Can evolution get us off the hook? Evaluating the ecological defence of human rationality

Consciousness and Cognition 33:524-535 (2015)

Michael Vlerick
Tilburg University
This paper discusses the ecological case for epistemic innocence: does biased cognition have evolutionary benefits, and if so, does that exculpate human reasoners from irrationality? Proponents of ‘ecological rationality’ have challenged the bleak view of human reasoning emerging from research on biases and fallacies. If we approach the human mind as an adaptive toolbox, tailored to the structure of the environment, many alleged biases and fallacies turn out to be artefacts of narrow norms and artificial set-ups. However, we argue that putative demonstrations of ecological rationality involve subtle locus shifts in attributions of rationality, conflating the adaptive rationale of heuristics with our own epistemic credentials. By contrast, other cases also involve an ecological reframing of human reason, but do not involve such problematic locus shifts. We discuss the difference between these cases, bringing clarity to the rationality debate.
Keywords Adaptation  Locus shifts  Cognitive bias   Ecological rationality   Error management  Evolutionary psychology  Fast & frugal heuristics   Irrationality
Categories (categorize this paper)
DOI 10.1016/j.concog.2014.08.025
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory.Dan Sperber - 2011 - Behavioral and Brain Sciences 34 (2):57.
Darwin's Dangerous Idea: Evolution and the Meanings of Life.David L. Hull - 1997 - British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 48 (3):435-438.

View all 40 references / Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

Critical Thinking and Cognitive Bias.Jeffrey Maynes - 2015 - Informal Logic 35 (2):183-203.
Truth and Consequences: When Is It Rational to Accept Falsehoods?Taner Edis & Maarten Boudry - 2019 - Journal of Cognition and Culture 19 (1-2):147-169.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

The Role of Emotions in Ecological and Practical Rationality.Matteo Mameli - 2004 - In D. Evans & Pierre Cruse (eds.), Emotion, Evolution, and Rationality. Oxford University Press. pp. 159--178.
Inquiry in to the Russian Ecological Eschatology Ideology.Liang Kun - 2008 - Proceedings of the Xxii World Congress of Philosophy 45:511-525.
China's eco-historian Line in the conceptual framework and research.Li-hua Wang - 2006 - Nankai University (Philosophy and Social Sciences) 2:22-32.
Trust and Ecological Rationality in a Computing Context.Jeff Buechner - 2013 - Acm Sigcas Computers and Society 43 (1):47-68.
Beyond Positivist Ecology: Toward an Integrated Ecological Ethics.Bryan G. Norton - 2008 - Science and Engineering Ethics 14 (4):581-592.
Adaptive Illusions: Optimism, Control and Human Rationality.Daniel Nettle - 2004 - In Dylan Evans & Pierre Cruse (eds.), Emotion, Evolution and Rationality. Oxford University Press.


Added to PP index

Total views
81 ( #109,284 of 2,289,680 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
27 ( #31,865 of 2,289,680 )

How can I increase my downloads?


My notes

Sign in to use this feature