The Enigma of Reason

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Harvard University Press, 17 avr. 2017 - 396 pages

Reason, we are told, is what makes us human, the source of our knowledge and wisdom. If reason is so useful, why didn't it also evolve in other animals? If reason is that reliable, why do we produce so much thoroughly reasoned nonsense? In their groundbreaking account of the evolution and workings of reason, Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber set out to solve this double enigma. Reason, they argue with a compelling mix of real-life and experimental evidence, is not geared to solitary use, to arriving at better beliefs and decisions on our own. What reason does, rather, is help us justify our beliefs and actions to others, convince them through argumentation, and evaluate the justifications and arguments that others address to us.

In other words, reason helps humans better exploit their uniquely rich social environment. This interactionist interpretation explains why reason may have evolved and how it fits with other cognitive mechanisms. It makes sense of strengths and weaknesses that have long puzzled philosophers and psychologists--why reason is biased in favor of what we already believe, why it may lead to terrible ideas and yet is indispensable to spreading good ones.

Ambitious, provocative, and entertaining, The Enigma of Reason will spark debate among psychologists and philosophers, and make many reasonable people rethink their own thinking.

 

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Mercier and Sperber hold that reason is a cognitive skill that evolved to bolster cooperation and communication in a way that insure what is called the fiability of the signal; and throughtout, evolutionnary reasoning is taken to give better ground to their argumentative reason than to reason as traditionnally conceived. Their book is bold, has empirical anchorage (in problem solving by solitary thinkers vs argumentative group). All in all, the book exposes one alternative view of reason(convince others and resisting being convinded by others up to a certain epistemic point) and to one dominant view (the solitary thinker aiming the truth), and succeeds. A Great book
Rather than reason being the individual thinker's key to access objective, impartial knowledge and decision, through logical, modus-tolens-like way of formatting (representing) sensory inputs, reason is an intuitive inferential mechanism, among many other such mechanisms, exploiting efficient regularities without representing them; the proper (modular) domain of which is reasons given as justifications and as arguments. Justifications and arguments <i> are for social consumption </i> - to convince, to enforce reputation and normativity, to commit oneself, to communicate through epistemic vigilance. Intuitively evaluating reasons qua justification / arguments is domain specific. But since the latter can be about anything, and since feeling right about an intuition also amounts to feeling right about the things intuition are about, reason amounts to a virtual domain-general mechanism (from intuitive argument to reflective conclusion). We see the world over the shoulder of a prior, intuitive reason of which we ignore the pros and cons.
Among this book's many strength are it's deep, large historical knowledge. Mercier and Sperber gives rich and moving examples in support of their claim : Thomas Jefferson's endorsement of slavery and of man's inborn right to freedom and happiness at the same time is one but a speaking case.
La raison des philosophes est un super-pouvoir distinctif de l'humain; celle des psychologues expérimentaux une capacité biaisée, paresseuse et fautive ("flawed") (voir Daniel Kahneman Système 1 / système 2 : les deux vitesses de la pensée pour une exposition détaillée).
Ces deux perspectives sont irréconciliables avec une explication évolutionnaire de la raison : une capacité ne peut être sélectionnée pour ses défauts, ni l'être en vertu de caractères ou de traits d'une nouveauté entière et sans commune mesure (sans homologie) avec sa/ses devancière(s).
Une super-capacité fautive et fruit de l'évolution forme une énigme. Mercier et Sperber entreprennent de la démonter en défendant cette proposition centrale :
Le raisonnement est un mécanisme inférenciel intuitif dont le domaine propre comprend l'évaluation et la production des raisons comme justifications et comme arguments pour convaincre autrui.
Ce que les psychologues expérimentaux tiennent pour des défauts et des erreurs de l'intuition et de la raison sont en réalité des caractères adaptatifs, adéquats à la coordination sociale, à la préservation de la réputation individuelle, à la communication et au renforcement des normes et engagements mutuels, de manière telle, par exemple, que le partage de croyances au sein d'un groupe et la capacité d'anticiper les objections possibles renforcent la portée et la qualité du raisonnement individuel; tandis que l'absence de cet arrière-plan et d'objection anticipables appauvrit le raisonnement. Ces motifs font que le même Newton a atteint des sommets dans le raisonnement mathématique (auditoire dense) et s'est égaré dans les spéculations d'alchimie (auditoire faible).
Les organismes vivants possèdent une variété de mécanismes cognitifs inférenciels, produisant des informations nouvelles à partir d'informations actuelles (par exemple: la direction du retour au nid
 

Table des matières

A Double Enigma
1
Shaking Dogma
13
Understanding Inference
49
Rethinking Reason
107
What Reason Can and Cannot Do
203
Reason in the Wild
275
In Praise of Reason after All
328
Notes
337
References
357
Acknowledgments
383
Illustration Credits
385
Index
387
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À propos de l'auteur (2017)

Hugo Mercier is a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, working in the Cognitive Science Institute Marc Jeannerod in Lyon.

Dan Sperber is a researcher in the Departments of Cognitive Science and of Philosophy at the Central European University, Budapest, and in the Institut Jean Nicod at the École Normale Supérieure, Paris.

Informations bibliographiques