The Enigma of Reason

The Enigma of Reason

by Hugo Mercier, Dan Sperber


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“Brilliant…Timely and necessary.” —Financial Times

“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

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 by two renowned cognitive scientists seeks to solve this double enigma. Reason, they argue, helps us justify our beliefs, convince others, and evaluate arguments. It makes it easier to cooperate and communicate and to live together in groups. Provocative, entertaining, and undeniably relevant, The Enigma of Reason will make many reasonable people rethink their beliefs.

“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 not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems…[but] to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.”
—Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker

“Turns reason’s weaknesses into strengths, arguing that its supposed flaws are actually design features that work remarkably well.”
Financial Times

“The best thing I have read about human reasoning. It is extremely well written, interesting, and very enjoyable to read.”
—Gilbert Harman, Princeton University

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674237827
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 03/04/2019
Pages: 408
Sales rank: 205,847
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(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 Superieure, Paris.

Liam Gerrard is an award-winning voice artist with over ten years of experience working in every field of the voice industry, as well as a highly acclaimed stage and screen actor. A 2017 Audie Award nominee, he has narrated over thirty audiobooks in a wide range of genres and styles.

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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