Debate between the humanities and science is nothing new, so Steven Pinker’s latest manifesto for science is no real surprise. He argues for science’s rightful place at the table discussing questions about life, morality, and human nature. That’s a reasonable enough request; but Pinker, unfortunately, goes overboard, instead arguing that science should be at the head of the table… maybe even the only one at the table. What a boring dinner party. And, like any polarizing argument, he’s garnered some very strong reactions.
In fact New Republic’s editor, Leon Wieseltier, placed his defense of the humanities directly within Pinker’s article. He argues, like many within the humanities, against the hubris of science as the exclusive holder of truth. Other, more pragamatic, critiques of Pinker argue that his condescending attitude only deepens the rift he is, supposedly, trying to bridge.
In the midst of all this mud-slinging, it’s refreshing to hear some voices that are reasonable and nuanced. I was more than a bit surprised to find Daniel Dennett, who is typically as vitriolic as Pinker, as one of those voices. In his recent piece on the Edge, Dennett urges the humanities to “join forces” with science, to drop defenses and quit making itself off-limits. I don’t think this is just a Trojan horse attempt by science to infiltrate the humanities. I think it’s a very reasonable appeal to drop the war-ladened metaphors all together, and to again take up the mantle of pursuing truth.