Are the ideals of the Enlightenment – reason, science and humanism – and the progress they can deliver being undermined by a cynical desire to burn it all down? Pre-eminent psychologist Steven Pinker explains why problems are inevitable and not a reason to destroy the institutions of modernity, with all the resulting chaos and carnage. The use of knowledge to enhance human flourishing will never bring about utopia, but it has given greater life, freedom, equality, safety, peace, and enrichment to billions, and promises still more if we rededicate ourselves to that ideal. Pinker will be delivering The Hitch this year.
The Hitch keynote address has been delivered at Festival of Dangerous Ideas since 2018 and is named in honour of the great contrarian Christopher Hitchens, the first FODI keynote presenter. Hitchens helped to launch FODI in 2009. He embodied its ideals: he was fearless, urbane and infused with a zest for life that burned bright, usually at both ends of the candle. So, following his death (and with his family’s permission), the opening or closing event is presented in his memory.
Steven Pinker is an experimental psychologist who conducts research in visual cognition, psycholinguistics, and social relations. He grew up in Montreal and earned his BA from McGill and his PhD from Harvard. Currently Johnstone Professor of Psychology at Harvard, he has also taught at Stanford and MIT. He has won numerous prizes for his research, his teaching, and his nine books, including The Language Instinct, How the Mind Works, The Blank Slate, The Better Angels of Our Nature, and The Sense of Style. He is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist, a Humanist of the Year, a recipient of nine honorary doctorates, and one of Foreign Policy’s “World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals” and Time’s “100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” He is Chair of the Usage Panel of the American Heritage Dictionary, and writes frequently for The New York Times, The Guardian, and other publications. His tenth book is called Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress.
Claire Lehmann is the founder and Editor in Chief of Quillette. She is a weekly contributor to The Australian, and co-edited Panics and Persecutions: 20 Tales of Excommunication in the Digital Age which was published in 2020. She resides in Sydney.