, Volume 10, Issue 1, pp 1-37

Logical reasoning and domain specificity

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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.

This paper is a mix of both new and previous research. The previous work includes Fetzer (1990a) and Davies and Foster (manuscript, under review). Fetzer (1990a) was presented (in an abbreviated form) at the first annual meeting of the Human Behavior and Evolution Society held at Northwestern University on 25–27 August 1989, while the Davies and Foster manuscript was presented at the centennial meeting of the American Psychological Association held in Washington D.C. on 18 August 1992. The following notes are replies to criticisms from an anonymous referee.