Repost-Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Full review here.

The 1st and last paragraphs of Blackburn’s review:

When the hoary old question of nature versus nurture comes around, sides form quickly. And as Leavis once remarked, whenever this is so, we can suspect that the differences have little to do with thinking. Still, the question certainly obsesses thinkers, and crops up in various terminologies and under various rubrics:  human essence versus historical accident, intrinsic nature versus social construction, nativism versus empiricism. In the ancient world the nativist Plato held that we come into the world equipped with knowledge obtained in a previous life, while the empiricist Aristotle denied it. In our own time Chomsky has revived the nativist doctrine that our capacity for language is innate, and some ultras have even held that our whole conceptual repertoire is innate. We did not ever have to learn anything. We had only to let loose what we already have.

and:

‘Once we get past the demonizing and the rhetoric, take proper notice of the space between overt psychology and evolutionary rationale for it, and lose any phobia of cultural phenomena, what is left? There are plenty of sensible and plausible observations about human beings in Pinker’s book. But it is not clear that any of them are particularly new: Hobbes and Adam Smith give us more than anybody else. And at least their insights have stood the test of time, unlike that of some more recent work. Consider again the example of media violence. Here it seems that psychologists cannot speak with one voice about its effects. But worse than that, much worse, they cannot even speak with one voice about what psychological studies find about its effects. That is, the meta-studies that Pinker cites flatly disagree with the meta-studies that I mentioned earlier. If this is the state of play, we do well to plead the privilege of skepticism. We also do well too not to jettison other cultural resources too quickly. The depressing thing about “The Blank Slate” is that behind the rhetoric and the salesmanship, I suspect that Pinker knows this as well as anyone else.’

Quite readable.

Related On This Site: Does evo psy have aspirations in creating a sort of secular morality…or non-religious moral and philosophical structure?:  Steven Pinker From The New Republic: The Stupidity Of Dignity…Also, what might the cognitive sciences have against transcedental morality?  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s“Constructive Sentimentalism”

Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’Repost-Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of BooksSimon Blackburn ReviewsAlan Sokal’s ‘Beyond The Hoax’ In The New RepublicRepost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn

A Few Thoughts On Steven Pinker’s Appearance On The Rubin Report

Via a reader, Pinker’s book here.

My current views on Pinker’s four categories, for what they’re worth:

Reason-I’ve been exploring philosophically ideal Oakeshottian ‘modes of experience’ lately.  Our thoughts and basic sensory experiences are intertwined within modes, but these modes are not necessarily connected to a larger, hierarchically arranged superstructure.

‘The modes that Oakeshott identifies in Experience and Its Modes—history, science, and practice, to which he later added “poetry” (art)—are epistemological categories, not ontological ones. And although the modes are mutually exclusive, they do not form a closed set. They are constructions that have emerged over time in human experience. They could change or even disappear and other modes might yet appear.’

I view this approach as particularly useful for the humanities, as it could be tonic for the nihilism, existentialism and post-Romantic, post-Modern individual isolation found throughout the Western World (arts, academies, ‘culture’).  This approach could be especially useful where narrow ideologies and righteous belief go about picking up the slack.

I do think Pinker is properly humble about the influence of reason (it won’t scale to everyone, and only to those of interested in engaging their reason in a direction Pinker might help instruct and with which I find much to agree).

More on Oakeshott’s thinking:

‘The illusion that there are “correct” answers to practical questions Oakeshott called “Rationalism”. It is the belief that practical activity is rational only when it rests on moral or causal laws whose truth can be demonstrated. In Marxism, for example, one encounters the claim that laws of historical change can be discerned scientifically and that practical guidance can be derived from them. But this claim, Oakeshott thought, should be understood as a rhetorical one that presupposes a certain kind of audience: it can be persuasive only for those who already believe that such laws exist and that they dictate correct decisions (Oakeshott 2008: 168–177). The error of Rationalism is to think that making decisions simply requires skill in the technique of applying rules or calculating consequences.’

As a brief aside, Oakeshottian pluralism perhaps doesn’t have much overlap with Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism with regard to political philosophy, but it does remind me of the following: Oppressed individuals may actually have good reasons for change, but it doesn’t necessarily follow that oppressed individuals possess knowledge of the direction nor ends of (H)istory, nor those of (M)an.  In fact, some of the greatest dangers of the 20th century came from individuals believing they knew of such ends while instituting those ends into social and political revolutions.

Berlin:

“Everything is what it is:  liberty is liberty, not equality or justice or fairness or culture, or human happiness or a quiet conscience.  If liberty of myself or my class or my nation depends on the misery of a number of other human beings, the system which promotes this is unjust and immoral.  but if I curtail or lose my freedom in order to lessen the shame of such inequality, and do not thereby materially increase the individual liberty of others, an absolute loss of liberty occurs.”

Food for thought.

Science-I believe the sciences yield the best knowledge we have of the Natural world, and attract some of the best minds, but it takes many years of long practice, hard work and habit to gain a sufficient mental map and the mathematical problem solving skills necessary to advance a field.  Not all sciences are equal, and some social sciences, like psychology, have had serious reproducibility problems of late.

Just as the Oakeshottian critique of ‘rationalism’ display themselves with regard to reason, there is also a critique of ‘scientism‘ on this view.

In the wake of people actually doing science, are many people practicing in a field with scientific elements and varying but respectable degrees of probabilistic accuracy, and further downstream, people with little to no training in the sciences doing something quite different altogether (politics, journalism etc).

There is a reductionism, and a kind of fetishiziation of scientific knowledge around which many gather.  Should one usefully rank order the sciences, a little epistemological humility might still recommend that human knowledge may not all be successfully synthesized into one model nor accounted for within such a model.

Also (I’m sure you’ve probably noticed this, too) smart people, scientists included, are subject to the same blind spots, hubris and group-think as any of the rest of us.  Sometimes smart people are more likely to assume their knowledge in one domain qualifies them for knowledge in another, especially when others pay them a lot of attention.

Humanism & Progress Through Humanist Institutions (The Problem of ‘Isms’)

I wonder if Pinker would accept this definition of Humanism as found here:

“‘…a morally concerned style of intellectual atheism openly avowed by only a small minority of individuals (for example, those who are members of the British Humanist Association) but tacitly accepted by a wide spectrum of educated people in all parts of the Western world.”

Perhaps.

From an interview with Pinker:

Naff: Let’s talk about humanism itself. You say that progress without humanism really isn’t progress at all. And you’ve just made the point that humanism can occupy a place in various different perches. But there is a secular humanist movement that is at the forefront of humanism today.

Lots of other “isms” have faltered because of human foibles, jealousies, power divisions, ideological differences and so on. What makes humanism so special that you single it out as essential to progress?

Pinker: Not so much the humanist movement, although I do endorse it as a valuable development, but rather the overall morality of humanism [is what’s essential], namely that human wellbeing is the ultimate good—and also the wellbeing of other sentient creatures. “Humanism” is a bit of a misnomer in singling out Homo sapiens; it’s a larger commitment to sentient beings.

But the effect of humanistic institutions very much depends on how they organize, how they conduct themselves, how they manage their own affairs. Although they’ve been a force for good, I’m not calling for a blind trust in a particular organization that happens to have “humanist” in their title.

Of course, progress is possible and is actually occuring in many fields and such progress filters down to all of our lives through various channels. Yet, as Pinker notes, it’s not clear what prevents unfalsifiable ideas from becoming ascendant and dominant, and the loudest, most committed ideologues from gaining humanist institutional control through administrative maneuvering and confrontational shakedowns.

The schisms within the Progressive movement, for example, and the radical liberationists often driving the latest moral cause are very interested in making all the world, all the people in the world, and all of our institutions [on top of that], reflect their moral and ideological lights, often through very illiberal means.

How much am I missing?  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Thanks for reading.

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department…

A Few Ken Minogue Quotations on Michael Oakeshott

Pardon My Postmodernese, Fella, But This Here Sure Does Resemble A Lynch Mob

Witch hunt this Sunday!

Clearly many of these peasants are expressing complex emotions in a fluidly dynamic space, reinforcing community standards and exploring boundaries of empathetic inclusion.

Who are you to resist the heat of bodies juxtaposed here, reshaping meta-narratives of dominant and historical power-relationships?

The need for meaning and ritual abounds, and when violence erupts in the name of such need, it’s less of a surprise these days, but no less unacceptable for a free society:

Be careful on Twitter, now.

Perhaps a digital bulletin board with no cost to entry and anonymous handles, governed by unclear standards and what seems to me rather politically biased management, just might amplify the sound and fury of outraged fools.

Should you thank God, or the Watchmaker-God, or the Nothingness, or the Oneness-connecting-all-living-things, or Xenu, or (P)rogress, you’d damned well better resist the Devil, or the devil-take-the-hindmost:

Roger Scruton on the lynch-mobs of social media:

‘What is to be done about this? I have a couple of suggestions. The first is to set up an institution call it the Ministry of Truth in some legally insulated country (oddly enough, Russia springs to mind) devoted to tweeting malicious stories about everyone who is anyone. If everyone becomes a victim of this inherent malice people will begin to see Twitter for what it is,as a tool that easily into the Devil’s hands.’

Addition:  The Devil?

I thought human nature was basically good, made bad by ‘historical forces,’ and ‘systems of oppression’?  Perhaps institutions are only as good as their ideas and the people within them?

You know, concerts like the below make a fella wonder if we’re in good hands.

Fundamental differences of religion, law, ideas and government resulting in murder and civilizational-type clashes?

Bring in James Taylor!:

Dead girls at a pop-concert? Coldplay performing a moving twilight cover of Oasis ought to cover it.  Some sing to remember, some sing to forget.

How are the institutions in the West actually performing?

Much of this may come down to your views on human nature, and from there, which kinds of ideas guide the people within our institutions.  For it is these institutions which shape those people and have serious implications for the rest of us (shaping us too):

On that note, many folks invoking the truth of faith and the necessity of Christian doctrine are in a smaller minority these days, and have some important things to say.  Personally, I’m not clear what is absolutely true and necessary in order to maintain a decent moral life, truth and institutional integrity.

I’d prefer a rebuttal to Pinker’s arguments.

Rod Dreher on Patrick Dineen’s book, and the ever-needy Andrew Sullivan.  The doom that awaits:

‘The reason the brilliant Steven Pinker can’t understand why there is so much unhappiness is because he is a materialist. Patrick Deneen, Andrew Sullivan, and people like us understand otherwise. There is no replacement for the company of other people.’

Related On This Site: Maybe if you’re defending the current conservative position, you don’t want to bring up the ‘aristocratic radical’ : Repost-Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy..

A return to Straussian neo-classicism?: From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’Harvey Mansfield At Defining Ideas: ‘Democracy Without Politics?’

Neo-neo conservatism, new atheism and post socialism for the ’68ers? Via Youtube: Christopher Hitchens On Faith And Virtue

Stanley Fish At The NY Times Blog: ‘The Last Professors: The Corporate Professors And The Fate Of The Humanities’From The Harvard Educational Review-A Review Of Martha Nussbaum’s ‘Cultivating Humanity: A Classical Defense of Reform in Liberal Education.’,,

Roger Scruton In The American Spectator Via A & L Daily: Farewell To Judgment

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism On Moral Virtue, Individual Freedom And Possibilities For Liberal Order

Full piece here.

Religious believers, religious conservatives, traditionalists, Natural Right Straussians and theists are mistaken, on Arnhart’s view, in thinking there are diminishing stores of moral virtue to be found in America, Western nations more broadly, and throughout a global liberal order partially emanating from the Anglosphere.

Perhaps some fusion of Scottish Enlightenment liberal thought (Adam Smith, especially), Lockean natural right, and Darwinian truth claims upon our origins are enough to maintain moral virtue in keeping individuals and ‘us’ upon a glide-path to progress.

Arnhart:

‘A bourgeois liberal society conforms best to human nature, because a liberal open society will secure both natural liberty and natural virtue–the liberty of individuals to develop those moral and intellectual virtues that express that ranking of the generic goods of human nature that constitutes the best life for those individuals.’

On that pesky God question:

‘To the question of why nature exists, or why it has the order that it does, there are only two possible answers. Either we say this is a brute fact of our experience: that’s just the way it is! Or we move beyond nature to nature’s God as the creator of nature, but then we cannot explain why God is the way He is. In looking for an ultimate explanation, we must stop somewhere with something that is unexplained–either an uncaused or self-caused nature or an uncaused or self-caused God.’

Hmmm…

Related On This Site: Are the empirical claims demonstrating continued progress true? To some extent, I think, yes, they are. Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

What about that old Church Of England belief via a lot of German Idealism? Repost-Roger Scruton At The WSJ: ‘Memo To Hawking: There’s Still Room For God’

From Darwinian Conservatism-‘Smith and Strauss on Bourgeois Liberalism and the Philosophic Life’..

What about the Nietzschean influence and its attendant nihilism?:From YouTube: J.P. Stern On Nietzsche Repost-Classical Liberalism Via Friesian.Com-‘Exchange with Tomaz Castello Branco on John Gray’..

How might this relate to the Hegelian/post-Marxist project via ‘The End Of History’: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’…

Is value pluralism really enough?:  A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”…

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Full review here.

The 1st and last paragraphs of Blackburn’s review:

When the hoary old question of nature versus nurture comes around, sides form quickly. And as Leavis once remarked, whenever this is so, we can suspect that the differences have little to do with thinking. Still, the question certainly obsesses thinkers, and crops up in various terminologies and under various rubrics:  human essence versus historical accident, intrinsic nature versus social construction, nativism versus empiricism. In the ancient world the nativist Plato held that we come into the world equipped with knowledge obtained in a previous life, while the empiricist Aristotle denied it. In our own time Chomsky has revived the nativist doctrine that our capacity for language is innate, and some ultras have even held that our whole conceptual repertoire is innate. We did not ever have to learn anything. We had only to let loose what we already have.

and:

‘Once we get past the demonizing and the rhetoric, take proper notice of the space between overt psychology and evolutionary rationale for it, and lose any phobia of cultural phenomena, what is left? There are plenty of sensible and plausible observations about human beings in Pinker’s book. But it is not clear that any of them are particularly new: Hobbes and Adam Smith give us more than anybody else. And at least their insights have stood the test of time, unlike that of some more recent work. Consider again the example of media violence. Here it seems that psychologists cannot speak with one voice about its effects. But worse than that, much worse, they cannot even speak with one voice about what psychological studies find about its effects. That is, the meta-studies that Pinker cites flatly disagree with the meta-studies that I mentioned earlier. If this is the state of play, we do well to plead the privilege of skepticism. We also do well too not to jettison other cultural resources too quickly. The depressing thing about “The Blank Slate” is that behind the rhetoric and the salesmanship, I suspect that Pinker knows this as well as anyone else.’

Quite readable.

Related On This Site: Does evo psy have aspirations in creating a sort of secular morality…or non-religious moral and philosophical structure?:  Steven Pinker From The New Republic: The Stupidity Of Dignity…Also, what might the cognitive sciences have against transcedental morality?  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s“Constructive Sentimentalism”

Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of Knowledge

Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’Repost-Steven Weinberg’s Essay ‘On God’ In The NY Times Review Of BooksSimon Blackburn ReviewsAlan Sokal’s ‘Beyond The Hoax’ In The New RepublicRepost-From Virtual Philosophy: A Brief Interview With Simon Blackburn

From Larry Arnhart At Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Does the Moral Flynn Effect Support Flynn’s Democratic Socialism or Murray’s Classical Liberalism?’

Full post here.

Readers may recall the James Flynn/Charles Murray debate about IQ a while back.  More on that Flynn Effect.

The nub of the argument as Arnhart sees it, in terms of political philosophy:

‘Here is the fundamental disagreement between Flynn’s socialism and Murray’s classical liberalism.  Flynn’s socialism assumes that human beings must be forced by governmental coercion to solve social problems.  Murray’s classical liberalism assumes that force is bad, and cooperation is good, and that if people are prohibited from using force, they will tend to cooperate voluntarily.’

Do you trust people to take care of themselves and others on their own? Which incentives and/or punishments do you create for those who can’t/don’t/won’t?  Do you trust people acting on behalf of government to be willing/able (by force of law) to administer your tax dollars to oversee institutions which presume to take care of others?

I suppose this partly depends upon your view of human nature, your responsibilities and moral obligations to others, and whether the products of Enlightenment Reason guiding the institutions of liberal democracy are enough to raise others up through those institutions and assist individuals in leading a more moral life…:

‘So, again, it’s a question of empirical evidence. When government is limited to deterring and punishing the initiation of force, to enforcing laws of contract and private property, and to providing those few public goods that cannot be provided by the market, will human beings cooperate voluntarily to solve their social problems, as Murray believes?  Or will human beings have to be forced by government bureaucracies to solve their problems, as Flynn believes?’

The libertarian/classically liberal vs. Left-liberal divide opens up again.

Here’s another take, the entirety of which can be found here. Thomas Sowell rejected Marxist economics and political philosophy in favor of classically liberal thought:

“[Thomas] Sowell’s argument is a relatively simple one:  “innate” mental abilities do not develop spontaneously but must undergo development, which is differentially fostered by different cultures, even when the abilities are general and abstract and do not consist of items of cultural knowledge.

“…Sowell’s approach splits the difference between “nature” and “nurture“…

Arnhart from the piece above on Steven Pinker who veered classically liberal in the The Better Angels Of Our Nature:

‘Pinker thinks this improvement in intelligence has brought improvement in morality, as manifested in our modern commitment to a liberal social order based on nonviolence, toleration, peaceful coexistence, and voluntary cooperation.’

Pinker’s empirical claim is that violence has gone down in the Western world as a result of these changes.

Briton John Gray argues against such a humanist vision (not necessarily the empirical claim), and argues that while science may proceed and real progress is taking place, in the realms of ethics and politics, things are learned but they don’t stay learned.

The religious and secular humanist missionary has a kind of faith in progress which doesn’t necessarily line-up with reality, according to Gray.

Mistah Kurtz-he dead‘ is a pretty dark vision.

Thomas Nagel reviewed Gray’s book ‘Silence Of Animals’ here.

Are we rational beings?  Rational animals?  What can the powers of reason do?:

————————-

When it comes to political philosophy, in partial response to Gray’s claims to Isaiah Berlin’s value pluralism, Kelly Ross thought the moral claims need to be deeper (which I think is why Mill’s utilitarianism is often thrown out to ground environmental debates), otherwise you end-up with the activism of progressive politics, the majoritarianism and totalitarian impulses to control speech and thought in a quasi-religious way:

‘J.S. Mill, etc., continue to be better philosophers than Berlin or Gray because they understand that there must be an absolute moral claim in the end to fundamental rights and negative liberty, however it is thought, or not thought, to be justified. Surrendering the rational case does not even mean accepting the overall “value pluralism” thesis, since Hume himself did not do so. ‘

Are libertarians the true classical liberals?  Much closer to our founding fathers?

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’Race and IQ: Malcolm Gladwell On The Flynn Effect

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Out of the Valley of modernism, post-modernism, and relativism…one path from Nietzsche’s nihilism is through Leo Strauss and Allan Bloom: Update And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo StraussFrom Peter Berkowitz At Harvard: ‘The Reason Of Revelation: The Jewish Thought Of Leo Strauss’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

Steven Pinker At The New Republic: ‘Science Is Not Your Enemy’

Full piece here.

Pinker boils his argument down to two ideals:

‘The first is that the world is intelligible. The phenomena we experience may be explained by principles that are more general than the phenomena themselves.’

and:

‘The commitment to intelligibility is not a matter of brute faith, but gradually validates itself as more and more of the world becomes explicable in scientific terms.’

I wonder if this isn’t this a rather reductionist view of the sciences?  Or as Hilary Putnam and Bryan Magee discuss below, the ‘treasure chest’ vision, where you just keep filling up the chest with more and more knowledge.  It leaves a lot to be desired:

————————

Pinker’s second ideal is as follows:

‘The second ideal is that the acquisition of knowledge is hard. The world does not go out of its way to reveal its workings, and even if it did, our minds are prone to illusions, fallacies, and super- stitions.’

One of the other debates here is about where meaning shall be found, in politics, in ethics, as a foundation for the humanities, and religion, and all manner of other ideas fill the void.  As also discussed in the video above, the idea of science as providing the foundation for the Western worldview is quite ingrained.

There’s no shortage of people who want to use some concept of the sciences, and reason, to fill those voids and I think there are many reasons to remain skeptical of many of them.

Response by Leon Wieseltier At The New Republic:  ‘No, Science Doesn’t Have All The Answers.

-Ross Douthat: ‘The Scientism Of Steve Pinker’ 

-Jerry Coyne responds to Douthat.

Related On This SiteFrom Darwinian Conservatism: ‘The Evolution of Mind and Mathematics: Dehaene Versus Plantinga and Nagel’

From Edward Feser: ‘Nagel And His Critics Part IV’

John Gray Reviews Jonathan Haidt’s New Book At The New Republic: ‘The Knowns And The Unknowns’

Steven Pinker somewhat focused on the idea of freedom from violence, which tends to be libertarian. Yet, he’s also skeptical of the more liberal human rights and also religious natural rights. What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

Morality in the emotions? Jesse Prinz argues that neuroscience and the cognitive sciences should move back toward British empiricism and David Hume…yet…with a defense of multiculturalism and Nietzsche thrown in:  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”From Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry On Eliminative Materialism

Repost-Dinesh D’Souza And Daniel Dennett at Tufts University: Nietzsche’s Prophesy

Evolutionary psychology and moral thinking: Franz De Waal At The NY Times 10/17/10: ‘Morals Without God?’

From The Claremont Institute: ‘Have A Nice Millenium’

Full review here.

Our author also reviewed Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels Of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

‘For Pinker, modern life is marked by ever increasing circles of reciprocity, encompassing wider and wider groups of people. These interactions encourage habits of self-control and cultivate a deeper respect for others. We are not, however, more empathetic than our ancestors, just more reasonable—better equipped to engage in scientific and abstract reasoning; and he cites claims that I.Q. scores have risen over the past century. Greater intelligence has produced a greater receptivity to liberalism, defined as a respect for personal autonomy and liberty, and quite simply better behavior, reflected by an aversion to the sort of cruelty and violence that was formerly commonplace. Pinker dismisses even our “recent ancestors” as “morally retarded.’

Thanks to a reader for the link.  Here’s Reason’s interview with Pinker a while back about the book in question:

———————-

Related On This Site: What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Snyder is perhaps not a fan of libertarianism Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

Add to Technorati Favorites

Timothy Snyder Responds To Steven Pinker’s New Book At Foreign Policy: ‘War No More: Why The World Has Become More Peaceful’

Full essay here.

‘The state appears in Pinker’s history only when it confines itself to the limited role that he believes is proper, and enlightenment figures as the rebellion of intelligent individuals against the state’s attempt to exceed its assigned role.’

Well, many Enlightenment figures went about creating the intellectual foundations of the modern State, yet most have vastly different ideas about what its size and scope ought to be, and just how we come to know what we know, and the limits of knowledge.

‘Following a long tradition that he associates with Thomas Hobbes, Pinker emphasizes the durable coercive state as the fount of social order. ‘

And if it’s the fount of social order on Pinker’s view, Snyder is arguing that it follows that the State has more dominion over the individual than Pinker might be willing to accept:

‘But the creation of states necessitates a second level of analysis in the book, one that Pinker does not really sustain. If the subject is violence, and states are in the picture, then the analysis requires a theory of interstate violence — war, in other words — as well as a sociological analysis of the development of pacific individuals within each state. After all, some of the very traits that maintain social order, such as the habit of obedience to authority, also make total wars and policies of mass killing possible. Instead of facing this problem squarely, Pinker conflates homicide and war. But as Pinker knows, states with low homicide rates have initiated horribly aggressive wars.’

Well, Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany do stand out, as Snyder mentions. But Hobbes is a far cry from Hegel, Marx, and the journey of the German State to eventually arrive at the National Socialists’ rise to power, and Communism as it travelled from revolution to Stalin to the Eastern Bloc.

He goes on:

‘Pinker shows his libertarian hand when he casually claims that “economic illiteracy” causes redistributive policies and thus “class conflict.” Many have made this claim, of course, but as he notes without seeming to realize he is disproving his own hypothesis, today’s redistributive European welfare states are the most peaceful in world history.’

I suppose we’ll see about European welfare states being the most peaceful in world history.  This is pretty much why I’m skeptical of Pinker and Snyder’s arguments.

‘Pinker’s natural experiment with history generates instead a selective rereading, in which his own commitments become the guiding moral light for past and future. But of course libertarianism, like all other ideologies, involves a normative account of resource distribution: those who have should keep. There is nothing scientific about this, although again, like all other ideologies, libertarianism presents itself simply as a matter of natural reason, or, in Pinker’s case, “intelligence.”

Snyder seems a little eager to attack the libertarian view, here, and I don’t know if I’d call Pinker a libertarian so much as a person erring toward liberty and something of a contrarian amongst moral psychologists/neuroscientists (though he does tend to focus on the freedom from violence, as many libertarians do).  This must take some courage in some of the circles he moves around in at Harvard.

Pinker borrows heavily from Thomas Hobbes (how bad are people really, and is man’s state in nature itself, as Hobbes argued, requiring of the Leviathan?), which generally leads toward authoritarianism and a larger State, and yes, Pinker needs to make better and deeper arguments.  But, does this necessarily invalidate libertarianism?.

As I understand it, libertarianism isn’t just ‘those who have should keep,’ it is more “those who have should be more free to keep or give away as they see fit…and those who have not should be more free to get and give away as they see fit.’  I think the rank inequality and problems that result bother many people, and I personally don’t find a Stateless state of affairs particularly desirable.  Anti-statists and anarchists have always seemed a little extreme to me, given human nature (as they do for many people), but some deep thinking has been done. On this site, see: A Few Thoughts On Robert Nozick’s “Anarchy, State and Utopia”… Two Sunday Quotations By Albert Jay Nock in ‘Anarchist’s Progress’Via Youtube: (1 of 3) Kant, Chomsky and the Problem of KnowledgeLink To Lew Rockwell Via A Reader.  I almost always find myself taking the libertarian or conservative position against liberals.

Open markets (creative destruction, privatized gains and losses, lower barriers to entry into the marketplace) provide more individuals the opportunity to work, gain marketable skills, compete on merit and live much of their lives merely relying on the State only for securing them in their lives, liberty and property (a Lockean formulation, I know).  It also requires people to participate, some basic moral behavior on their part and requires them to participate as citizens, voters, some as watchdogs etc.  This also requires a legal framework.  It’s open for debate how those laws are drafted and made, and how well made they are and by whom, and what powers over people’s lives they have.

Snyder finishes with:

Pinker is to be praised for asking a crucial question — perhaps the crucial question — of modern history. But as he moves between the premodern world of violence and a postmodern style of discourse, he loses sight of the modern world in which we actually live. What he provides is less an answer to his question than a mode of reasoning that has little to do with the scientific study of the past and much to do with a worldview that happens to be his own.”

Agreed, Pinker doesn’t really get there, and what he does isn’t necessarily science, but science may not be the only measure of useful governance, nor perhaps, truth.  Libertarians often assume there is a ground floor of individual responsibility, duties and freedom upon which civil society is built, and thus liberty conserved (libertarianism often has trouble with the moral arguments of many religious conservatives and the authority of the Church (not all do though)).

Libertarians also generally have trouble with the arguments put forth against the injustices of slavery which happens to be one of the core moral elements to big-state progressivism and the fact that some people’s freedom was abridged by that civil society through its laws.  Of course, it doesn’t necessarily follow that what’s become of modern American liberalism and Statism is the necessary alternative (let alone the desire to be like old Europe with her problems).

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Related On This Site:   What about a World Leviathan?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas HobbesFrom Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Morality in the emotions? Jesse Prinz argues that neuroscience and the cognitive sciences should move back toward British empiricism and David Hume…yet…with a defense of multiculturalism and Nietzsche thrown in:  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”From Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry On Eliminative MaterialismMilton Friedman Via Youtube: ‘Responsibility To The Poor’A Few Quotations From F.A. Hayek’s: ‘Why I Am Not A Conservative’A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty”

Add to Technorati Favorites

From Reason.TV Via YouTube: ‘Steven Pinker on The Decline of Violence & “The Better Angels of Our Nature”‘

Reason post here, which has a link to challenge Pinker’s claim that violence actually declining (any other thoughts welcome).

Related On This Site:   What about a World Leviathan…instead of the humanist/liberal wishes for global governance no matter how ineffective?: At Bloggingheads Steven Pinker Discusses War And Thomas Hobbes

Simon Blackburn Reviews Steven Pinker’s “The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial Of Human Nature” Via the University Of Cambridge Philosophy Department

Morality in the emotions? Jesse Prinz argues that neuroscience and the cognitive sciences should move back toward British empiricism and David Hume…yet…with a defense of multiculturalism and Nietzsche thrown in:  Another Note On Jesse Prinz’s “Constructive Sentimentalism”From Bloggingheads: Tamar Szabo Gendler On Philosophy and Cognitive Science

From The Stanford Encyclopedia Of Philosophy Entry On Eliminative Materialism

Add to Technorati Favorites