The Argumentative Theory

Here’s one of the most thought-provoking quotes I read recently:

Reasoning was not designed to pursue the truth. Reasoning was designed by evolution to help us win arguments.

We think we use reason to enhance decisions making and improve knowledge. But more often that not, when we think we are reasoning, we are merely trying to rationalize a conclusion that we’ve already made. Reasoning often equates to justifying an existing belief as opposed to getting at a better belief.

A recent white-paper proposes a hypothesis that the function of reasoning is not truth-seeking but argumentative. We use reasoning to devise and evaluate arguments for persuading others and ourselves. They conclude that while reasoning makes human communication more effective and potent, it not only falls short of delivering rational beliefs and rational decisions reliably, but it may even be detrimental to rationality in many cases.

This explains why humans reason rather poorly, and are vulnerable to cognitive biases such as confirmation bias.

***

The quote is from the recent edition of Edge online magazine, and the white-paper is available here for free.

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5 responses to “The Argumentative Theory

  1. Over-generalization!
    An Australian friend had once told me, “people from the Northern hemisphere are rude”

  2. May be it is. This argumentative theory has already sparked a lot of debate in academia and among intellectuals in the psychology and cognitive science field. However, this “generalization” is not directed towards a particular race, region or culture but rather an effort to understand the nature of reason and rationality. The particular way in which we use our cognitive toolkit certainly varies across individuals — with local culture playing an important role, but we all share a common evolutionary past that has shaped our minds and behavior; when it comes to basic instincts, we are more alike than we think…

  3. I for one found this para after the quote more thought provoking : “….when we think we are reasoning, we are merely trying to rationalize a conclusion that we’ve already made. Reasoning often equates to justifying an existing belief as opposed to getting at a better belief.”

    It explained the quote more lucidly.Makes so much sense when you look back to your own life where you made decisions and saw it being made.

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