I loved Gary Gutting's analysis of Pinker at The Stone yesterday:
Steven Pinker’s impressive new book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined,” has been much reviewed and discussed since its publication last month—a rare occurrence for a book of ideas. The two key empirical claims that Pinker puts forward are suggested in the title: that the level of human violence (war, murder, etc.) has been decreasing over the centuries and that the human ability to reason has been correspondingly increasing. He goes on to explain the first claim by the second. Our ability to reason causes us to be less violent: “A smarter [more rational] world,” he says, “is a less violent world.”
In a book awash with empirical data and analysis, it is remarkable that Pinker’s capstone explanation (developed on pp. 647-650) is not based solely on empirical facts. It also depends on a philosophical argument that rationality logically implies a moral rejection of violence. Historians and psychologists will scrutinize Pinker’s empirical claims. Here I discuss his crucial philosophical argument, which I think faces some serious problems.
Read the rest of the article at opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com