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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Ethically evolving?

I posted something a while ago about Steven Pinker’s new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, so I thought I'd mention that Vaughan Bell has reviewed it - Peace on Earth - and that there's also a post about it at the NYT's philosophy blog - Pinker on Reason and Morality. Here's a little bit from the latter ...

[...] 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.

For myself, I think most human cultures are less violent now than in the past, but I don't think Pinker is right in his belief that human reason has been increasing over time and that this has made human beings increasingly less violence .... yes, our present culture is a kinder/gentler one than, for instance, the culture of the European Middle Ages, but is it true that human beings are now more "reasonable" than they were in, say, Athens at the time of Plato and Socrates? I don't think there's a necessary connection between decreased violence and reason ... maybe a decrease in violence has more to do with greater access to information and a resulting encouragement of empathy? But I don't really know - read what the other guys have to say :)


Blogger William D. Lindsey said...

I agree with your analysis here, Crystal.

It strikes me that the distinction liberation theology makes between "hard" and "soft" violence is very useful for this discussion. Even if we might observe that "hard" violence is decreasing (but only in select places in the world?), the "soft" violence of economic privation and social exclusion premised on economic marginalization may well be increasing, as the corportocracy reduces more and more working people to the level of automatons.

8:44 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi William,

That's an interesting distiction - hard and soft violence. I have to read more about liberation theology!

12:35 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I also agree with your analysis Crystal as well as William's distinction because I find that violence is now just more subtle and so people think it's not there.

4:20 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

I agree, Hnery. I wonder if Pinker is like Teilhard de Chardin in thinking that people are sort of morally evolving.

12:32 PM  

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