Steven Pinker: Literature Improves Our Ability To Empathise

Is literature a type of empathy technology? In the video below, the Harvard academic Steven Pinker observes that the rise of the novel correlates with some of the most significant humanitarian drives throughout history. Pinker makes the excellent point that fiction requires the reader to use his/her imagination to project themselves into the life of another person whose experience may be far removed from their own.

One example he names is the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe, which served as a powerful intellectual impetus for the abolition of slavery in the United States. Other notable examples are the collected works of Charles Dickens and their depiction of poverty in 19th century England.  And though The Diary of Anne Frank  isn’t a novel, it is still one of the major humanitarian works of literature of the 20th century.

This is yet another argument against the strange notion that the arts and humanities are “useless“.


Is Living a Moral Life an Art or a Science?

is morality an art or a science

It’s an interesting question to consider as we typically encounter morality through the linguistic disciplines of law, philosophy and literature, all of which are so-called “arts” subjects. Intuitively, one might feel that it is somewhat odd to associate science with morality, which more readily conjures up images of men atop pulpits than science’s white lab coats and microscopes.

Can morality be examined and dissected like the specimen on a Petri dish? Can its primary elements be systematised and labeled?

Once again, intuitively, one thinks not. The study of the physical processes of the natural world seems to have little to do with human morality.

But this is perhaps too narrow a definition of what science is and what its scope is limited to, which is not only the “hard sciences” of chemistry and physics. Even though, stereotypically, it is usually associated with these subjects. Read More…