Reason: Book Preview

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust? ..................W. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2.

The Prince of Denmark had his qualms about the paragon and his noble and infinite faculty. The authors of The Enigma of Reason bring evolutionary psychology to task of explication and analysis of the faculty in question. In particular, they are interested in how it evolved and what its evolutionary value has been.

Animals, humans are animals! Ah, but humans, and humans alone, are endowed with reason. Reason sets them apart, high above other creatures— or so Western philosophers have claimed.

Mercier, Hugo (2017-04-17). The Enigma of Reason (Kindle Locations 82-83). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.

A starting point:

How should success or failure in reasoning be assessed? What are the mechanisms responsible? In spite of their often bitter disagreements, parties to these polemics have failed to question a basic dogma. All have taken for granted that the job of reasoning is to help individuals achieve greater knowledge and make better decisions.

If you accept the dogma, then, yes, it is quite puzzling that reason should fall short of being impartial, objective, and logical. It is paradoxical that, quite commonly, reasoning should fail to bring people to agree and, even worse, that it should often exacerbate their differences. But why accept the dogma in the first place? Well, there is the weight of tradition … And, you might ask, what else could possibly be the function of reasoning?

Mercier, Hugo (2017-04-17). The Enigma of Reason (Kindle Locations 137-142). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.

In particular, the authors argue that the analysis of Kahneman and Tversky, which casts a lot of doubt on the efficacy of reason, is not wrong but fundamentally incomplete, with many of the faulty reasoning cases they adduce being consequent to asking people to apply reasoning techniques outside their useful (and usual domain).


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