Brett Williams's Reviews > The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom

The Moral Arc by Michael Shermer
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Shermer is highly informative, makes solid points, usually with good historical reference for comparison between options for stable society, and provides good data to substantiate (from the standpoint of rigor, very good, from the standpoint of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 these that emerged from the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment are science and reason... Further, I demonstrate that the arc of the moral universe bends not merely toward justice, but also toward truth and freedom, and that these positive outcomes have largely been the product of societies moving toward more secular forms of governance and politics, law and jurisprudence, moral reasoning and ethical analysis."

Here, here! However, there are times when Shermer's modernity bias comes through. He writes, "For tens of millennia moral regress best described our species..." But laws that sought greater justice go all the way back to Sumer's Ur-nammu ca. 2150 BC, and likely to innovation of the city ca. 3500 BC when living in numbers contained by close quarters demanded it. Morality evolved. It seems to have been accelerated by Enlightenment, not born there. Shermer says, "It is the individual who is the primary moral agent—not the group, tribe, race, gender, state, nation, empire, society, or any other collective—because it is the individual who survives and flourishes, or who suffers and dies...Historically, immoral abuses have been most rampant, and body counts have run the highest, when the individual is sacrificed for the good of the group." The Amish remain my favored example of a true community that fights death by individualism, where it is that very community that provides its members meaning, purpose, and reference, not autonomy. Shermer contradicts himself by condemning all collectives because of the egregious errors of some, while he notes earlier that we can't write off science for what he sees as the error of Nagasaki. And was Hitler the outcome of community or individual fanaticism gone mad?

For me, this book will remain a rich source of analysis for comparing Shermer's full embrace of modernity with Chantal Delsol's indictment of Enlightenment's spiritual carnage in her Icarus Fallen. Somewhere there must be a sustainable middle ground.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
January 9, 2017 – Started Reading (Kindle Edition)
January 9, 2017 – Shelved (Kindle Edition)
March 15, 2017 – Finished Reading (Kindle Edition)
May 18, 2017 – Shelved

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