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Doubts about "the standard picture"

Von: Phil Roberts, Jr. (philrob@ix.netcom.com) [Profil]
Datum: 12.07.2008 20:51
Message-ID: <nYudnTu5zqS1YOXVnZ2dnUVZ_vzinZ2d@earthlink.com>
Newsgroup: comp.ai.philosophy alt.philosophy.kant

Proposal for ‘Continuing Commentary’ on the L. Jonathan Cohen symposium,
“Can Human Irrationality Be Experimentally Demonstrated?’, Behavioral
and Brain Sciences, 4:317-70.

Doubts about “the standard picture”

If one assumes, as I do, that feelings of worthlessness are a
maladaptive byproduct of the evolution of rationality (Roberts, 2006),
then it seems to follow that what Edward Stein (1996) has referred to as
“the standard picture” of rationality is mistaken -- that ‘being
rational’ is not so much a matter of slavishly conforming to established
rules of inference as a matter of ‘being able to “see” what is going on’
as a result of “reasoning” (ampliative inference) that has already
transpired, whether one’s own or culturally acquired.  Accordingly, I
assume our common sense rationality assessments can reasonably be
construed as appraisals of a mental map of sorts -- one comprised of
both beliefs and values -- in which the cognitive component of this map
correlates with the extent to which it is comprised of beliefs that
accurately and coherently represent reality including, among many other
things, beliefs about how to acquire beliefs that accurately and
coherently represent reality (reflected in how well one "reasons").

Compatible with the foregoing and its implication that rationality is a
matter of degree, I also assume that when we refer to an individual as
"rational" or "irrational" that we are simply expressing a rough
appraisal of how this individual's mental map compares to the norm and
that the failure to appreciate this quirk in our ordinary use of words
has led to a certain amount of confusion.  For this reason, I do not
construe experimental evidence that humans routinely violate established
rules of inference (e.g., Kahneman and Tversky, 1974) as evidence that
humans are irrational (e.g., Nisbett and Borgida, 1976; Slovic,
Fischhoff and Lichtenstein, 1976; etc.), but rather as evidence that
expert opinion might be relatively more rational than the norm (in terms
of ‘being able to “see” what is going on’) where such matters are
concerned in much the manner some might argue that expert opinion has
been relatively less rational than the norm with regard to its
longstanding love affair with “the standard picture”.

One of the slipperiest terms in the philosophical lexicon, 'rationality'
is many things to many people (Alvin Plantinga).


1. Nisbett, Richard and Borgida, Eugene (1976), ‘Attribution and the
Psychology of Prediction’, Journal of Personal and Social Psychology,
32, p. 935).
2. Roberts, Jr., Phil  (2006), ‘Feelings of Worthlessness’, presented
before the International Society for Human Ethology, Wayne State
University, 2006 and the International Society for Theoretical
Psychology, York University, 2007.  Available at www.rationology.net
3. Slovic, Paul; Fischhoff, Baruck and Lichtenstein, Sarah (1976),
‘Cognitive Processes and Societal Risk Taking’, in Carroll and Payne, 1976.
4. Stein, Edward (1996), Without Good Reason: The Rationality Debate in
Philosophy and Cognitive Science.
5. Tversky, A. and Kahneman, D. (1974), ‘Judgment Under Uncertainty:
Heuristics and Biases, Science 185, 1124-31.

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