The enigma of reason

by Hugo Mercier

Other authorsDan Sperber (Author.)
Paper Book, 2017


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.--… (more)



Call number



Cambridge, Massachusetts : Harvard University Press, 2017.

User reviews

LibraryThing member thcson
In short, the authors argue that reasoning works better in confrontation and in social interaction than in solitary contemplation. It's an entertaining read which includes accounts of a great many psychological experiments, but in the end the book turns out to be far to long. With a little bit of
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selection, the argument could easily have fit into half as many pages as it now takes (330). Another critical point is that the authors adopt a freewheeling approach to evolutionary theory as they "explain" the results of present-day psychological research with some very questionable (and unverifiable) speculations about the past. It probably would have been good for their argument if they had practiced what they preach and undertaken some deliberation with critical opponents of evolutionary psychology. But I'm not saying this is a bad book, if you liked Kahneman's "Thinking, fast and slow" then you will probably like this one as well. Popular science which teaches readers how people think is probably the most useful kind.
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LibraryThing member steve02476
Really loved this book! Can't believe two French academics could write so beautifully in English. Not an easy read exactly, but far from impenetrable- it takes a little work to read but ideas are explained slowly and carefully and convincingly. Basic premise is that the ability of humans to reason
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is more of a communications skill, evolved to help us make arguments and evaluate arguments made by others. In most cases, in non-social situations, people don't reason at all - we act intuitively. Bravo, a fine psychology/philosophy mix!
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