not particularly reasonable.” We failed to make progress for so long precisely because reason does not come naturally. When we consciously make the choice to apply reason to our thinking, we make progress possible.

Science – As Richard Feynman said, science is the process we use to keep from fooling ourselves. Science is not a set of facts; rather, it is a way of examining the world.

Humanism – By recognizing individuals – not nations, tribes, ethnic groups, and so on – as the units of humanity, we discover purpose and meaning.

Progress – This book is not so much a history of the Enlightenment thinkers – in fact, it’s hardly that at all. The Enlightenment thinkers had some terrible ideas – and that’s the point! Progress means that all ideas are up for scrutiny, revision, and improvement. We are better today because the tradition of the Enlightenment encourages us to question the past. Progress is possible; we can get better. And we have.

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