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Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters by [Steven Pinker]
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Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters Kindle Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 129 ratings

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Steven Pinker is the high priest of rationalism ... [This book] is an impassioned and zippy introduction to the tools of rational thought ... Pinker wants probability theory and psychological biases to be taught in schools and universities. Punchy, funny and invigorating, this could be the textbook. -- James McConnachie ― Sunday Times

Steven Pinker is among the best science writers in history, and with Rationality he applies his talents to one of the most important and misunderstood human abilities - tracking reality with a brain that was designed to do so under some circumstances but not others. If you've ever considered taking drugs to make yourself smarter, read Rationality instead. It's cheaper, more entertaining, and more effective. -- Jonathan Haidt, NYU-Stern School of Business and author of The Righteous Mind

The Enlightenment torchbearer is eloquent in his defence of clear thinking ... [reason] is a tool that human beings have to learn to use with care, something this book will help any reader to do. -- Julian Baggini ― Financial Times

Rationality ­- like all of Pinker's work - [is] a paen to human potential... what Pinker really trades in are profoundly refreshing, energising sets of explanations for why we do and think the way we do ... harnessing reason is not just useful in all kinds of ways both personal and universal, but a wondrous property of being human. -- Zoe Strimpel ― Daily Telegraph

Almost every sentence in Rationality is crisp and intelligible, which is quite a feat, given that explaining logic to humans is like teaching them Sanskrit. Pinker suggests various ways to run our collective affairs more rationally. -- Simon Kuper ― New Statesman

A reader-friendly primer in better thinking through the cultivation of that rarest of rarities: a sound argument.


Rationality is a terrific book, much-needed for our time. In addition to drawing together the tools for overcoming obstacles to rational thinking, Pinker breaks new ground with the evidence he provides linking rationality and moral progress. -- Peter Singer --This text refers to the paperback edition.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


How Rational an Animal?

Man is a rational animal. So at least we have been told. Throughout a long life I have searched diligently for evidence in favor of this statement. So far, I have not had the good fortune to come across it.

-Bertrand Russell

He that can carp in the most eloquent or acute manner at the weakness of the human mind is held by his fellows as almost divine.

-Baruch Spinoza

Homo sapiens means wise hominin, and in many ways we have earned the specific epithet of our Linnaean binomial. Our species has dated the origin of the universe, plumbed the nature of matter and energy, decoded the secrets of life, unraveled the circuitry of consciousness, and chronicled our history and diversity. We have applied this knowledge to enhance our own flourishing, blunting the scourges that immiserated our ancestors for most of our existence. We have postponed our expected date with death from thirty years of age to more than seventy (eighty in developed countries), reduced extreme poverty from ninety percent of humanity to less than nine, slashed the rates of death from war twentyfold and from famine a hundredfold. Even when the ancient bane of pestilence rose up anew in the twenty-first century, we identified the cause within days, sequenced its genome within weeks, and administered vaccines within a year, keeping its death toll to a fraction of those of historic pandemics.

The cognitive wherewithal to understand the world and bend it to our advantage is not a trophy of Western civilization; it's the patrimony of our species. The San of the Kalahari Desert in southern Africa are one of the world's oldest peoples, and their foraging lifestyle, maintained until recently, offers a glimpse of the ways in which humans spent most of their existence. Hunter-gatherers don't just chuck spears at passing animals or help themselves to fruit and nuts growing around them. The tracking scientist Louis Liebenberg, who has worked with the San for decades, has described how they owe their survival to a scientific mindset. They reason their way from fragmentary data to remote conclusions with an intuitive grasp of logic, critical thinking, statistical reasoning, causal interference, and game theory.

The San engage in persistence hunting, which puts to use our three most conspicuous traits: our two-leggedness, which enables us to run efficiently; our hairlessness, which enables us to dump heat in hot climates; and our big heads, which enable us to be rational. The San deploy this rationality to track the fleeing animals from their hoofprints, effluvia, and other spoor, pursuing them until they keel over from exhaustion and heat stroke. Sometimes the San track an animal along one of its habitual pathways, or, when a trail goes cold, by searching in widening circles around the last known prints. But often they track them by reasoning.

Hunters distinguish dozens of species by the shapes and spacing of their tracks, aided by their grasp of cause and effect. They may infer that a deeply pointed track comes from an agile springbok, which needs a good grip, whereas a flat-footed track comes from a heavy kudu, which has to support its weight. They can sex the animals from the configuration of their tracks and the relative location of their urine to their hind feet and droppings. They use these categories to make syllogistic deductions: steenbok and duiker can be run down in the rainy season because the wet sand forces open their hooves and stiffens their joints; kudu and eland can be run down in the dry season because they tire easily in loose sand. It's the dry season and the animal that left these tracks is a kudu; therefore, this animal can be run down.

The San don't just pigeonhole animals into categories but make finer-grained logical distinctions. They tell individuals apart within a species by readin

--This text refers to the paperback edition.

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Product details

  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B08PY44J1P
  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Penguin (28 September 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • File size ‏ : ‎ 9907 KB
  • Text-to-Speech ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Screen Reader ‏ : ‎ Supported
  • Enhanced typesetting ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • X-Ray ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Word Wise ‏ : ‎ Enabled
  • Print length ‏ : ‎ 414 pages
  • Customer Reviews:
    4.0 out of 5 stars 129 ratings

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Steven Pinker is one of the world's leading authorities on language and the mind. His popular and highly praised books include The Stuff of Thought, The Blank Slate, Words and Rules, How the Mind Works, and The Language Instinct. The recipient of several major awards for his teaching, books, and scientific research, Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He also writes frequently for The New York Times, Time, The New Republic, and other magazines.

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John D
4.0 out of 5 stars Certainly makes you stop and think
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4.0 out of 5 stars Requires effort!
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2.0 out of 5 stars Damaged
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 9 December 2021
This has been bought as a gift. It does not appear to be new. Outer cover torn. No time to send back and get a new one, I will have to apologise profusely to recipient.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read
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