Reasons to Revere Reason

I came across this uplifting speech by Steven Pinker while researching the Enlightenment; however, I was really motivated to find evidence that “reason” was driven by passion and used to manipulate, deceive, justify self-interest, and help foster positive delusions about ourselves.  I found all of that but also found Pinker’s speech which shows that reason can be driven for good.

Pinker’s answer to the student’s question below will resonate if we have an appreciation for the beauty of life and a respect for human dignity.  Perhaps this can remind us of the importance of gratitude and empathy because self-righteousness and cynicism can be seductive.  Yes, I am aware of Steven Pinker’s controversial opinions, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

The student asks Steven Pinker: “Why should I live?”

The student’s ingenious tone made it clear that she was neither suicidal nor sarcastic but genuinely curious about how to find meaning and purpose if traditional religious beliefs about an immortal soul are undermined by our best science.

In the very act of asking that question, you are seeking reasons for your convictions, and so you are committed to reason as the means to discover and justify what is important to you. And there are so many reasons to live!

As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish. You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating. You can seek explanations of the natural world through science, and insight into the human condition through the arts and humanities. You can make the most of your capacity for pleasure and satisfaction, which allowed your ancestors to thrive and thereby allowed you to exist. You can appreciate the beauty and richness of the natural and cultural world. As the heir to billions of years of life perpetuating itself, you can perpetuate life in turn. You have been endowed with a sense of sympathy—the ability to like, love, respect, help, and show kindness—and you can enjoy the gift of mutual benevolence with friends, family, and colleagues.

And because reason tells you that none of this is particular to you, you have the responsibility to provide to others what you expect for yourself. You can foster the welfare of other sentient beings by enhancing life, health, knowledge, freedom, abundance, safety, beauty, and peace. History shows that when we sympathize with others and apply our ingenuity to improving the human condition, we can make progress in doing so, and you can help to continue that progress. [1]


[1] Pinker, Steven. Enlightenment Now. Penguin Publishing Group.

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