Without Good Reason: The Rationality Debate in Philosophy and Cognitive Science

Without Good Reason: The Rationality Debate in Philosophy and Cognitive Science

Without Good Reason: The Rationality Debate in Philosophy and Cognitive Science

Without Good Reason: The Rationality Debate in Philosophy and Cognitive Science

Synopsis

In this book, Edward Stein offers a clear critical account of the debate about rationality in philosophy and cognitive science. He discusses concepts of rationality--the pictures of rationality on which the debate centers--and assesses the empirical evidence used to argue that humans are irrational. He concludes that the question of human rationality must be answered not conceptually but empirically, using the full resources of an advanced cognitive science. Furthermore, he extends this conclusion to argue that empirical considerations are also relevant to the theory of knowledge--in other words, that epistemology should be naturalized.

Excerpt

The primary evidence for the irrationality thesis--the view that humans have an underlying ability to reason that is appropriately characterized by principles that diverge from the normative principles of reasoning--comes from psychological research concerning human reasoning. Such research is supposed to show that humans systematically violate basic principles of reasoning. in this chapter, I review two important psychological experiments. I choose them not just because they are paradigmatic of the reasoning experiments that are supposed to bear on the question of human rationality but because these particular experiments have been extensively discussed by philosophers and psychologists alike. the first experiment concerns whether we reason in accordance with principles of reasoning based on rules of logic and the second concerns whether we reason in accordance with principles of reasoning based on rules of probability theory. Both experiments seem prima facie to provide evidence that human reasoning competence diverges from the normative principles of reasoning.

As part of the discussion of each experiment, I will review particular instances of a general strategy to reconcile such experimental results with the rationality thesis. the strategy involves saying that subjects are in some way misinterpreting the experimental task before them; appropriately applied, this strategy is supposed to show that these experiments do not provide insight into human reasoning competence but instead uncover the variety of performance errors humans make. I do not attempt to discuss every possible way of interpreting the results of these reasoning experiments. Instead I try, first, to assess the plausibility of some obvious interpretations and, second, to assess the general strategy of favouring interpretations of the reasoning experiments that are compatible with the rationality thesis. Although much of this chapter focuses on the details of the two reasoning experiments and related research, in a way the particular details of the experiments are not crucial. What matters are the general features of these experiments that seem to support the irrationality thesis and the validity of the strategy that attempts to reconcile them with the rationality thesis.

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