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Saletan on Pinker on the Animal with Language

Here’s the always smart and fascinating Saletan’s review of of the Harvard language-obsessed sociobiologist’s new book. These two experts present all sorts of astute and subtle insights, and they’re both fine writers. Aristotle’s bad physics, we learn, is actually good psychology. But we still wonder whether Pinker can fully account for his nerdy, curious, and naughty self in terms of the nature he dscribes. Because I’ve only glanced at the book so far, I’m keeping an open mind.

Discussions - 3 Comments

Peter: I also am reading it and paying attention. The imperfections of Pinker are obvious and, yet, there are ways in which he continues to reveal things that he (seems) often not inclined to want to reveal about the human mind and language that are far more interesting (and ancient) than his first sight would allow.

Peter is right, and this is Pinker's best (including most literary) book yet.

I've always enjoyed Pinker's stuff, especially the Blank Slate. One big problem with his writing is that his anti-dualist interpretation of the mind tends to a kind of reductive materialism although he might resist this reading explicitly. This at least partially accounts for a kind of tone deafness not only to religious belief specifically but also the human experience of personal transcendence which seems ultimately resistant to psychoevolutionary accounts. Here is a fairly recent lecture he gave on the cognitive status of religious belief:

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