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RS141: Dan Sperber on "The Argumentative Theory of reason"

Release date: August 23, 2015

Dan SpeberThe traditional story about reason is that it evolved to help humans see the world more clearly and (thereby) make better decisions. But on that view, some mysteries remain: why is the human brain so biased? Why are we so much better at defending our pre-existing views than at evaluating new ideas objectively?

In this episode of Rationally Speaking, Julia talks with guest Dan Sperber, professor of cognitive and social sciences, who is famous for advancing an alternate view of reason: that it evolved to help us argue with our fellow humans and convince them that we're right.

Dan Sperber is a social and cognitive scientist. His most influential work has been in the fields of cognitive anthropology and linguistic pragmatics. Sperber currently holds the positions of Directeur de Recherche émérite at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique and Director of the International Cognition and Culture Institute.

Dan's picks:  "Speaking Our Minds," and

Link: "Why do humans reason? Arguments for an argumentative theory" With Hugo Mercier.


 Full Transcripts 

Reader Comments (5)

Another enlightening episode. I was glad that you brought up the issue of trying to resolve the push for informed skepticism with the argumentative theory. The question, and Serber's response, served to remind me once again how difficult it is for me (and, I presume, for others in the skeptical community) to maintain that purely analytical stance when confronted with arguments that arouse strong emotions. That reflexive urge to "one-up" the other discussant instead of listening to his or her argument dispassionately is strong indeed, and one that I know Maasimo has urged us in his writings to try to tame.
August 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterRichard Schloss
So, it appears that reason is not about reasoning.
August 23, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterGram Stone
I'm struggling to understand how the "traditional" theory and the "argumentative" theory are incompatible. Like most evolved features, reason can (and in my view likely does) serve multiple purposes. Truth usually yields individual survivability which yields fitness to the species. Argumentation yields believe/goal alignment with also yields fitness to the species. Can't we have our cake and eat it too?
August 25, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJohn
Well, that's you told. You can only train 10% of the population to think rationally and it's a very useless ability that only allows people to escape preconceived traps by psychologists for displaying the pitfalls of intuitive thinking. I guess you'll be closing up shop now Julia? Either that or change the name above the door to Center for Applied Debate to make people better reasoners

Thanks again for the great episode. This episode was very hard to listen to but I will be going back for another dive. It was very hard to make out a cogent point from start to finish with the way Dan was talking. It's very hard to make real points against someone who has weaved a fug of words without really stating anything. Safe to say I don't agree with his view on reason, and I found myself very frustrated around the middle of his long winded explanations. This is another episode though where when we got to the end you brought it all back by asking the questions I would have (probably rudely) asked him to counter some of his points. Indeed I found myself asking them aloud to my dogs as I was walking them and listening. His answers to them did not sway me at all so I guess he isn't very good at reasoning. (BOOM!)

Seriously, good episode. I don't like hearing people that I disagree with all the time but I do always like hearing why they think the way they do

Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone
September 20, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterDirk
Reason enables humans to not only to argue, but also to analyze, to invent, to understand, and to engage in many other intellectual functions. If I reason with myself, do I simply argue with myself? What kind of argument do I have when I attempt to determine the importance of a measurement? What kind of argument do I have when I organize data without making a claim that this data supports any particular theory? What kind of argument do I have when I attempt to comprehend a scientific paper?
December 16, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJameson

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