Topoi 38 (4):711-718 (2019)

Daniel Cohen
Colby College
Psychological and neuroscientific data suggest that a great deal, perhaps even most, of our reasoning turns out to be rationalizing. The reasons we give for our positions are seldom either the real reasons or the effective causes of why we have those positions. We are not as rational as we like to think. A second, no less disheartening observation is that while we may be very effective when it comes to giving reasons, we are not that good at getting reasons. We are not as reasons-responsive as we like to think. Reasoning and argumentation are, on this view, charades without effect. This paper begins by identifying a range of theoretical responses to the idea that reasoning and argumentation have little casual role in our thoughts and actions, and, consequently, that humans are not the reasons-giving, reasons-responsive agents that we imagine ourselves to be. The responses fall into three categories: challenging the data and their interpretations; making peace with the loss of autonomy that is implied; and seeking ways to expand the causal footprint of reasoning and argumentation, e.g., by developing argumentative virtues. There are indeed possibilities for becoming more rational and more reasons-responsive, so the reports of our demise as the rational animal are greatly exaggerated.
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DOI 10.1007/s11245-015-9364-x
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