Posts Tagged ‘Rationality’

Call for papers

19th International Philosophy Colloquium Evian:
Disagreement – Désaccord – Uneinigkeit

Evian (Lake Geneva), France
July 7-13, 2013

We invite proposals (maximum length: one page) for presentations, along with a short CV (maximum length: two pages), by March 31, 2013. Please send these documents via e-mail to:

Is there disagreement? That is, do we really disagree? From the standpoint of everyday life, the answer seems to be clear. Disagreements among us are legion: about scientific, political, and social questions, about questions of right conduct and religion, about questions concerning subjective preferences and aesthetic taste. From the standpoint of rationality, however, it is not so clear how these disagreements should be assessed. Shouldn’t the forceless force of the better argument carry the day in almost all cases of disagreement? Isn’t it possible in principle to determine which view is the better one among rival views? Aren’t disagreements better seen, therefore, as intermediate stages on the way toward a more comprehensive agreement – at least among all those who conduct themselves rationally? If not, can a disagreement itself be rational, even when two interlocutors share the same epistemic presuppositions and the same relevant information? Is “reasonable disagreement” an enduring feature of our practices and reaches deeper than we generally assume? What is the theoretical and practical relevance of persistent disagreement? Does the latter lead to the acceptance of relativism, skepticism, or pluralism? (more…)

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The 2nd Conference on Games, Interactive Rationality, and Learning (G.I.R.L.13@LUND), will be held in Lund, at the Department of Philosophy and Cognitive Science on April 23-26, 2013. The deadline for abstract submissions is January 15, 2013.

Call for Papers:

Aims of the conference

The 2013 Lund Conference on Games, Interactive Rationality, and Learning (G.I.R.L.13@LUND) intends to bring together researchers in philosophy, cognitive science, linguistics, and economics sharing interest in agent-based modeling as a tool to investigate the emergence of rational behavior in groups of less-than-ideally rational agents, through learning, and interaction.

The G.I.R.L.13@LUND conference will focus on the evolution of inference, in the sense of: (i) evolutionary processes driven by natural selection, and: (ii) intra-contextual evolution of interacting agents inferences.


We welcome submissions of original research, primarily on the following topics:

  • Relations between ecological rationality of choice and inference heuristics, and choice-, decision- and game-theoretic axiomatic approaches to rationality;

  • Models of signaling games, evolutionary games, or games with bounded agents;

  • Learning-theoretic approaches of inquiry, knowledge acquisition and reasoning;

  • Single- and multi-agent simulation-based approaches to learning and decision-making.

Submissions on related subjects not listed above are welcome.


Submitted abstracts will be peer-rewied and selected on the basis of their quality and relevance to the conference topics.
Please prepare a 200-400 words abstract for blind review, in .pdf format, and submit it electronically at the EasyChair account of the conference:https://www.easychair.org/conferences/?conf=girl13lund


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I’m pleased to announce here on RAIL that the journal Cogency has allowed open access to it’s first four issues. I’m not sure if they plan to continue this policy, as, for instance, Informal Logic does, but for now it’s a great opportunity to check out what is already a diverse and interesting array of articles by many of the leading scholars in our field. (How they let an article of mine slip into the mix is anyone’s guess!)

Do check it out!

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Scientific American: Winning Argument: As a ‘New’ Critique of Reason, Argumentative Theory Is Trite but Useful.

In recent posts here on RAIL I’ve been upfront about my tendency to like Mercier and Sperber’s work. Critical discussion of it, however, is still valuable and this short article in Scientific American by John Horgan is an accessible, if somewhat ambivalent gesture in that direction.

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Apollo and the Muses by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1533

The world of those who study argument and who study reason and rationality is abuzz with talk of the provocative research of Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber. Anyone who was at last week’s OSSA conference heard their names in practically every other conversation or presentation. For my own part I’m not sure quite what to make of their work.  On the one hand it’s exciting to see argument and reason brought together in empirical research, and I’m well on record as being very friendly to the notion that argument has a very deeply rooted functionality for human beings at both the collective and individual levels. On the other hand, I’m not sure that there aren’t grave problems lurking within. For one, Mercier and Sperber seem at times to work from the assumption that ‘argument’ means ‘deductive argument’ and if this is so, I’m not at all sure that it is wise.  The body of work on analogy alone would give me pause regarding the prospects of such a view, to say nothing of the work of the informal logic movement in the last 30 years.  There are other things that trouble me, but as I’m still doing research in this general idea I’ll try to save myself what might turn out to be a super-sized helping of crow and leave the reader to their own devices where Messrs. Mercier and Sperber are concerned.

At any rate there’s no denying it’s relevance to the world of argumentation theory.  In that vein this video interview with Hugo Mercier is one that I expect will be of interest to many.  The interview is located at the web journal* Edge, itself worth a look to those with an interest in interdisciplinary intellectual discourse.

*(All apologies to those of you who thought that by ‘Edge’ I was referring to an Irish fellow–though I confess I probably would have watched that interview with interest too.)

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Apparently the gang over at Less Wrong think so, and they’ve got a paper that backs them up.  From the blog:

Mercier and Sperber argue that, when you look at research that studies people in the appropriate settings, we turn out to be in fact quite good at reasoning when we are in the process of arguing; specifically, we demonstrate skill at producing arguments and at evaluating others’ arguments.

Interesting stuff, especially given that by ‘argument’ here Mercier and Sperber, the paper’s authors, intend the attempt to persuade, not to rationally convince.  In a nutshell, their contention is that we reason better when we are trying to persuade others to adopt our point of view. Conversely, when we aim at the truth we do worse at being reasonable.  Hmmm.  🙂

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Less Wrong is a blog sponsored by Oxford University’s Future of Humanity Institute: a research group devoted mostly to issues in AI development aimed at increasing human intelligence.  While many posts center on those issues, the folks over there frequently consider ideas about rationality and reasoning.  Essentially, hardcore Bayesianism rules the roost, and there seems to be an instinctive impulse towards formalism that is perhaps not as widely shared among likely readers of RAIL.  That said, at times they hit on ideas and ways of seeing things that are fascinating and useful to consider.

One of those ideas is that of a “semantic stopsign“, the mark of which is “failure to consider the obvious next question.” As the examples make clear, the upshot of this is someone’s tendency to over-rely on a particular answer to tough questions, to rely on it as something like a conversational deus ex machina.  If, for instance, I am willing to question the ability of any institution to solve social problems but seem mysteriously unable to apply the same scrutiny to “god” or “liberal democracy” or “the free market”, then those things are, for me, semantic stopsigns.  When a chain of discursive reasoning brings me to my stopsign I simply stop asking critical questions, automatically satisfied that nothing further need be said.

Semantic stopsigns seem to me to be a familiar phenomenon, but one I’ve not seen discussed very much or labeled with that sort of precision before.  One wonders what a list of common semantic stopsigns would look like, and more importantly, what argumentative strategies one might use to circumvent them.

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I found this interesting post on the twelve virtues of rationality on the blog of artificial intelligence researcher Eliezer Yudkowski.   The fifth virtue, you’ll be happy to know, is argument. 🙂

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Thinking about the last post got me wondering if anyone besides myself regularly covers forms of irrationality that are studied in the social sciences in their Critical Thinking or Informal Logic classes.  It seems to me to be important for students to know about things like the endowment effect, the bandwagon effect, confirmation bias, framing problems, and groupthink (among others).  These irrational tendencies in persons and others like them certainly present obstacles to critical thinking that (we hope) can be mitigated to at least some degree by the concepts and techniques we teach.  And yet there’s not exactly a huge volume of literature bringing together critical thinking and the empirical study of phenomena like these.

What place, if any, does teaching about the empirical study of irrationality have in your overall pedagogy? Do you think it should have a place in the study of critical thinking, or should we be content to let the scientists work on it? Is it even reasonable to think that training in critical thinking help prevent these kinds of irrationality? If you do include presentations about the forms of irrationality studied by psychology, economics, &c., how do you do it?

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I hadn’t heard of this before, but in a very interesting article on his blog Predictably Irrational (after the excellent book of the same name) behavioral economist and theorist about rationality Dan Ariely describes what he calls the endowment effect:

[T]he endowment effect [is] the theory that once we own something, its value increases in our eyes.  […]

But ownership isn’t the only way to endow an object or service with meaning. You can also create value by investing time and effort into something (hence why we cherish those scraggly scarves we knit ourselves) or by knowing that someone else has (gifts fall under this category).

And then there’s the power of stories: spend a fantastic weekend somewhere, and no matter what you bring back – whether it’s an upper-case souvenir or a shell off the beach – you’ll value it immensely, simply because of its associations.

I’ve got to think that this effect is something in which argumentation theorists and researchers should have an interest, as it seems to fit handily into accounts of all sorts of biases and blind spots that hobble the abilities of persons to think critically about their own positions or standpoints as well as those of others.  Of particular interest is that research like Ariely’s might help to explain why a conclusion often seems more compelling to many people when the speaker relates her particular path to arriving at it in the form of a narrative rather than by giving an argument for it.

You can read the full story, which includes the account of Ariely’s recent experiment on the endowment effect here.

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