Cognitive Success: A Consequentialist Account of Rationality in Cognition

Topics in Cognitive Science 11 (1):7-36 (2019)
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One of the most discussed issues in psychology—presently and in the past—is how to define and measure the extent to which human cognition is rational. The rationality of human cognition is often evaluated in terms of normative standards based on a priori intuitions. Yet this approach has been challenged by two recent developments in psychology that we review in this article: ecological rationality and descriptivism. Going beyond these contributions, we consider it a good moment for psychologists and philosophers to join forces and work toward a new foundation for the definition of rational cognition. We take a first step in this direction by proposing that the rationality of both cognitive and normative systems can be measured in terms of their cognitive success. Cognitive success can be defined and gauged in terms of two factors: ecological validity (the system's validity in conditions in which it is applicable) and the system's applicability (the scope of conditions under which it can be applied). As we show, prominent systems of reasoning—deductive reasoning, Bayesian reasoning, uncertain conditionals, and prediction and choice—perform rather differently on these two factors. Furthermore, we demonstrate that conceptualizing rationality according to its cognitive success offers a new perspective on the time-honored relationship between the descriptive (“is”) and the normative (“ought”) in psychology and philosophy.



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Gerhard Schurz
Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf

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The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary Psychology and the Generation of Culture.Jerome H. Barkow, Leda Cosmides & John Tooby - 1992 - Oxford University Press. Edited by Jerome H. Barkow, Leda Cosmides & John Tooby.
Knowledge in a social world.Alvin I. Goldman - 1991 - New York: Oxford University Press.

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