Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker argues that while the Enlightenment ideals of using knowledge to enhance human well-being are not inherently natural to us, they are vital for societal progress.
But one obstacle standing in front of greater progress centers on game theory, particularly situations involving the tragedy of the commons. The tragedy of the commons describes a predicament in which individuals independently pursue their own interests, leading to the overexploitation and eventual depletion of a shared resource, ultimately harming everyone’s well-being.
According to Pinker, one example of a tragedy of the commons lies within what we choose to believe in public. An individual might be incentivized to believe in something because it will make them look good to people in their circle. But if enough people behave in this way, the likely consequence is that fewer people will be incentivized to earnestly search for truth.
Still, Pinker maintains a hopeful outlook. He cites advancements in science and morality as evidence of progress, and he argues that humanistic values hold an inherent advantage, as they appeal to universal human desires and shared experiences.