The Enigma of Reason

The Enigma of Reason

by Hugo Mercier, Dan Sperber


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The Enigma of Reason by Hugo Mercier, Dan Sperber

If reason is what makes us human, why do we behave so irrationally? And if it is so useful, why didn’t it evolve in other animals? This groundbreaking account of the evolution of reason seeks to solve this double enigma. Reason helps us justify our beliefs, convince others, and evaluate arguments. It makes it easier to cooperate and communicate. Ambitious, provocative, and entertaining, The Enigma of Reason will make many reasonable people rethink their beliefs.

“Especially timely as we struggle to make sense of how it is that individuals and communities persist in holding beliefs that have been thoroughly discredited.”
—Darren Frey, Science

“Reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant… Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way? …Cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber [argue that] reason developed…to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.”
—Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker

Brilliant, elegant and compelling… Turns reason’s weaknesses into strengths, arguing that its supposed flaws are actually design features that work remarkably well… A timely and necessary book.”
Financial Times

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674368309
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 04/17/2017
Pages: 408
Sales rank: 492,585
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.60(d)

About the Author

Hugo Mercier is a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, working in the Cognitive Science Institute Marc Jeannerod in Lyon.

Dan Sperber is a researcher in the Departments of Cognitive Science and of Philosophy at the Central European University, Budapest, and in the Institut Jean Nicod at the École Normale Supérieure, Paris.

Table of Contents

Introduction: A Double Enigma 1

I Shaking Dogma 13

1 Reason on Trail 15

2 Psychologists' Travails 34

II Understanding Inference 49

3 From Unconscious Inferences to Intuitions 51

4 Modularity 68

5 Cognitive Opportunism 76

6 Metarepresentations 90

III Rethinking Reason 107

7 How We Use Reasons 109

8 Could Reason Be a Module? 128

9 Reasoning: Intuition and Reflection 148

10 Reason: What Is It For? 175

IV What Reason Can and Cannot Do 203

11 Why Is Reasoning Biased? 205

12 Quality Control: How We Evaluate Arguments 222

13 The Dark Side of Reason 237

14 A Reason for Everything 251

15 The Bright Side of Reason 262

V Reason in the Wild 275

16 Is Human Reason Universal? 277

17 Reasoning about Moral and Political Topics 299

18 Solitary Geniuses? 315

Conclusion: In Praise of Reason after All 328

Notes 337

References 357

Acknowledgments 383

Illustration Credits 385

Index 387

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