Are people rational? This question was central to Greek thought; and has been at the heart of psychology, philosophy, rational choice in social sciences, and probabilistic approaches to artificial intelligence. This book provides a radical re-appraisal of conventional wisdom in the psychology of reasoning.
For almost two and a half thousand years, the Western conception of what it is to be a human being has been dominated by the idea that the mind is the seat of reason - humans are, almost by definition, the rational animal. From Aristotle to the present day, rationality has been explained by comparison to systems of logic, which distinguish valid (i.e., rationally justified) from invalid arguments. Within psychology and cognitive science, such a logicist conception of the mind was adopted wholeheartedly from Piaget onwards. Simultaneous with the construction of the logicist program in cognition, other researchers found that people appeared surprisingly and systematically illogical in some experiments. Proposals within the logicist paradigm suggested that these were mere performance errors, although in some reasoning tasks only as few as 5% of people's reasoning was logically correct.
In this book a more radical suggestion for explaining these puzzling aspects of human reasoning is put forward: the Western conception of the mind as a logical system is flawed at the very outset. The human mind is primarily concerned with practical action in the face of a profoundly complex and uncertain world. Oaksford and Chater argue that cognition should be understood in terms of probability theory, the calculus of uncertain reasoning, rather than in terms of logic, the calculus of certain reasoning. Thus, the logical mind should be replaced by the probabilistic mind - people may possess not logical rationality, but Bayesian rationality.
About the Author
Mike Oaksford is Professor of Psychology and Head of School at Birkbeck College London. He was a research fellow at the Centre for Cognitive Science, University of Edinburgh, he was then lecturer at the University of Wales, Bangor, and senior lecturer at the University of Warwick, before moving to Cardiff University in 1996 as Professor of Experimental Psychology, a post he held until 2005. His research interests are in the area of human reasoning and decision making. In particular, with his colleague Nick Chater, he has been developing a Bayesian probabilistic approach to deductive reasoning tasks. According to this approach reasoning "biases" are the result of applying the wrong normative model and failing to take account of people's normal environment. He also studies the way the emotions affect and interact with reasoning and decision making processes.
Nick Chater is Professor of Cognitive and Decision Sciences at University College London. He has an M.A. in Psychology from Cambridge University, and a PhD in Cognitive Science from Edinburgh. He has held academic appointments at Edinburgh, Oxford, and Warwick Universities. His research focussed on attempting to find general principles that may be applicable across many cognitive domains, ranging from reasoning and decision making, to language acquisition and processing, to perception and categorization. Since the late 1980s, in collaboration with Mike Oaksford, he has been interested in the application of probabilistic and information-theoretic methods for understanding human reasoning.
Table of Contents
1. Logic and the Western conception of mind