"The Better Angels of Our Nature" (book review, Peter Singer in the NYT)
"...Are aggressive tendencies heritable? Could declines in violence in particular societies be attributed to genetic change among its members? ... Are we getting smarter? Is a smarter world a better world?
In seeking answers to these questions Pinker draws on recent research in history, psychology, cognitive science, economics and sociology. Nor is he afraid to venture into deep philosophical waters, like the role of reason in ethics and whether, without appealing to religion, some ethical views can be grounded in reason and others cannot be."
"...The data vindicates Hobbes’s basic insight, that without a state, life is likely to be “nasty, brutish and short.” In contrast, a state monopoly on the legitimate use of force reduces violence and makes everyone living under that monopoly better off than they would otherwise have been."
"Pinker argues that enhanced powers of reasoning give us the ability to detach ourselves from our immediate experience and from our personal or parochial perspective, and frame our ideas in more abstract, universal terms. This in turn leads to better moral commitments, including avoiding violence. It is just this kind of reasoning ability that has improved during the 20th century. ... For reason does, Pinker holds, point to a particular kind of morality. We prefer life to death, and happiness to suffering, and we understand that we live in a world in which others can make a difference to whether we live well or die miserably. Therefore we will want to tell others that they should not hurt us, and in doing so we commit ourselves to the idea that we should not hurt them."
I really want this book: "The Maladapted Mind ... is the first book to bring together classic and contemporary readings illustrating the new subdiscipline, evolutionary psychopathology. Each chapter demonstrates how evolutionary arguments are being brought to bear on the study of a different psychiatric condition or pathological behaviour."
(And yes, I want it partly because I want to see how questionable, or not, I find academic evolutionary psychology, as compared to popular-science handwaving.)