Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters

Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters

by Steven Pinker (Author)

“In our uncertain age, which can so often feel so dark and disturbing, Steven Pinker has distinguished himself as a voice of positivity.” – New York TimesCan reading a book make you more rational? Can it help us understand why there is so much irrationality in the world? Steven Pinker, author of Enlightenment Now (Bill Gates’s "new favorite book of all time”) answers all the questions here Today humanity is reaching new heights of scientific understanding--and also appears to be losing its mind. How can a species that developed vaccines for Covid-19 in less than a year produce so much fake news, medical quackery, and conspiracy theorizing? Pinker rejects the cynical cliché that humans are simply irrational--cavemen out of time saddled with biases, fallacies, and illusions. After all, we discovered the laws of nature, lengthened and enriched our lives, and set out the benchmarks for rationality itself.  We actually think in ways that are sensible in the low-tech contexts in which we spend most of our lives, but fail to take advantage of the powerful tools of reasoning we’ve discovered over the millennia: logic, critical thinking, probability, correlation and causation, and optimal ways to update beliefs and commit to choices individually and with others. These tools are not a standard part of our education, and have never been presented clearly and entertainingly in a single book--until now.  Rationality also explores its opposite: how the rational pursuit of self-interest, sectarian solidarity, and uplifting mythology can add up to crippling irrationality in a society. Collective rationality depends on norms that are explicitly designed to promote objectivity and truth.  Rationality matters. It leads to better choices in our lives and in the public sphere, and is the ultimate driver of social justice and moral progress. Brimming with Pinker’s customary insight and humor, Rationality will enlighten, inspire, and empower.

In his thought-provoking book, "Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters," Steven Pinker delves into the nature of rationality, its perceived scarcity in modern times, and its fundamental importance in shaping our world.

Pinker begins by exploring the essence of rationality, defining it as the ability to make decisions and judgments based on evidence, reason, and logic. He argues that rationality is not an abstract concept but rather a practical tool that humans have evolved to use in order to solve problems, make informed choices, and navigate the complexities of the world around them.

The author then examines why rationality often seems scarce, despite its inherent value. He identifies several cognitive biases and psychological factors that can lead individuals and societies to make irrational decisions. These include confirmation bias, the tendency to seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs, and the availability heuristic, the tendency to judge the likelihood of an event based on how easily examples of that event come to mind.

Pinker also discusses the role of emotions in decision-making, acknowledging that emotions can sometimes cloud our judgment and lead to irrational choices. However, he argues that emotions can also be a valuable source of information, helping us to identify potential risks and opportunities that might otherwise be overlooked. The key, he suggests, is to find a balance between emotional intuition and rational analysis.

The latter part of the book focuses on the profound impact that rationality has on our lives and the world at large. Pinker highlights the role of rationality in scientific progress, economic development, and the promotion of human well-being. He argues that rationality is essential for solving complex problems, fostering cooperation, and creating a more just and equitable society.

"Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters" is a thought-provoking and insightful exploration of the nature and importance of rationality. Pinker's clear writing style and engaging examples make this book accessible to a wide range of readers, from students and scholars to general readers interested in understanding the foundations of human decision-making and its implications for our lives and our world.


432 pages