Tradition holds that humans are distinguished from other animals by our rationality. But research produced over the last several decades has called this into doubt. Most psychologists and philosophers now believe that human cognition is subject to a range of reasoning biases that routinely cause us to depart from normatively correct inferences. Contemporary debate about human reasoning tends to focus on whether our epistemically irrational cognition is practically rational in a broader sense; that is, on whether we achieve our epistemic and practical goals despite pervasive reasoning biases. The existence and significance of these reasoning biases is accepted by most researchers.
This research project aims to assess how well founded this consensus is. Building on previous work and combining experiments with philosophical reflection, we will probe the extent to which standard reasoning tasks provide evidence for pervasive reasoning biases. In Project A, we will conduct experiments that focus on the question of the sincerity of reports of irrational beliefs. In Project B, we will examine the strength of the evidence for motivated reasoning by identifying the strongest paradigms for replication and extension. And in Project C, we will employ philosophical tools to assess the extent to which well-known and purportedly well-established biases might be explained in ways that render them rational.
We anticipate that this project will result in 10 papers published in leading cognitive science and philosophy journals. Given that the hypotheses explored by this project are of intrinsic interest and challenge to the dominant view of human reasoning, we expect that our project outputs will inspire new avenues for experimental work. Most importantly, we will develop a more realistic assessment of the extent of human rationality.