Enlightenment Now Book Summary By Steven Pinker

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Enlightenment Now is a thought-provoking and highly informative book by Steven Pinker.

Published in 2018, it encapsulates the changes since the eighteenth century when the Age of Reason, also known as the Enlightenment, began to take hold and ushered in a period characterized by progress and rational thought.

In his book, Pinker uses copious amounts of data, charts and graphs to highlight our advances over the past two centuries.

Through this lens of past successes, he presents an optimistic point of view on the present state of our world.

Enlightenment Now Book

Book Name: Enlightenment Now (The Case For Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress)

Author(s): Steven Pinker

Rating: 4/5

Reading Time: 24 Minutes

Categories: Science

Author Bio

Steven Pinker is widely renowned and respected in the world of cognitive science and linguistics thanks to his various roles at Harvard University.

He has served on the usage panel at The American Heritage Dictionary, been a frequent contributor to the New York Times and the Atlantic, as well as written many books on popular science including How the Mind Works and The Language Instinct - titles which have become cultural touchstones.

His latest book, Enlightenment Now, invites us to explore current ideas about human progress and see just how far we’ve truly come.

The Enlightenment: How Science, Reason And Humanism Are Making Our Lives Better


The news headlines can often give us a skewed perspective of the world today and, as a result, it may feel like everything is going to hell in a handbasket.

But, when you take the time to look at all the facts, you’ll find that, in spite of all the challenges we face today, our world has never been better!

From violence and famine to wealth and happiness levels, it’s all at an all-time high.

Plus, even with environmental issues still very much on the agenda, pollution is down dramatically from just a few decades ago.

So despite everything going on in the world today, we should take comfort in knowing that things are heading in the right direction.

It’s easy to get caught up worrying about problems such as artificial intelligence or forgetting how far life expectancy has come since the dark ages.

To truly brighten your outlook so that you can appreciate where we are today, put the current context into perspective by focusing on what progress we’ve made over time thanks largely to everyone making use of science, reason and humanism – fundamentals upon which many of our successes have been built.

The Enlightenment: Reason, Science, Humanism And Progress Help Us Acknowledge All People’S Rights

The Enlightenment is a multi-faceted concept whose roots go back to eighteenth-century Europe.

It was during this time when the values and beliefs that gave rise to modern cosmopolitanism began to take shape.

Four main themes emerged: reason, science, humanism, and progress.

Reason, as it pertains to the Enlightenment, means that there are certain non-negotiable truths.

Slavery is one vital example; ideas of reason eventually found footing and shook the foundations of this barbaric practice until ultimately no longer tolerated in many parts of the world.

Science was also valued highly during this period, leading to a more modern understanding and appreciation of neuroscience, psychology and anthropology..

These enlightenments values ultimately led people toward a greater acceptance of humanism, with its rejection of tribalism as well as its emphasis on recognizing everyone as children of the world who each possess equal rights regardless of birthplace.

This emphasis finally gave rise to today’s modern cosmopolitanism which still guides and influences our shared global culture.

The Resilience Of The Enlightenment: How A System Of Global Trade And Mutual Benefit Keeps Entropy At Bay

Many people seem to think that the world is in a continuous state of decline.

They argue that reason has become obsolete, and point to the amount of war, violence and crime as evidence.

Yet if we look at the facts, rather than succumbing to feelings of doom and gloom, we can see that things are actually quite different.

As it turns out, humans are not a closed system — and this has allowed us to push back against entropy.

Through their ideas and discoveries, the people of the Enlightenment have granted us with unprecedented levels of order which we continually benefit from today.

We can see this when we observe charts showing us data over the past hundred years or more.

Life expectancy has been increasing while crime rates have been declining; wealth creation, happiness levels and quality of life are all on the rise – and there’s no indication that this will be stopping soon.

This is all thanks to the principles established during the Enlightenment still being alive and well in our world today – leading us closer towards a better future for everyone.

The Gift Of Longer And Healthier Lives: How Hard Work And Knowledge Have Transformed Our Existence

Healthier Lives

Since the time of the Enlightenment, the global average life expectancy has risen significantly.

We have gone from an average of 29 years in the mid-eighteenth century to a much higher number today.

This rise in life expectancy is due to a decrease in child mortality rates, better healthcare and improvements in knowledge that have lead to the eradication or near eradication of diseases like polio, smallpox and measles.

The quality of life for people around the world has also improved thanks to the Enlightenment.

People are living longer and healthier lives with greater access to sustenance, medical aid and better nutrition than ever before.

For example, people in Ethiopia now live almost 20 years longer than their counterparts did just 50 years ago.

Famine, which was once widespread, is now nearly unheard of in many countries around the world as science has made it possible to produce more nutrient-rich food with less land and water than ever before.

It’s clear that thanks to the contributions of The Enlightenment Era, we are living much longer and far healthier lives than our ancestors did centuries ago – all while having enough food on our plates!

The Enlightenment, Trade And Social Programs Led To A Reduction In Global Poverty

The Enlightenment has brought the world more wealth and less inequality.

Before this period, many nations forced their poor people into backbreaking labor for little or no pay.

But when the tools of the Enlightenment began to take effect in 1820, global income tripled by 1900.

Trade became a popular tool to improve international relations between countries, and as this cosmopolitan attitude spread, so did wealth across the globe.

By 1950, global income had tripled again and then tripled again in just 33 years!

Now, many countries have been able to double their income every 18-35 years.

We can see inequality gradually decrease over time due to what is called the Kuznets curve.

This means that after a nation experiences fast growth, inequality naturally levels itself out – something we are seeing today with declining poverty levels.

Moreover, according to Wagner’s Law, as national wealth increases more money is spent on social programs benefiting the poor – something else that can be seen in Europe during the early twentieth century until now.

The Data Shows We Are Less Reliant On War Than Ever Before

The Enlightenment, which popularized the idea that problem-solving was the key to progress and resolving disputes, appears to have had a great effect on our global culture.

War is far less rampant than it used to be – in 2009 alone, several civil wars drew to a close such as ones in Angola, Chad, Peru and Sri Lanka.

This has been partially due to increased wealth across the majority of nations since people are given greater access to healthcare and education, resulting in fewer incentives for crime or civil war.

In 1945, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written by a diverse group including Mohandas Gandhi, Aldous Huxley and Muslim scholars, creating what is now regarded as one of the most humanist and Enlightenment-aligned documents ever created.

For over 70 years now wars have been rare occurrences due to increased understanding between nations via trade deals and commerce agreements facilitated by the United Nations.

This organization has been influential in helping settle international disputes peacefully instead of through violence or animosity.

All this means that we’re currently living in the safest time in history with regards to widespread global warfare thanks largely to the ideals generated by The Enlightenment – there’s little room for pessimism about our current state when compared with previous eras where massive displacement and death was rampant because of religious strife or tribal differences.

How The Shift Towards Democracy Led To An Enlightened World


The values of democracy, equal rights and greater quality of life are all important facets of our modern world, and it’s all thanks to the enlightened thinkers who put these principles into practice.

In the early 1970s, democracy seemed to have an uncertain future, with Chancellor Willy Brandt pointing out that it had no chance of a wide adoption.

However, this was only moments before an unprecedented surge towards democracy erupted, with many nations around the world adapting their governmental models to reflect the ideals laid out in the Enlightenment period.

The push towards democracy is increasingly important as it helps protect individuals against both oppressive tyranny and complete anarchy.

Over the last few decades, we’ve seen significantly better economic growth and progress in other areas such as education – something which is invaluable for any nation looking to reach its full potential.

Nowadays there are 103 democracies across the globe (a more than an 8-fold increase from 12), making it clear that these values are now firmly institutionalized throughout much of human society.

The shift towards democracy has been a great boon for those advocating for greater enlightenment values and pushing for a more cosmopolitan society, leading to drastic reductions in racism, sexism and other forms discriminatory behavior by people from different backgrounds.

As travelling increases and people interact more frequently with each other due to changes in technology and social media usage, more and more people are exposed to new ideas which challenge hyperbolic assumptions they once held.

This changing tide of opinion has lead to a reduction in ethnic/racial laws passed by governments across the world – dropping from 50% in 1950 down to under 20% by 2003 – showing just how influential Enlightenment thinking can be when put into practice!

We Shouldn’t Panic – Technology Is Safer Than We Think

The environment and existential threats should not cause us to panic or be overly pessimistic.

Instead, these issues can be approached with an optimistic and reasoned outlook.

This is something that Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism and Progress, by Steven Pinker proves by using data to illustrate the progress we have made over the past fifty years in reducing violence, poverty, disease and much more.

Pinker shows that the threats posed by terrorism are no more than a minor nuisance when looked at from a global perspective.

He points out that compared with other risk factors, such as being struck by lightning or dying from a bee sting, the chances of being killed in a terrorist attack pale in comparison.

The press often exaggerates the severity of these events thanks to their bias and use of fearmongering sensationalism.

When it comes to AI technology, despite what some experts may imply—such as Elon Musk or Stephen Hawking—there is little validity behind believing AI will become an existential threat to humanity anytime soon.

In fact, because of its rigorous levels of fail-safe monitoring and redundancy measures which have been implemented by its developers this event is improbably close to impossible.

We Must Dismiss Misinformed Attacks On Science And Appreciate Its True Value

In Stephen Pinker’s book “Enlightenment Now,” he emphasizes the need to be wary of politics and organizations which attempt to vilify science and reason.

It’s a sad fact that we’ve seen a history of attacks on science, often by those looking to push their own agenda over truth.

It’s important to note that science doesn’t have a specific agenda or political leaning — it simply looks at facts in order to gain knowledge.

Examples such as Hitler’s Nazi agenda or those using eugenics proposal point to attempts of some individuals trying to discredit science and the ideals that the Enlightenment represented.

Even today, we’re seeing baseless arguments used against legitimate concerns like climate change in order to try and inflate propaganda over fact.

The truth is, if we don’t act on climate change now, then global temperatures are likely going to exceed an additional 2 degrees Celsius.

This will lead to rising sea levels and other disasters if not addressed quickly.

It shouldn’t take any conspiracy theories involving countries or organizations for us to believe in the very real dangers of ignoring scientific facts — this isn’t something from books but from our real world.

The Evidence Shows That Enlightenment Values Are Thriving, Despite Populist Movements

 Populist Movements

Though there has been an increase in populism in recent years – with leaders like Donald Trump, who are seen as distinctly anti-Enlightenment, gaining widespread support – it is still the path forward.

Despite his win of the US presidency, he only won the electoral vote and lost the popular vote by a significant margin, with one of the lowest approval ratings of any president ever.

Plus, democracy provides checks and balances to prevent autocratic demagogues from ruling over people without question.

The justice system was able to hold him back from some of his attempts at overstepping his power in office.

As for Europe, while populist parties have gained a foothold in Poland and Hungary, they haven’t managed more than 13 percent of the vote overall, ultimately losing as many seats as they’ve gained.

Interestingly, younger generations across the globe are polling as far more progressive and tolerant than their predecessors, tending towards reason and humanism rather than religious interpretations for their values.

Religion doesn’t have to be an enemy of enlightenment either – but can impede progress if discrepancies arise.

From cultural criticisms to intense media negativity, one thing remains constant: data from around 100 years shows a searchable story of triumph for the Enlightenment values that young people today continue to embrace and propel forward.

We have no reason to think this positive trend will change anytime soon!

Wrap Up

Enlightenment Now, by Steven Pinker, is a thought-provoking book that looks at the world we live in today and examines how far the human race has come since the Age of Enlightenment.

In it, Pinker argues that although there are still problems in the world today such as violence, disease and poverty, these issues make up only a fraction of what they were during earlier centuries.

By being more accepting and less superstitious than before, as well as actively working towards reducing racism and warmongering, we’ve managed to create a much safer and enlightened society than ever before.

From this insight, we can conclude that although our work is far from finished yet, Mankind has made incredible progress!

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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