A reading club with a view to the future

189 Steven Pinker: The Better Angels of Our Nature

Despite our perception of rising violence, data shows that violence has decreased over time, and we should continue striving towards peaceful societies.

Steven Pinker: The Better Angels of Our Nature


Pinker uses data and historical analysis to show that violence has decreased throughout human history, challenging the notion that the world is getting more violent. He explores the possible reasons behind this decline and argues that understanding them can help us create even more peaceful societies in the future.


Title: The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined

Author: Steven Pinker

Publishing Year: 2011

Publisher: Viking

Length in hours: 36 hours and 39 minutes

5 main ideas

  1. Violence has declined dramatically over the course of human history.
  2. The rise of the state and its monopoly on violence has played a major role in reducing violence.
  3. The spread of empathy and reason has also contributed to the decline in violence.
  4. The decline of violence has been uneven across different societies and regions.
  5. We must continue to work towards creating more peaceful societies.
Steven Pinker: The Better Angels of Our Nature

5 funny quotes

  1. "I will not go as far as Lord Acton, who claimed that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I know too many people in high positions to take such a sweeping view."
  2. "The badness of a man is the worst thing that can be said about him."
  3. "The Enlightenment is not an especially trendy topic these days, which is a shame, because it was just about the most interesting and important period in human history."
  4. "The progress of scientific explanation can be measured by its declining need for gods."
  5. "By almost any quantifiable measure, we are living in the least violent era since our species invented cities."

5 thought-provoking quotes​

  1. "The decline of violence may be the most significant and least appreciated development in the history of our species."
  2. "The problem with revenge is that it never evens the score. It ties both the injured and the injurer to an escalatory cycle of retaliation."
  3. "To be a moral agent is to recognize that one’s own interests are not special, and that others have interests that count just as much."
  4. "Morality, then, is not just a set of prohibitions and punishments to keep us in line; it is a positive ideal of how we ought to treat one another."
  5. "The humanitarian ethic is a precious achievement of our species, and the next step in moral progress is to extend it to the rest of sentient life."

5 dilemmas

  1. How can we reconcile our desire for justice with our instinct for revenge?
  2. Is it ethical to sacrifice the rights and well-being of a few for the greater good of many?
  3. Should we prioritize individual freedoms or collective well-being?
  4. How can we balance our natural tendencies toward tribalism and group identity with our desire for universal human rights?
  5. Is it morally acceptable to use violence in defense of oneself or others?

5 examples

  1. Steven Pinker presents the examples of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Frederick Douglass who both opposed slavery and fought for women's rights in the United States.
  2. He also mentions Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., both of whom fought for civil rights through non-violent means.
  3. Pinker discusses the work of philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who used his fortune to build libraries and universities and promote education.
  4. He mentions the life and work of the Enlightenment thinker Voltaire, who was an advocate of reason, tolerance, and human rights.
  5. Pinker also cites the story of John Newton, a former slave trader who later became an abolitionist and wrote the hymn "Amazing Grace."

Referenced books

  1. "The Leviathan" by Thomas Hobbes 
  2. "The Rights of Man" by Thomas Paine 
  3. "Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies" by Jared Diamond 
  4. "The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness" by Erich Fromm -
  5. "On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society" by Dave Grossman 

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"The badness of a man is the worst thing that can be said about him."

Steven Pinker: The Better Angels of Our Nature
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