Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 1-37

First online:

Logical reasoning and domain specificity

A critique of the social exchange theory of reasoning
  • Paul Sheldon DaviesAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of North Carolina
  • , James H. FetzerAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, University of Minnesota
  • , Thomas R. FosterAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Ball State University

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The social exchange theory of reasoning, which is championed by Leda Cosmides and John Tooby, falls under the general rubric “evolutionary psychology” and asserts that human reasoning is governed by content-dependent, domain-specific, evolutionarily-derived algorithms. According to Cosmides and Tooby, the presumptive existence of what they call “cheater-detection” algorithms disconfirms the claim that we reason via general-purpose mechanisms or via inductively acquired principles. We contend that the Cosmides/Tooby arguments in favor of domain-specific algorithms or evolutionarily-derived mechanisms fail and that the notion of a social exchange rule, which is central to their theory, is not correctly characterized. As a consequence, whether or not their conclusion is true cannot be established on the basis of the arguments they have presented.

Key words

Algorithms reasoning deduction induction domain-general reasoning cheater detection mechanisms