The Enigma of Reason (Hardcover)

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Staff Reviews

An insightful book that attempts to give an account of why reason arose in humans in the first place and why it has such a bad reputation at present. There are hundreds of cognitive biases that have been documented so how could something so bad have persisted in our species for so long? The short answer: human beings are out of their evolutionary context in our 24-7 fluorescently lit world. The most interesting conclusion of the book is that reason is naturally social. We think more clearly and come to better conclusions in dialogue with one another.

— From Andy's Staff Favorites


Reason, we are told, is what makes us human, the source of our knowledge and wisdom. If reason is so useful, why didn't it also evolve in other animals? If reason is that reliable, why do we produce so much thoroughly reasoned nonsense? In their groundbreaking account of the evolution and workings of reason, Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber set out to solve this double enigma. Reason, they argue with a compelling mix of real-life and experimental evidence, is not geared to solitary use, to arriving at better beliefs and decisions on our own. What reason does, rather, is help us justify our beliefs and actions to others, convince them through argumentation, and evaluate the justifications and arguments that others address to us.

In other words, reason helps humans better exploit their uniquely rich social environment. This interactionist interpretation explains why reason may have evolved and how it fits with other cognitive mechanisms. It makes sense of strengths and weaknesses that have long puzzled philosophers and psychologists--why reason is biased in favor of what we already believe, why it may lead to terrible ideas and yet is indispensable to spreading good ones.

Ambitious, provocative, and entertaining, The Enigma of Reason will spark debate among psychologists and philosophers, and make many reasonable people rethink their own thinking.

Product Details
ISBN: 9780674368309
ISBN-10: 0674368304
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Publication Date: April 17th, 2017
Pages: 408
Language: English

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