Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 31, Issue 2, 2021

Do We Need a New Enlightenment for the Twenty-First Century?

Ashok Kumar Malhotra
Pages 263-283

Appraisal of Steven Pinker’s Position on Enlightenment

Steven Pinker presents four ideals of Enlightenment in his popular book Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. He argues his case brilliantly and convincingly through cogent arguments in a language comprehensible to the reader of the present century. Moreover, whether it is reason or science or humanism or progress, he defends his position powerfully. He justifies his views by citing 75 graphs on the upswing improvement made by humanity in terms of prosperity, longevity, education, equality of men and women, health, political freedom and medical breakthroughs. Though Pinker makes an excellent case for the positive contributions of Enlightenment; however he ignores the negative aspects that are responsible for causing a great schism between the white race and others who are black and brown. The paper highlights some of these negative comments made by such Enlightenment thinkers as Montesquieu, Voltaire, Chambers, Down and Down and others. Through their literary and scientific writings, these scholars and researchers downgraded the black and brown races, thus causing a rift that led to slavery, colonialism and apartheid. The paper reveals these negative aspects ignored by Pinker in his otherwise well-researched book on Enlightenment. Since Pinker presents a one-sided case by including only the positive contributions of Enlightenment, I recommend that he should write a sequel to his present work outlining the negative aspects responsible for numerous political, social and environmental problems facing humanity today. By using dialectical logic in place of logic of contraries, he might be able to synthesize both the positive and negative aspects of Enlightenment. He can then argue that humanity might be propelled to make progress more efficiently at a faster pace toward humanism and world peace.