Steven Pinker at the Bristol Festival of Ideas


Tuesday, March 19, 2019, 6:30pm


Bristol BS8 1RL, UK

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Is modernity really failing? Or have we failed to appreciate progress and the ideals that make it possible? If you follow the headlines, the world in the twenty-first century appears to be sinking into chaos, hatred and irrationality. Steven Pinker argues that this is an illusion – a symptom of historical amnesia and statistical fallacies. In fact, our lives have become longer, healthier, safer, happier, more peaceful, more stimulating and more prosperous – not just in the West, but worldwide.

Such progress is no accident: it’s the gift of a value system that many of us embrace without even realising it. These are the values of the Enlightenment: of reason, science, humanism and progress. The challenges we face today are formidable – inequality, climate change, the rise of Artificial Intelligence and the continuing threat of nuclear war. But the way to deal with them is not to sink into despair or try to lurch back to a mythical idyllic past; it’s to treat them as problems we can solve.

In making the case for an Enlightenment for the twenty-first century, Pinker shows how we can use our faculties of reason and sympathy to solve the problems that inevitably come with being products of evolution in an indifferent universe. We will never have a perfect world, but we can continue to make it a better one.

This event is part of our annual Coleridge Series, inspired by Coleridge’s wide-ranging and radical lectures in Bristol in the 1790s.