Biological Theory

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 309–317 | Cite as

Evolution, Rationality, and Coherence Criteria

  • Andrea Polonioli
Long Article


How much irrationality should we ascribe to human cognition? Psychological evidence suggests that people’s reasoning is largely inaccurate, but according to an evolutionary argument for rationality (henceforth, EAR), we have good reasons to believe that this is not so. To solve the conflict between psychological evidence and EAR, commentators have usually put the blame either on the psychological evidence, arguing that inaccurate reasoning appears only in the context of lab studies, or on the premises of EAR, charged with not being in line with the concepts and findings of evolutionary biology. I argue that Hammond’s distinction between two distinct criteria of rationality, namely coherence and correspondence, might shed new light on this apparent conflict. I show that EAR might be interpreted in two different ways, and that EAR and psychological evidence might in fact be both correct if they appeal to different criteria of accurate reasoning. Moreover, evolutionary considerations have been recently used not to oppose the existence of violations of norms of coherence but rather to explain it.


Cognitive biases Evolution Rationality 



I am particularly grateful to Werner Callebaut, editor of this journal, an anonymous referee for this journal, Michela Massimi, Till Vierkant, Lars Penke, and Matteo Colombo for their constructive and helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper. This research was partly funded by a Studentship awarded by the School of Philosophy, Psychology and Language Sciences (PPLS) of the University of Edinburgh. The usual disclaimers about any error or mistake in the paper apply.


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Copyright information

© Konrad Lorenz Institute for Evolution and Cognition Research 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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