The Evolution of Reason: Logic as a Branch of Biology

By William S. Cooper | Go to book overview

1
The Biology of Logic

In The Descent of Man Charles Darwin made some remarks about 'Reason. ' They begin

Of all the faculties of the human mind, it will, I presume, be admitted that Reason stands at the summit. Only a few persons now dispute that animals possess some power of reasoning. Animals may constantly be seen to pause, deliberate, and resolve. It is a significant fact, that the more the habits of any particular animal are studied by a naturalist, the more he attributes to reason and the less to unlearnt instincts…. (Darwin 1871, p. 75)

The passage continues with an astute commentary on the evolution of Reason in humans and animals.

The discussion initiated by Darwin has continued to this day. It has grown into a sophisticated discourse of considerable fascination, drawing on several disciplines. It has delved into animal reasoning in general and human rationality in particular. I have no special quarrel with the details of this extensive literature, to which I have contributed. Nevertheless, regarding the whole, I cannot help suspecting that something akin to a Ptolemaic blunder has been made. The larger order of things has been misconceived.

The original Ptolemaic blunder was rectified by the Copernican revolution, an event that has long intrigued methodologists of science. Ptolemy had the heavenly bodies orbiting a still earth. Centuries later, Copernicus changed the course of astronomy by taking the sun to be the central stillness instead. At the time there were no new observational findings to prompt the change. It was a matter of interpreting the same empirical data from a radically different standpoint. A number of subtle explanatory economies combined to support the

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