EconTalk — John Gray

On: The Seven Kinds of Atheism.

Episode: N/A

Date: October 2018

Background: philosopher and author; latest book “Seven Types of Atheism”.

Key Subjects:

  • Gray argues that progress is an illusion and that most “atheisms” inherit, unknowingly, a religious belief in progress that is not justified.
  • Gray concedes that technological know-how and scientific knowledge improve over time.
  • He argues that morality and political systems are cyclical and that there is no reason to be optimistic about the future.
    • Human nature changes very little and very slowly. The long arc of steady progress can periodically and temporarily (and to a greater or lesser degree) be interrupted or undercut by the limits of human rationality and associated behavior.

    • [A recognition that humans are decision making social animals with limited cognitive capabilities that are driven by basic needs / goals. This drives a clash between (increasing) systemic complexity and the limits of human nature / cognition].

Key Takeaways:

  • Slow progress (if any) of human nature limits moral and political progress.

Worth Listening:

Different and interesting perspective on what drives and limits economic progress. What was perhaps missing from the discussion is what you do to avoid or change the tendency for constraints in human nature / cognition to curb progress. Knowing our limitations and the demands of increasing complexity, are there better systems than what we have (capitalism)? 


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