Advertisement

Biology & Philosophy

, Volume 31, Issue 5, pp 685–704 | Cite as

Why we reason: intention-alignment and the genesis of human rationality

  • Andy NormanEmail author
Article

Abstract

Why do humans reason? Many animals draw inferences, but reasoning—the tendency to produce and respond to reason-giving performances—is biologically unusual, and demands evolutionary explanation. Mercier and Sperber (Behav Brain Sci 34:57–111, 2011) advance our understanding of reason’s adaptive function with their argumentative theory of reason (ATR). On this account, the “function of reason is argumentative… to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade.” ATR, they argue, helps to explain several well-known cognitive biases. In this paper, I develop a neighboring hypothesis called the intention alignment model (IAM) and contrast it with ATR. I conjecture that reasoning evolved primarily because it helped social hominins more readily and fully align their intentions. We use reasons to advance various proximal ends, but in the main, we do it to overwrite the beliefs and desires of others: to get others to think like us. Reason afforded our ancestors a powerful way to build and maintain the shared outlooks necessary for a highly collaborative existence. Yes, we sometimes argue so as to gain argumentative advantage over others, or otherwise advantage ourselves at the expense of those we argue with, but more often, we reason in ways that are mutually advantageous. In fact, there are excellent reasons for thinking this must be so. IAM, I suggest, neatly explains the available evidence, while also providing a more coherent account of reason’s origins.

Keywords

Reasoning Evolution Cooperation Bias Cognitive bias Intention Intention-sharing 

References

  1. Aquinas T (1999) Thomas aquinas: selected writings. Penguin Classics, LondonGoogle Scholar
  2. Ariely D (2010) Predictably irrational. Harper Perennial, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Aristotle (2001) The basic works of Aristotle. Modern Library Classics, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Beck RB, Black L, Krieger LS, Naylor PC, Shabaka DI (1999) World history: patterns of interaction. McDougal Littell, Evanston. ISBN 0-395-87274-XGoogle Scholar
  5. De Waal F (2007) Chimpanzee politics. Johns Hopkins University Press, BaltimoreGoogle Scholar
  6. Dessalles JL (2011) Reasoning as a lie-detection device. Behav Brain Sci 34(2):76–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Gottschall J (2012) The storytelling animal. Mariner Books, BostonGoogle Scholar
  8. Grice HP (1975) Logic and conversation. In: Cole P, Morgan JP (eds) Syntax and semantics. Speech acts, vol 3. Seminar Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Haidt J (2012) The righteous mind: why good people are divided by politics and religion. Vintage, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  10. Kahan D (2013) Ideology, motivated reasoning, and cognitive reflection. Judgm Decis Mak 8(4):407–424Google Scholar
  11. Kahneman Daniel (2011) Thinking: fast and slow. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Kant I (1993) Grounding for the metaphysics of morals. Hackett, IndianapolisGoogle Scholar
  13. Kunda Z (1990) The case for motivated reasoning. Psychol Bull 108(3):480–498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Mercier H, Sperber D (2011) Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory. Behav Brain Sci 34:57–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Milgram S (1974) Obedience to authority: an experimental view. Tavistock, LondonGoogle Scholar
  16. Nickerson RS (1998) Confirmation bias: a ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Rev Gen Psychol 2(2):175–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Norman A (2014) Reason unhinged: the religious subversion of civil accountability. Free Inq 34(6):44–52Google Scholar
  18. Paul R, Elder L (2005) A guide for educators to critical thinking competency standards, vol 41. The Foundation for Critical Thinking, TomalesGoogle Scholar
  19. Pinker S (2003) The blank slate, vol 191. Penguin, LondonGoogle Scholar
  20. Ross L, Lepper MR, Hubbard M (1975) Perseverance in self-perception and social perception. J Pers Soc Psychol 32(5):880–892CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Sperber D, Wilson D (1995) Relevance: communication and cognition. Blackwell, HobokenGoogle Scholar
  22. Sugden R (2003) The logic of team reasoning. Philos Explor 6(3):165–181CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Taber CS, Lodge M (2006) Motivated skepticism in the evaluation of political beliefs. Am J Polit Sci (Midwest Polit Sci Assoc) 50(3):755–769Google Scholar
  24. Tomasello M (2008) Chimpanzees know what others know, but not what they believe. Cognition 109(2):224–234CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Tomasello M (2009) Why we cooperate. MIT Press, BostonGoogle Scholar
  26. Tomasello M (2014) A natural history of human thinking. Harvard University Press, CambridgeCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Tomasello M, Carpenter M, Call J, Behne T, Moll H (2005) Understanding and sharing intentions: the origins of cultural cognition. Behav Brain Sci 28(5):675–691Google Scholar
  28. Tomasello M, Carpenter M, Lizskowski U (2007) a new look at infant pointing. Child Dev 78:705–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Tomasello M, Melis A, Tennie C, Herrmann E (2012) Two key steps in the evolution of human cooperation: the interdependence hypothesis. Curr Anthropol 56:1–20Google Scholar
  30. Turner M, Pratkanis A (1998) A social identity maintenance model of groupthink. Organ Behav Hum Dec Process 73:210–235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Wade N (2010) The faith instinct: how religion evolved and why it endures. Penguin, LondonGoogle Scholar
  32. Wason PC (1966) Reasoning. In: Foss BM (ed) New horizons in psychology. Penguin, London, pp 106–137Google Scholar
  33. Zak P (2012) The moral molecule: how trust works. Dutton, BostonGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Carnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

Personalised recommendations