ABOUT THIS BOOK
“Brilliant…Timely and necessary.” —Financial Times
“Especially timely as we struggle to make sense of how it is that individuals and communities persist in holding beliefs that have been thoroughly discredited.”
—Darren Frey, Science
If reason is what makes us human, why do we behave so irrationally? And if it is so useful, why didn’t it evolve in other animals? This groundbreaking account of the evolution of reason by two renowned cognitive scientists seeks to solve this double enigma. Reason, they argue, helps us justify our beliefs, convince others, and evaluate arguments. It makes it easier to cooperate and communicate and to live together in groups. Provocative, entertaining, and undeniably relevant, The Enigma of Reason will make many reasonable people rethink their beliefs.
“Reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant…Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?…Cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber [argue that] reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems…[but] to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.”
—Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker
“Turns reason’s weaknesses into strengths, arguing that its supposed flaws are actually design features that work remarkably well.”
“The best thing I have read about human reasoning. It is extremely well written, interesting, and very enjoyable to read.”
—Gilbert Harman, Princeton University
Reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way? In The Enigma of Reason, the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question… [Their] argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to cooperate. Cooperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems…[but] to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.
-- Elizabeth Kolbert New Yorker
The Enigma of Reason is a comprehensive and well‐motivated overview of the contemporary scientific and philosophical literature on reasoning. This is especially timely as we struggle to make sense of how it is that individuals and communities persist in holding beliefs that have been thoroughly discredited.
-- Darren Frey Science
Brilliant…Turns reason’s weaknesses into strengths, arguing that its supposed flaws are actually design features that work remarkably well…Timely and necessary.
-- Julian Baggini Financial Times
Mercier and Sperber believe that reason’s main utility is in our interactions with others, not sitting alone in our rooms and philosophizing. Reason is what enables us to explain our thoughts and actions to others.
-- Jonathan Foiles Psychology Today
As evolutionary psychologists, Mercier and Sperber ask what might have been adaptive for our ancestors and thus built into our brains. Some have argued for modules specialized for reasoning about particular topics. But Mercier and Sperber argue for a single module that can frame an argument and its conclusion: the former aids cooperation and the latter communication. So, the ultimate goal of reasoning is persuasion. It’s an extraordinarily ambitious theory presented with brilliant insights, profound scholarship, and entertaining anecdotes.
-- Philip Johnson-Laird, Princeton University
This is a terrific book. The best thing I have read about human reasoning. It is extremely well written, interesting, and very enjoyable to read.
-- Gilbert Harman, Princeton University
Original, persuasive, and deftly argued, The Enigma of Reason puts forward a new and rather surprising thesis that the proper (evolutionary) functioning of reasoning is to persuade others via argumentation. This book will challenge your preconceptions about the mind’s internal logic and why it exists. A compelling read and a novel contribution to the literature on reasoning.
-- Clark Barrett, University of California, Los Angeles
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction: A Double Enigma
I: Shaking Dogma
1. Reason on Trial
2. Psychologists’ Travails
II: Understanding Inference
3. From Unconscious Inferences to Intuitions
5. Cognitive Opportunism
III: Rethinking Reason
7. How We Use Reasons
8. Could Reason Be a Module?
9. Reasoning: Intuition and Reflection
10. Reason: What Is It For?
IV: What Reason Can and Cannot Do
11. Why Is Reasoning Biased?
12. Quality Control: How We Evaluate Arguments
13. The Dark Side of Reason
14. A Reason for Everything
15. The Bright Side of Reason
V: Reason in the Wild
16. Is Human Reason Universal?
17. Reasoning about Moral and Political Topics
18. Solitary Geniuses?
Conclusion: In Praise of Reason after All