Article

Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory

Philosophy, Politics and Economics Program, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA.
Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Impact Factor: 20.77). 04/2011; 34(2):57-74; discussion 74-111. DOI: 10.1017/S0140525X10000968
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT

Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Reasoning so conceived is adaptive given the exceptional dependence of humans on communication and their vulnerability to misinformation. A wide range of evidence in the psychology of reasoning and decision making can be reinterpreted and better explained in the light of this hypothesis. Poor performance in standard reasoning tasks is explained by the lack of argumentative context. When the same problems are placed in a proper argumentative setting, people turn out to be skilled arguers. Skilled arguers, however, are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views. This explains the notorious confirmation bias. This bias is apparent not only when people are actually arguing, but also when they are reasoning proactively from the perspective of having to defend their opinions. Reasoning so motivated can distort evaluations and attitudes and allow erroneous beliefs to persist. Proactively used reasoning also favors decisions that are easy to justify but not necessarily better. In all these instances traditionally described as failures or flaws, reasoning does exactly what can be expected of an argumentative device: Look for arguments that support a given conclusion, and, ceteris paribus, favor conclusions for which arguments can be found.

Download full-text

Full-text

Available from: Hugo Mercier
  • Source
    • "In particular, what does it happen, on a micro level, that justifies such diminishing trend in ratings? Since reviewing a product is a communication process, and since we use arguments to communicate our opinions to others, and possibly convince them (Mercier and Sperger, 2011), it is evident that late reviews should contain enough negative arguments to explain such a negative trend in ratings or that we are more susceptible to negative arguments. The presence of extreme opinions on-line is a well-known issue grounded on the reporting bias and the purchasing bias of online customers -we will deepen this argument in the next section. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: We propose an exploratory study on arguments in Amazon.com reviews. Firstly, we extract positive (in favour of purchase) and negative (against it) arguments from each review concerning a selected product. We accomplish this information extraction manually, scanning all the related reviews. Secondly, we link extracted arguments to the rating score, to the length, and to the date of reviews, in order to undertand how they are connected. As a result, we show that negative arguments are quite sparse in the beginning of such social review-process, while positive arguments are more equally distributed along the timeline. As a final step, we replicate the behaviour of reviewers as agents, by simulating how they assemble reviews in the form of arguments. In such a way, we show we are able to mirror the measured experiment through a simulation that takes into account both positive and negative arguments.
    Full-text · Conference Paper · Feb 2016
    • "These investments are sunk costs, but since he allows such allegedly irrelevant considerations to influence his decisionmaking , he is ultimately better off than he would be if he had ignored them and succumbed to temptation. What is important to stress, however, is that there is actually growing empirical research suggesting that behavior that departs from the tenets of the " standard picture of rationality " might be adaptive (e.g.,Burns, 2001;Lenton, Penke, Todd, & Fasolo, 2013;Mercier & Sperber, 2011). For instance, when talking about overconfidence, Johnson, Weidmann, and Cederman (2011) point to the a " lottery effect " : even though overconfidence might lead to worse performance, overconfident people also engage more often in activities than people, therefore buying more lottery tickets in the competition for success. "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: I take a fresh look at the normative argument from bounded rationality, which has been offered as one particular line of criticism to resist pessimistic views on human rationality. Commentators in the “rationality debate” have generally interpreted the argument appealing to the ought-implies-can principle and considered it unconvincing. I suggest an alternative way to interpret the argument, which appeals to the framework of “adaptive rationality” and better captures what scholars appealing to the normative relevance of people’s cognitive limitations had in mind. Whilst this conceptualization looks more promising, the argument so construed is no longer an independent objection to bias researchers, but is instead a particular case of the more general concern that behavior violating normative standards can be adaptive. Further, it is unclear whether this version of the argument licenses the optimistic verdicts about rationality generally associated with scholars appealing to the normative relevance of research on bounded rationality.
    No preview · Article · Jan 2016 · Theory & Psychology
  • Source
    • "While it does align with these perspectives, we see this as a step past collective sharing of resources toward a more cooperative view of the individual within the greater group. Importantly, we stress that we do not yet fully understand how the group as a collective impacts individual student learning, how individuals see themselves as part of the prosocial environment, and how different contexts impact the development of such environments, yet there is considerable evidence across the social and natural sciences that groups, particularly those that are altruistic, outperform individuals (Caprara et al. 2014;Mercier and Sperber 2011;Wilson 2007). "
    [Show abstract] [Hide abstract]
    ABSTRACT: Given current concerns internationally about student performance in science and the need to shift how science is being learnt in schools, as a community, we need to shift how we approach the issue of learning and teaching in science. In the future, we are going to have to close the gap between how students construct and engage with knowledge in a media-rich environment, and how school classroom environments engage them. This is going to require a shift to immersive environments where attention is paid to the knowledge bases and resources students bring into the classroom. Teachers will have to adopt adaptive pedagogical approaches that are framed around a more nuanced understanding of epistemological orientation, language and the nature of prosocial environments.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2016 · Research in Science Education
Show more