From the Enlightenment onwards, the West has had an enduring belief that through the evolution of institutions, innovations, and ideas, the human condition is improving. This process is supposedly accelerating as new technologies, individual freedoms, and the spread of global norms empower individuals and societies around the world. But is progress inevitable? Its critics argue that human civilization has become different, not better, over the last two and a half centuries. What is seen as a breakthrough or innovation in one period becomes a setback or limitation in another. In short, progress is an ideology not a fact; a way of thinking about the world as opposed to a description of reality. So is the cup half full or half empty? As part of the Munk Debates series, held in Toronto biannually, pioneering cognitive scientist Steven Pinker and bestselling author Matt Ridley squared off against noted philosopher Alain de Botton and bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell, giving us an entertaining and thought-provoking face-off between four of the world's most renowned thinkers.
STEVEN PINKER is a pioneering cognitive scientist who has written a number of of bestselling books, including The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person's Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, as well as the landmark study on human progress The Better Angels of Our Nature, which won the New York Times Book Review Notable Book of the Year Award and was chosen for Mark Zuckerberg's book club. The Blank Slate and How the Mind Works were both finalists for the Pulitzer Prize. He is Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard and has been named by Time magazine as one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World." MATT RIDLEY's books have been finalists for nine major literary prizes, won several awards, been translated into thirty languages, and sold over one million copies. He currently writes the Mind and Matter column in the Wall Street Journal and writes regularly for The Times. As Viscount Ridley, he was appointed to the House of Lords in 2013 and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the Academy of Medical Sciences, and a foreign honourary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. ALAIN DE BOTTON is a writer of essayistic books that have been described as a "philosophy of everyday life." He has written about love, travel, architecture, and literature. His books have been bestsellers in thirty countries. De Botton also started and helps to run a London-based school called The School of Life, dedicated to a new vision of education. His latest book, published in February 2014, is titled The News: A User's Manual. MALCOLM GLADWELL is a Canadian journalist and the author of five New York Times bestsellers: The Tipping Point, Blink, What the Dog Saw, and his latest, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. He has been named one of the "100 Most Influential People in the World" by Time magazine and one of Foreign Policy magazine's "Top 100 Global Thinkers." Gladwell has been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1996. He has won a National Magazine Award and been honoured by the American Psychological Society and the American Sociological Society.