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Pinker’s “Enlightenment Now” Mischaracterizes Ayn Rand’s Views on Ethics and Nietzsche

Jason Crawford has written an extended summary of Steven Pinker’s new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress over at his blog Roots of Progress:

Enlightenment Now is just what the world needs right now. It is a defense of the ideas and values that have created the modern world, and a defense of that world itself. I don’t agree with every word of it, but I agree with its theme and essence. The weakest aspect of the book, to me, is its morality. “Humanism” is a great start, because it sets the right standard: human life and everything that helps people thrive and prosper. But Pinker largely ignores issues of individualism vs. collectivism, and egoism vs. altruism, that I see as core to the ideological struggles of the modern world. And closely related, Pinker falls short of painting a truly inspiring, motivating picture, a heroic ideal to strive for. He himself indicates this in the final pages of the book, when he writes: “The case for Enlightenment Now is not just a matter of debunking fallacies or disseminating data. It may be cast as a stirring narrative, and I hope that people with more artistic flair and rhetorical power than I can tell it better and spread it farther.” [Enlightenment Now: A summary]

That person is in fact is pro-reason (and science), pro-happiness of the individual (humanism), pro-capitalist (the social system of progress) philosopher Ayn Rand, who described her philosophy as follows:

“My philosophy, in essence, is the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

Sadly Pinker ignorantly conflates (and ignorantly condemns by association) Ayn Rand with Friedrich Nietzsche, when in fact an actual reading of Ayn Rand’s works would show that any resemblance between the two is superficial at best.

Another problem with Pinker’s book according to energy expert Alex Epstein — author of the Moral Case For Fossil Fuels, is Pinker’s analysis of climate and energy. Writes Epstein:

I am generally very excited about Steven Pinker’s new book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Unfortunately, the book’s treatment of climate and energy is deeply problematic. A few nights ago I recorded a 20 minute analysis of the climate section of the book. You don’t need a copy of the book to follow along since the text of the book is in the video. I hope you find my analysis useful. I think the principles involved apply to many smart people who get this issue wrong. Bonus: At the end of the video I defend “the Koch Brothers” from Pinker’s smearing. I haven’t spoken much about them publicly so I was glad to get the opportunity. [What’s wrong with Steven Pinker’s analysis of climate and energy | Center for Industrial Progress]

Though we recommend — with reservations —  Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress because of its excellent chapters that document progress. it is also worth mentioning two superior books on the case for optimism: Matt Ridley’s The Rational Optimist and Johan Norberg’s Progress.

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