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Steven Pinker’s Half-Hearted Defense of Rationality

A 64 minute YouTube publication from Nov 01, 2021 by Elan Journo, Ben Bayer

YouTube, 2021

Duration 64 mins

Notes none

Primary language: English


Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker's latest book, Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, and Why It Matters is a rarity: an intelligent examination of a core issue in philosophy that is also written for a general audience and that debuted at the top of bestseller lists.

In this episode of New Ideal Live, Elan Journo and Ben Bayer discuss Steven Pinker’s latest book, Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, and Why It Matters, and whether it makes a solid argument for rationality. 

Among the topics covered:

• The Objectivist framework as a context for analyzing Pinker’s book;
• Strengths of the book;
• Pinker’s self-refuting “humility” about the scope of rationality;
• Pinker’s narrow “instrumentalist” definition of rationality;
• Pinker’s view that rationality cannot evaluate ultimate ends;
• Pinker’s case for a form of quasi-rational morality;
• Cognitive biases at work in Pinker’s own case for morality;
• Pinker’s and Rand’s contrasting conceptions of rationality;
• Shortcomings in Pinker’s explanation for today’s irrational political tribalism;
• Rand’s alternative approach to a rational ethics (and affinities to some of Pinker’s views).

Mentioned in the discussion are Ayn Rand’s essay “The Objectivist Ethics,” Onkar Ghate’s “Finding Morality Without God” and Ben Bayer’s “Why Scientific Progress in Ethics Is Frozen.”

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