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The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom

3.99  ·  Rating details ·  981 ratings  ·  138 reviews
We are living in the most moral period of our species' history. Best-selling author Michael Shermer's most accomplished and ambitious book to date demonstrates how the scientific way of thinking has made people, and society as a whole, more moral. Ever since the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment thinkers consciously applied the methods of science to solve social and mora ...more
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Published January 20th 2015 by Michael Shermer-John Wagner Studios (first published January 1st 2014)
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Ryan Boissonneault It’s true, this does depend on how you want to define morality. I think a sensible definition of morality is behavior that tends to increase individua…moreIt’s true, this does depend on how you want to define morality. I think a sensible definition of morality is behavior that tends to increase individual human well-being and flourishing.

On this definition, it’s rather easy to see how science can influence morality. Some examples: the ability of modern medicine to reduce suffering and save lives; the eradication of diseases, like polio, through vaccination; the increased efficiency of agriculture to prevent mass starvation; psychotherapy and medication to cure depression; increased economic efficiency to increase wealth and leisure; communications technology to increase access to knowledge and education.

And, most importantly, the replacement of the religious justification for actions with rational justification that others can accept on its own terms. Science also promotes the skills in abstract thinking necessary to allow an individual to change perspectives and view behavior in terms of effects on the well-being of others. In other words, not believing that you have moral priority over others simply because you belong to a specific group, race, gender, nation, class, etc.

Of course, you can define morality as having nothing to do with human well-being, but that’s a rather hollow definition of morality.
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Biblio Files (takingadayoff)
Michael Shermer, professional skeptic, has written a very ambitious book. In The Moral Arc he proposes to take up where Steven Pinker left off in his The Better Angels of Our Nature. Pinker's book sets out to show that we are living in the least violent times in history and that this is due to our increased intelligence over time.

Shermer, while acknowledging Pinker's book, doesn't really cover any new ground. In fact, his arguments draw heavily on pop culture references, almost as if he doesn't
...more
Alan Johnson
In The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom, Michael Shermer sets forth a view of human history that is reflective of the Enlightenment faith in science, progress, and what in the United States is called economic and political libertarianism. The subtitle of the book refers to both "Science" and "Reason." Shermer does not discuss thematically whether reason is simply equivalent to the experimental method of modern science, but he sometimes appears to ...more
J C
Jul 14, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gave-up-half-way
It's impossible to take this book seriously. For me, it's Alain de botton all over again -- the guy talks a lot, but doesn't demonstrate any understanding of the issues at play at all. The only thing worth reading in this book are the ocassionally relevant quotes, as well as the interesting facts and figures. But that is better gleaned elsewhere, unless one has a very sturdy forehead, which one would be smacking/banging a lot reading the ridiculously crude explanations he provides. Tell me again ...more
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The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom by Michael Shermer

“The Moral Arc” makes the compelling case that the world is progressing morally and that most of this development is a result of secular forces. Best-selling author and well-known skeptic Michael Shermer takes a scientific approach to his thesis, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” This provocative 560-page book includes twelve chapters and is broken in the f
...more
Richard
Frankly, I'll probably never get around to reading this, because I'm one of the converted.

My only qualm here is that human nature itself is fundamentally conflicted between cooperating with others (i.e., collectivism) and trying out-compete everyone else (referred to as "defecting" in game theory, sometimes termed "competing" in casual use, but more like free-riding or parasitism). I suspect that aspect will slow down the final stages of "the moral arc" from decades to thousands of years.

But, an
...more
Otto Lehto
Oct 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
OK, I have a credibility problem. I think. You see, I agree with Michael Shermer about almost everything: ethics, science, religion, politics, economics. Can I be trusted to review this book fairly? (This, by the way, is the sort of question that being a skeptic allows me to ask in all humility.)

Well, let's see... oh, I know! How about I start with pointing out the negatives! That way I can prove that I am not biased beyond repair. Mm, okay, let's see... Can I do it?

Actually, finding faults is
...more
Dee Eisel
Feb 10, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: social-justice
Oh good grief.

I didn't know much about Michael Shermer except that he likes to make fun of people who believe things he doesn't. Apparently he wrote an actual good book on that once, and maybe I should have read that instead. But the word "Justice" in the title caught my eye, and so I decided to see what he had to say.

Friends, do not read this book.

He seems to think that People of Color and women of all races have it better now than at any time in history (in the case of many PoC, demonstrably n
...more
Justin Powell
If I could give a 3.5 rating, I would have for this book. This book had a lot of potential considering it was pulling off of two great books; The Better Angels of Our Nature by Steven Pinker and The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris. However, I don't think it really delivered all too well. Pieces of Shermer's case were very well done, while others were pretty weak in my opinion. Especially the portions on economics. If you came away not realizing that he is a libertarian, I'll wonder if you even rea ...more
Barry Belmont
Jan 20, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Part Steven Pinker’s “The Better Angels of Our Nature”, part Matt Ridley’s “The Rational Optimist”. Part new-atheism, part pop-libertarianism. I find myself in the odd position of agreeing with every single point being made and not fully enjoying it because each of these points has been professed elsewhere, more thoroughly, more originally, and often more, if I may be so crass, poetically. Everything here is stated plainly. And that is great, to a point. Everything said serves its purpose. But n ...more
Gendou
Mar 04, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shermer argues for the forward progress of moral thinking throughout history. This "moral arc" bends, he says, towards truth, justice, and freedom. He makes a good case from sociological evidence of humans past and present.

He follows this arc to its logical conclusion which is, in his opinion, inclusion of consideration for non-human animals. He gets a little extreme at times, granting lab rats and livestock equal status as "sentient beings". He recites with surprising lack of skepticism myths a
...more
Rich
Apr 19, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: quit-reading
I really enjoyed "Why People Believe Weird Things," so I thought this book would be great. Shermer's Introduction was absolutely wonderful, and included one of my favorite paragraphs ever. I've re-read it so much, and so want it to be true, that I'll post it here:
"Improvements in the domain of morality are evident in many areas of life: governance (the rise of liberal democracies and the decline of theocracies and autocracies); economics (broader property rights and the freedom to trade goods a
...more
Richard Lawrence
This was an interesting read/listen. Shermer presents a number of arguments to show and explain the apparent correlation between the advance of science and the advance of our moral sensibilities. Having considered Shermer's arguments I am still not fully convinced that it is the rise of science and reason that is informing and driving the moral insights of society and is the prime mover of 'bending the moral arc' as Shermer calls it. We have had science and scientific progress in any number of s ...more
S.P.
Feb 19, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
There are three sections of this book. The first section explains what the moral arc is, how 'morality' has arced towards justice since the enlightenment, and how this is due to the influence of science and reason rather than religion, which has fought moral progress at every stage.

The second section, is probably the most interesting however, and the most persuasive. I was, by the time I got to the last chapter in the section, quite moved, and think that this section of the book deserves some di
...more
Jennifer
Nov 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
This book is very thought-provoking. Although I do not agree with everything the author said, I found many of his arguments persuasive. He often cited the literature to back up the arguments he made which I appreciate. In many ways I did not like this book, not because it was poorly written or poorly researched (because it was well-written and well-researched), but because it forced me to rethink some of the things I believe and to think about topics that quite frankly I would rather not think a ...more
Kifflie
Dec 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
A great argument in favor of civil rights and human progress based in science rather than superstition. Instead of the Ten Commandments, Shermer proposes a Provisional Rational Decalogue, which to this modern thinker makes perfect sense.

We have come a long, long way over the centuries indeed. Ending slavery, boosting the rights of women, boosting the rights of gay people, and improving our treatment of animals -- all are covered exceptionally well.

I feel like a better person after reading this
...more
Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin
Pretty good summary of human psychology and politics and a very good synthesis making the case that science has improved us not only materially but morally. It talks in the abstract in the first half summarizing the psychology of politics and the arch of human history and then goes on to practical cases of the abolition of slavery, the gay rights movement and growing respect giving to nonhuman species as real cases of expanding the moral circle based on hard won knowledge some of it from the sci ...more
Ryan Boissonneault
The Moral Arc by Michael Shermer is one of the best and most thorough defenses of secular morality I’ve read. The research is extensive and the arguments are persuasive, revealing humanity’s true drivers of moral progress.

First, Shermer presents the idea that many, if not most, historical instances of immorality were the result of factual errors. Human sacrifices, the burning of witches, withholding medication in favor of prayer, as a few examples, were all instances of serious misunderstandings
...more
David Msomba
While I enjoyed so much reading this book,I don't think I'm on right position to give a good review simply because the author confessed that he was inspired mainly by Steven Pinker and Steven Pinker himself,endorsed this book as a sequel to his critical acclaimed masterpiece Better Angel of our time which I haven't read it yet,and throughout reading this book I had this weird feeling that I missing something since I didn't read the original work...

But my personal weird feelings aside,This is a v
...more
Shawn Gray
Jan 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A nice intro to the basics of moral thought and how the Enlightenment, science, and reason have led to a more moral world. The author examines 4 specific moral issues that have plagued civilization (focusing more on how we have treated them in Western culture): slavery, women's rights, gay rights, and animal rights. Through each of these moral issues the author argues several key points.

1) Morality tends to occur on a continuum and shouldn't be treated as dichotomous.
2) Antiquated societies ac
...more
Colin
Jul 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A very optimistic, pre-Trump appraisal of the generally forward momentum of logic and reason and their role in improving life for everyone in the human race. Sadly, his prediction that no one can turn the clock back to ignorance and superstition that harms formerly marginalized groups seems a bit premature at the moment . . . but on the whole, the scholarship is good and most of the conclusions are sound.
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
This book tries to fill in some of the whys in Steven Pinker's book "Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined". The author starts off by defining morality as the "flourishing and surviving of sentient beings". It's not a perfect definition but in general the listener can latch on to it.

The author does go beyond Pinker's book and tries to fill in more of the reasons why violence has declined by looking at the facts from a morality point of view. Shermer knows it is more profitable t
...more
Sara
Jan 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I must admit that this book didn't quite live up to expectations (though I did like it). I was expecting a little more Sam Harris's The Moral Landscape and less Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature. The problem is that the book mostly continued to tread on familiar territory and there wasn't as much new information as I had hoped.

The first chapter is immediately familiar if you've read any of Shermer's previous books- a basic look into science and skepticism. The second chapter is about ter
...more
Kathryn Bashaar
Feb 01, 2015 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: didn-t-finish
Sloppy, sloppy and sloppy.
At first, I thought I would really like this book. It deals with a topic that interests me: the moral development of human beings. And its premise is very optimistic: that human behavior, and perhaps human nature itself, have slowly been changing for the better.
But, in the early chapters, which I enjoyed, I started to notice that there was a lot of leaping to the conclusion that correlation = causation, and it seemed like the author was picking and choosing time frames
...more
Brett Williams
Shermer is highly informative, makes solid points, usually with good historical reference for comparison between options for stable society, and provides good data to substantiate (from the standpoint of rigor, very good, from the standpoint of readability, too much - a data appendix might have been warranted).

Shermer's point is this: "I argue that most of the moral development of the past several centuries has been the result of secular not religious forces, and that the most important of thes
...more
Robertmagee32
Mar 28, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
To further riff on the MLK theme, a more apt subtitle for this book might have been "Why We Can Wait". Shermer does a great job making his point and he brings a lot of interesting information to the reader's attention. It's definitely worth a read. His argument that we are moving inexorably and inevitably toward a more just moral future is well made, but it would have been better if he had addressed class conflict or cataclysm in a serious way. There is a very strong argument to be made that the ...more
Sam Nigro
Dec 05, 2018 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
BOOK REVIEW: The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward
Truth, Justice, and Freedom, by Michael Shermer, Henry Holt and
Company, New York, 2015, 541 pages.

by Samuel A. Nigro, MD February 2015.


All facts in science are provisional and subject to challenge and change, therefore science is not a "thing" per se; rather it is a method of discovery that leads to provisional conclusions (Page 15).

Readers should remember his belief in "provisional"-ism when reading the rest of this book
...more
Darren
Feb 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Moral Arc, by Michael Shermer

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Martin Luther King Jr.

I would recommended this book as a fantastic follow up to Steven Pinker's "Better Angels of our Nature" and Matt Ridley's "The Rational Optimist". Beginning with the famous march to Selma, Alabama led by Martin Luther King Jr to fight for the right to vote, Shermer takes the reader on a journey that makes the irrefutable case that morality is on an upward swing (arc). Usi
...more
Rita Robinson
Jul 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
The Moral Arc by Michael Shermer, was written to encourage the idea that things are getting better through an historical, and current look at evolving humans, based on the idea that a scientific and reasoning way of thinking has made people, and societies more moral, caring, and thoughtful. Lots of research, charts and graphs, along with top writing and quotes to explain it all. It covers how morality affects and or has affected war, slavery, the rights of women, minorities, gays, and animals, a ...more
Nancy
Oct 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Despite what we might think about the state of the world today - crime, wars, inequality etc. in fact, we are living in one of the most moral periods in human history. Michael Shermer, who is both eloquent and thoughtful explores this fact through the prism of science, which includes social science, anthropology, psychology and economics. I thought this book was really well structured and provided fascinating evidence concerning both the individual and the population at large and how moral we ha ...more
Steve
Feb 14, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great book in a lot of ways, broader in scope but similar to Pinker's "Better Angels..." book from a couple years ago. My main quibbles would be his lightweight treatment of philosophy, particularly in dealing with morality and the place of science in the world. But overall it's a fine counterweight to gloom-and-doom mongering - it's nice to see the many ways in which life has been getting better for most people most of the time around the world.
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Michael Brant Shermer (born September 8, 1954 in Glendale, California) is an American science writer, historian of science, founder of The Skeptics Society, and Editor in Chief of its magazine Skeptic, which is largely devoted to investigating and debunking pseudoscientific and supernatural claims. The Skeptics Society currently has over 55,000 members.

Shermer is also the producer and co-host of t
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“It is no longer acceptable to simply assert your moral beliefs; you have to provide reasons for them, and those reasons had better be grounded in rational arguments and empirical evidence or else they will likely be ignored or rejected.” 14 likes
“Thinking scientifically requires the ability to reason abstractly, which itself is at the foundation of all morality. Consider the mental rotation required to implement the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. This necessitates one to change positions—to become the other—and then to extrapolate what action X would feel like as the receiver instead of the doer (or as the victim instead of the perpetrator). A case can be made that the type of conceptual ratiocination required for both scientific and moral reasoning not only is linked historically and psychologically, but also that it has been improving over time as we become better at nonconcrete, theoretical reflection.” 7 likes
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