Mercier, Hugo

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Now showing 1 - 8 of 8
  • Publication
    Why Do Humans Reason? Arguments for an Argumentative Theory
    (2011-04-01) Mercier, Hugo; Sperber, Dan
    Reasoning is generally seen as a means to improve knowledge and make better decisions. However, much evidence shows that reasoning often leads to epistemic distortions and poor decisions. This suggests that the function of reasoning should be rethought. Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade. Reasoning so conceived is adaptive given the exceptional dependence of humans on communication and their vulnerability to misinformation. A wide range of evidence in the psychology of reasoning and decision making can be reinterpreted and better explained in the light of this hypothesis. Poor performance in standard reasoning tasks is explained by the lack of argumentative context. When the same problems are placed in a proper argumentative setting, people turn out to be skilled arguers. Skilled arguers, however, are not after the truth but after arguments supporting their views. This explains the notorious confirmation bias. This bias is apparent not only when people are actually arguing, but also when they are reasoning proactively from the perspective of having to defend their opinions. Reasoning so motivated can distort evaluations and attitudes and allow erroneous beliefs to persist. Proactively used reasoning also favors decisions that are easy to justify but not necessarily better. In all these instances traditionally described as failures or flaws, reasoning does exactly what can be expected of an argumentative device: Look for arguments that support a given conclusion, and, ceteris paribus, favor conclusions for which arguments can be found.
  • Publication
    The Social Origins of Folk Epistemology
    (2010-12-01) Mercier, Hugo
    Because reasoning allows us to justify our beliefs and evaluate these justifications it is central to folk epistemology. Following Sperber, and contrary to classical views, it will be argued that reasoning evolved not to complement individual cognition but as an argumentative device. This hypothesis is more consistent with the prevalence of the confirmation and disconfirmation biases. It will be suggested that these biases render the individual use of reasoning hazardous, but that when reasoning is used in its natural, argumentative, context they can represent a smart way to divide labor without loosing epistemic value.
  • Publication
    On the Universality of Argumentative Reasoning
    (2011-01-01) Mercier, Hugo
    According to the argumentative theory of reasoning, humans have evolved reasoning abilities (usually known as ‘system 2’ or ‘analytic’ reasoning) for argumentative purposes. This implies that some reasoning skills should be universals. Such a claim seems to be at odd with findings from cross-cultural research. First, a wealth of research, following the work of Luria, has shown apparent difficulties for illiterate populations to solve simple but abstract syllogisms. It can be shown, however, that once they are willing to accept the pragmatics of the task, these participants can perform at or near ceiling. Second, historical, sociological and anthropological research has been used to claim that some Eastern cultures have not developed argumentation. These claims are the result of oversimplifications and of a selective view of the data. A closer looks reveals instead very elaborate forms of argumentation, in Chinese culture particularly. Third, cross-cultural psychologists have carried out an extensive research program aimed at showing that Easterners do not rely on the principle of non-contradiction and that they use holistic rather than analytic thinking. A review of these experiments shows that no qualitative difference emerges in the way Easterners and Westerners deal with argumentation and that in the proper context both populations can easily have recourse to holistic or analytic thinking. It is possible to conclude from this critical review that the reasoning skills involved in argumentation seem to be universal even though they can be used in different ways in various cultural contexts.
  • Publication
    Reasoning Is for Arguing: Understanding the Successes and Failures of Deliberation
    (2012-04-01) Mercier, Hugo; Landemore, Hélène
    Theoreticians of deliberative democracy have sometimes found it hard to relate to the seemingly contradictory experimental results produced by psychologists and political scientists. We suggest that this problem may be alleviated by inserting a layer of psychological theory between the empirical results and the normative political theory. In particular, we expose the argumentative theory of reasoning that makes the observed pattern of findings more coherent. According to this theory, individual reasoning mechanisms work best when used to produce and evaluate arguments during a public deliberation. It predicts that when diverse opinions are discussed, group reasoning will outperform individual reasoning. It also predicts that individuals have a strong confirmation bias. When people reason either alone or with like-minded peers, this confirmation bias leads them to reinforce their initial attitudes, explaining individual and group polarization. We suggest that the failures of reasoning are most likely to be remedied at the collective than at the individual level.
  • Publication
    Talking It Out With Others vs. Deliberation Within and the Law of Group Polarization: Some Implications of the Argumentative Theory of Reasoning for Deliberative Democracy
    (2012-01-01) Landemore, Hélène; Mercier, Hugo
    Talking it out with others vs. deliberation within and the law of group polarization: Some implications of the argumentative theory of reasoning for deliberative democracy. This paper argues that a new psychological theory—the argumentative theory of reasoning—provides theoretical support for the discursive, dialogical ideal of democratic deliberation. It converges, in particular, with deliberative democrats’ predictions about the positive epistemic properties of talking things out with others. The paper further considers two influential objections to democratic deliberation: first, that “deliberation within” rather than deliberation with others carries most of the burden in terms of changing people’s minds; and second, that the so-called “law of group polarization” casts serious doubts on the value of democratic deliberation and, more generally, the ideal of deliberative democracy. Keywords: deliberative democracy; argumentative theory of reasoning; epistemic democracy; law of group polarization. Resolução de diferenças com os outros através do diálogo vs. deliberação interna e a lei de polarização do grupo: Algumas implicações da teoria argumentativa do pensamento na democracia deliberativa. Este artigo defende que uma nova teoria psicológica – a teoria argumentativa do pensamento – fornece uma base teórica ao ideal discursivo e dialógico da deliberação democrática. Converge, em particular, com as previsões dos democratas deliberativos acerca das propriedades epistémicas positivas da resolução de diferenças através do diálogo. O presente artigo considera ainda duas objeções importantes à deliberação democrática: em primeiro lugar, que a “deliberação interna”, mais do que a deliberação com outros, tem uma maior responsabilidade em termos da alteração das ideias dos indivíduos; e, em segundo lugar, que a chamada «lei de polarização do grupo» coloca sérias dúvidas acerca do valor da deliberação democrática e, de uma forma mais geral, acerca do ideal da democracia deliberativa.
  • Publication
    Reasoning Serves Argumentation in Children
    (2011-07-01) Mercier, Hugo
    The argumentative theory of reasoning (Mercier & Sperber, in press-c) claims that reasoning evolved for argumentation: to find and evaluate arguments in dialogic contexts. The theory has drawn most of its supportive evidence from work with adults, leaving open the possibility that argumentive features of reasoning are in fact entirely learned. Evidence is reviewed here suggesting that the special relation between reasoning and argumentation holds at all ages. More specifically, it is argued that (a) children possess at least rudimentary argument skills, (b) they are able to reap the benefits of social reasoning from very early on, (c) confirmation bias is present as soon as they start to argue, and (d) children can be victims of the same biases that affect adults when they use reasoning in the wrong contexts. These claims strengthen the argumentative theory of reasoning and support a call for more research on the interactive features of reasoning in both adults and children.
  • Publication
    Evaluating Arguments From the Reaction of the Audience
    (2012-06-11) Mercier, Hugo; Strickland, Brent
    In studying how lay people evaluate arguments, psychologists have typically focused on logical form and content. This emphasis has masked an important yet underappreciated aspect of everyday argument evaluation: social cues to argument strength. Here we focus on the ways in which observers evaluate arguments by the reaction they evoke in an audience. This type of evaluation is likely to occur either when people are not privy to the content of the arguments or when they are not expert enough to appropriately evaluate it. Four experiments explore cues that participants might take into account in evaluating arguments from the reaction of the audience. They demonstrate that participants can use audience motivation, expertise, and size as clues to argument quality. By contrast we find no evidence that participants take audience diversity into account.
  • Publication
    Intuitive and Reflective Inferences
    (2009-04-01) Mercier, Hugo; Sperber, Dan
    Much evidence has accumulated in favor of such a dual view of reasoning (Evans, 2003, in press; for arguments against, see Osman, 2004). There is however some vagueness in the way the two systems are characterized. Instead of a principled distinction, we are presented with a bundle of contrasting features - slow/fast, automatic/controlled, explicit/implicit, associationist/rule based, modular/central - that, depending on the specific dual process theory, are attributed more or less exclusively to one of the two systems. As Evans states in a recent review, “it would then be helpful to have some clear basis for this distinction”; he also suggests that “we might be better off talking about type 1 and type 2 processes” rather than systems (Evans, in press). We share the intuitions that drove the development of dual system theories. Our goal here is to propose in the same spirit a principled distinction between two types of inferences: ‘intuitive inference’ and ‘reflective inference’ (or reasoning proper). We ground this distinction in a massively modular view of the human mind where metarepresentational modules play an important role in explaining the peculiarities of human psychological evolution. We defend the hypothesis that the main function of reflective inference is to produce and evaluate arguments occurring in interpersonal communication (rather than to help individual ratiocination). This function, we claim, helps explain important aspects of reasoning. We review some of the existing evidence and argue that it gives support to this approach.