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Posts Tagged ‘reasoning’

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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Harman announced on Twitter today that the full text of his 1987 book on reasoning, Change in View had been made available for free download at his website.  Readers of RAIL will, I think, find Harman’s book interesting if they’ve not yet been exposed to it.  Chapter 2 in particular will be of interest to many, as Harman there argues that “logic is not of any special relevance” to the theory of reasoning.  Chapter 7, on explanatory coherence is also likely to arouse the interest of many readers. Apart from Chapters two and seven there are treatments of belief revision, implicit commitments, and reason and obligation that are likely to be of interest as well. Harman’s characteristically thorough and challenging analysis are evident throughout Change in View. The book can be downloaded in sections or as one file. Either way, it’s a great opportunity to get a hold of a fascinating book by one of the most influential American philosophers of the last 40 years.

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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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