Steven Pinker Interviews Thomas Hobbes

Pinker:    I might want to resuscitate Thomas Hobbes and have dinner with him, the 17th century English philosopher who’s mostly – and I think I’m unfairly – associated with the idea that life in the state of nature is nasty, brutish, and short.  Hobbes was a witty and brilliant writer.  He was a kind of psychologist who had a physiological, mechanistic view of thinking and emotion.  He said reasoning is but reckoning – reckoning in the original sense of computation or calculation.  He thought deeply about the problems of violence, and had an analysis of the causes of violence that I think are quite valid today.  He put his finger on what might be the greatest violence reduction technique ever invented.  That is a responsible government.  And he . . .  Wherever you turn, I think, in psychology and philosophy, you find areas in which he had some _______ or _______.  So I would love to pick his brains if I could.  I’d ask him how he would solve the problem of policing the police.  He had this concept of the leviathan – that is a government to which people would voluntarily surrender their autonomy in exchange for having to adjudicate disputes and basically keep us from each other’s throats.   But I’d say to him, “You’re kind of unclear as to why this leviathan would just be kind of a fascist dictator, as if that would be better than life in the state of anarchy.”  Well one thing we’ve learned is that not only is it better to have a government and be in anarchy; but on the other hand having a ________, aggressive government might not be much better than living in anarchy.  I would ask him whether he could anticipate the concept of democracy, and how his own view of human nature could be confronted with the idea that whoever is leading the government would himself have the flaws of human nature.  How do you square that circle?

"You’re kind of unclear as to why this Leviathan would just be kind of a fascist dictator, as if that would be better than life in the state of anarchy."

Why the presumption of good faith can make our lives civil again

Taking time for thoughtful consideration has fallen out of fashion, writes Emily Chamlee-Wright. How can we restore good faith and good judgement to our increasingly polarized conversations?

Sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies
  • The clamor of the crowd during a heated discussion can make it hard to tell who is right and who is wrong. Adam Smith wrote that the loudness of blame can stupefy our good judgment.
  • Equally, when we're talking with just one other person, our previous assumptions and knee-jerk reactions can cloud our good judgment.
  • If you want to find clarity in moments like that, Emily Chamlee-Wright recommends practicing the presumption of good faith. That means that we should presume, unless we have good evidence to the contrary, that the other person's intent is not to deceive or to offend us, but to learn our point of view.
Keep reading Show less

Toilet paper is a giant waste of resources

Americans consume the most toilet paper in the world but it's a very wasteful product to manufacture, according to the numbers.

Credit: Paul Hennessy / Echoes Wire/Barcroft Media via Getty Images.
Surprising Science
  • Toilet paper consumption is unsustainable and requires a tremendous amount of resources to produce.
  • Americans use the most toilet paper in the world and have been hoarding it due to coronavirus.
  • Alternatives to toilet paper are gaining more popularity with the public.
Keep reading Show less

'Gender Pay Scorecard' grades 50 major U.S. companies

What factors explain the gender pay gap?

Photo By Glen Martin/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Culture & Religion
  • The report was conducted by the investment firm Arjuna Capital, which has been publishing the Gender Pay Scorecard for the past three years.
  • Only three companies — Starbucks, Mastercard and Citigroup — received an "A", as defined by the report's methodology.
  • It's likely that discrimination explains part of the gender pay gap, but it's a complex issue that often gets oversimplified.

Keep reading Show less