Steven Pinker || Why Rationality Matters

October 14, 2021

Today it’s great to have Steven Pinker on the podcast. Dr. Pinker is the Johnstone professor of psychology at Harvard University. A two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and the winner of many awards for his research, teaching, and books. He’s been elected to the National Academy of Science, and named as one of Time’s “100 Most Influential People”, and one of Foreign Policy’s “100 Leading Global Thinkers”. His books include How the Mind Works, The Blank State, The Stuff of Thought, The Better Angels of Our Nature, The Sense of Style, Enlightenment Now, and most recently, Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters.

In this episode, I talk to Steven about the definition of rationality, how it relates to truth, and how it’s different from logic. We also discuss the trade-offs in decision making, the limited usefulness of strategic irrationality, the boundaries of socially acceptable fiction, and why people have weird beliefs among other things.

Website: stevenpinker.com
Twitter: @sapinker


  • 01:02 Must we always follow reason?
  • 03:34 Steven’s definition of rationality
  • 05:24 Tension between conflicting goals
  • 08:31 What is truth?
  • 13:12 When to apply logic or rationality
  • 23:14 There can be no trade-off between rationality and justice
  • 25:35 Politicizing knowledge and research
  • 29:24 Strategic irrationality has limits
  • 36:13 Taboo trade-offs, heretical counterfactuals, and forbidden base rates
  • 42:04 The changing norms of acceptable fiction
  • 45:56 Why rationality is cool
  • 49:39 The costs of decision making
  • 55:54 Progress came from utilitarian reasoning
  • 57:52 “The pandemic of poppycock”
  • 01:01:23 Expressive rationality: morally empowering beliefs
  • 01:05:26 Bayesian reasoning

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