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Towards the close of the seventeenth century a certain pattern of thinking, and of interacting with other thinkers, began to have a powerful effect on the civilization of Western Europe, beginning in England. An entire political, moral, economic and intellectual culture grew around the values entailed by that pattern of thinking. This was the Enlightenment. This pattern of thinking was caused by, and has been sustained by, the quest for better explanations—that is,

assertions about reality that are harder to vary while still accounting for what they purport to account for.

Explanations should thus be distinguished from descriptions; this distinction, however, does not imply a hierarchy. The propensity to seek better explanations is itself a form of knowledge. And since all we have—and can have in the future—depends on it, it is the most valuable thing we have.

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