So many people attacking Descartes! They say now that he is responsible for: our hyper-rationalism; the falling away of Western peoples from faith traditions; the destruction of spirituality in the West; the narcissism of post-1968; noxious aspects of neo-liberalism; the destabilization of Western civilization.
I don’t go along with this. People forget that before Descartes, people were being burned at the stake. Today people who have never heard of Descartes are decapitating other people.
So, I reproduce here Steven Pinker on what we know which is classic Descartes. Words by which I live.
Steven Pinker (Harvard University). Unknown date. WHAT WE KNOW
The findings of science entail that the belief systems of all the world’s traditional religions and cultures—their theories of the origins of life, humans, and societies—are factually mistaken.We know, but our ancestors did not, that humans belong to a single species of African primate that developed agriculture, government, and writing late in its history. We know that our species is a tiny twig of a genealogical tree …We know that we live on a planet that revolves around one of a hundred billion stars in our galaxy, which is one of a hundred billion galaxies in a 13.8-billion-year-old universe, possibly one of a vast number of universes.We know that our intuitions about space, time, matter, and causation are incommensurable with the nature of reality on scales that are very large and very small.We know that the laws governing the physical world (including accidents, disease, and other misfortunes) have no goals that pertain to human well-being. There is no such thing as fate, providence, karma, spells, curses, augury, divine retribution, or answered prayers—though the discrepancy between the laws of probability and the workings of cognition may explain why people believe there are.
And we know that we did not always know these things, that the beloved convictions of every time and culture may be decisively falsified, doubtless including some we hold today.