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The Decline of Violence:

steven pinker's theory explored

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This Debate

Roger Bolton, Andrew Copson, Judith Marquand, Steven Pinker. Rana Mitter hosts.

Live from New York, linguist and psychologist Steven Pinker makes the case for the decline of warfare and murder. Economist Judith Marquand, BHA Chief Executive Andrew Copson and BBC broadcaster Roger Bolton cross-examine.

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Jump to what you want to see in the debate
  • Steven Pinker
    The Talk
    How has violence declined?
  • Steven Pinker
    The Talk
    Why has violence declined?
  • Steven Pinker
    The Talk
    The implications of declining violence
  • Judith Marquand
    The Debate
    Can reason alone explain the decline of violence?
  • Andrew Copson
    The Debate
    Why is the decline of violence not universal?
  • Roger Bolton
    The Debate
    Why is there resistance to Pinker's thesis?
Join the conversation

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dansumners on 14/11/2012 6:01pm

I believe empathy is more important than reason. Further, it is not, as Steven describes it, a feeble force at all.

He says he does not have the mental energy to empathise with seven million people, but that is to misconstrue empathy. Empathy usually occurs when an individual interacts with another (or others); it doesn't even require dialogue or physical interaction - one can empathise with a character in a film or book (or characters). It is not something one chooses to expend energy on, it simply happens.

Sympathy, on the other hand, is an active choice, and the result of reasoning.

Empathy is more important than reason, or sympathy, because it is a greater driver of human action, as are all emotive forces. Without having experienced empathy for another person, one would be less likely to sympathise with people in general.

Because it is in large part by way of empathy that we come to believe others have an emotional life much the same as our own, that they experience pain and joy as we do. And if that is true for all those we have actually interacted with, it is probably true for everyone. Therefore, one can reason, what is or should be true for one, should be true for all.

Adulted on 14/11/2012 2:03am

I appreciate Pinker's pov and would like to know about the trend of resource consumption/destruction for and from violence. What have the measureable trends been?

Guv'nor Marly on 08/11/2012 2:44pm

I must say I think Stephen Pinker places too much faith in the long-term sustainability of rationalist Enlightenment values. John Gray gave Better Angels quite a savage review in prospect and whilst I tend to think he takes things a bit far overall, it's definitely fair to say the west is still fighting colonial wars even if it's not fighting itself directly

TracerTong on 08/11/2012 12:47pm

The world is generally a less violent place, this much is true, but I don’t think we have much to congratulate ourselves for – once we enter a society of scarcity once more I’m sure the state of affairs will regress rather quickly. How long will it take for hundreds of years of fighting in europe to rear its ugly head once more?

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