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Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker’s Half-Hearted Defense of Rationality

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.”

This podcast was recorded on November 17, 2021. Listen to the discussion below. Listen and subscribe from your mobile device on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or Stitcher. Watch archived podcasts here.

Podcast audio:


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Agustina Vergara Cid

Agustina Vergara Cid, LLB and LLM, is an associate fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute and an opinion columnist at the Orange County Register.

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