Out of the Cave: Understanding Rationality

Journal of Mind and Behavior 31 (3-4):237-252 (2010)

Deborah Heikes
University of Alabama, Huntsville
The history of philosophy is in many ways a history of how we understand rationality. However, philosophers have historically adopted a fairly narrow approach toward rationality, focusing almost exclusively on issues of structure and the justification of beliefs. In this essay, I argue that considerations of reflective equilibrium should lead philosophers to take into account the empirical features of rationality. After all, our philosophical understanding of rationality must ultimately reflect these features or risk failure. I consider what specific lessons philosophers might take from anthropology and psychology. Anthropology highlights cultural features of rationality which philosophers have tended to overlook, while psychology indicates that philosophers may be correct in emphasizing the importance of the self. Including such wider empirical considerations in their reflections, philosophers are forced to consider our more ordinary use of the concept of rationality, which often looks far different and requires a broader characterization than philosophical analysis allows. Shifting the focus in these ways allows us to re-focus what questions philosophy can ask about the nature of rationality.
Keywords rationality  anthropology  psychology
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