Author: Spencer Hall

21 Lessons for the 21st Century—A Review

A review of 21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari. Spiegel & Grau (September 2018), 400 pages. “[I]n a world in which everything is interconnected, the supreme moral imperative becomes the imperative to know.”1 With that sentence, Yuval Noah Harari, professor of world history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, sets the stage for his new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Previously, Harari has written about humanity’s development from scattered communities of hunter-gatherers to an international society capable of space travel and wireless communication in Sapiens, and the remarkable risks and potentials for advances in artificial intelligence and bioengineering over the next century in Homo Deus. Both of these books became New York Times bestsellers. In 21 Lessons, Harari turns his focus to the present day, addressing a litany of pressing concerns for the first half of the 21st century. Harari’s new book is truly ambitious in scope. In 400 pages, he tackles the future of work and education, the ubiquitous and growing influence of data collection on people’s lives, the increasingly ominous …

The Philosophical Case Against Scientism

Scientism is the claim that science is the only source of knowledge. This claim has been the subject of intense controversy for years, and it has recently re-emerged in public debate following the publication of Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress. Admittedly, Pinker does not make this claim himself, but those who do are (mis)using his work in support of their claims, and the renewed controversy over the term provides us with an opportunity to revisit its validity. Representatives of the humanities, in particular, have had their feathers ruffled by the notion that empirical observation and hypothesis testing have a monopoly on rational inquiry as tight as that enjoyed by Andrew Carnegie on the steel industry in the 19th century; liberal arts need not apply. Much of the criticism of scientism has focused on the aesthetic poverty of abandoning the contemplation of Shakespeare for the study of synapses in humanity’s quest for knowledge of the world and of ourselves. These criticisms have some merit, but a stronger case against …