Goldstone Research Unit

The Goldstone Research Unit, now ended, was made possible by Steven F. Goldstone, former chairman of Nabisco Group Holdings and Penn graduate (C '67) in Political Science. The Goldstone Fund, created from his gift to the Philosophy, Political Science and Economics program at Penn, supports endowed postdoctoral fellowships, underwrites visiting lecturers and conferences, aids PPE majors conducting research for their Capstone seminars, and provides funds for SPICE, the PPE undergraduate journal.



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Now showing 1 - 10 of 18
  • 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
    Moral Reputation: An Evolutionary and Cognitive Perspective
    (2012-10-29) Sperber, Dan; Baumard, Nicolas
    From an evolutionary point of view, the function of moral behaviour may be to secure a good reputation as a co-operator. The best way to do so may be to obey genuine moral motivations. Still, one's moral reputation maybe something too important to be entrusted just to one's moral sense. A robust concern for one's reputation is likely to have evolved too. Here we explore some of the complex relationships between morality and reputation both from an evolutionary and a cognitive point of view.
  • Publication
    What Goes Around Comes Around: The Evolutionary Roots of the Belief in Immanent Justice
    (2012-01-01) Baumard, Nicolas; Chevallier, Coralie
    The belief in immanent justice is the expectation that the universe is designed to ensure that evil is punished and virtue rewarded. What makes this belief so ‘natural’? Here, we suggest that this intuition of immanent justice derives from our evolved sense of fairness. In cases where a misdeed is followed by a misfortune, our sense of fairness construes the misfortune as a way to compensate for the misdeed. To test this hypothesis, we designed a set of studies in which we show that people who do not believe in immanent justice are nonetheless implicitly influenced by intuitions of immanent justice. Strikingly, this effect disappears when the misfortune is disproportionate compared to the misdeed: In this case, justice is not restored and participants lose the intuition of immanent justice. Following recent theories of religion, we suggest that this intuition contributes to the cultural success of beliefs in immanent justice.
  • 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
    Rule-Following as Coordination: A Game-Theoretic Approach
    (2013-03-01) Sillari, Giacomo
    Famously, Kripke has argued that the central portion of the Philosophical Investigations describes both a skeptical paradox and its skeptical solution. Solving the paradox involves the element of the community, which determines correctness conditions for rule-following behavior. What do such conditions precisely consist of? Is it accurate to say that there is no fact to the matter of rule following? How are the correctness conditions sustained in the community? My answers to these questions revolve around the idea (cf. P.I. §§198, 199) that a rule is followed insofar as a convention is in place. In particular, I consider the game-theoretic definition of convention offered by David Lewis and I show that it illuminates essential aspects of the communitarian understanding of rule-following. Make the following experiment: say “It’s cold here” and mean “It’s warm here”. Can you do it? Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 1953, §510. I can’t say “it’s cold here” and mean “it’s warm here”—at least, not without a little help from my friends. David Lewis, Convention.
  • Publication
    Quantified Logic of Awareness and Impossible Possible Worlds
    (2008-12-01) Sillari, Giacomo
    Among the many possible approaches to dealing with logical omniscience, I consider here awareness and impossible worlds structures. The former approach, pioneered by Fagin and Halpern, distinguishes between implicit and explicit knowledge, and avoids logical omniscience with respect to explicit knowledge. The latter, developed by Rantala and by Hintikka, allows for the existence of logically impossible worlds to which the agents are taken to have “epistemological” access; since such worlds need not behave consistently, the agents’ knowledge is fallible relative to logical omniscience. The two approaches are known to be equally expressive in propositional systems interpreted over Kripke semantics. In this paper I show that the two approaches are equally expressive in propositional systems interpreted over Montague-Scott (neighborhood) semantics. Furthermore, I provide predicate systems of both awareness and impossible worlds structures interpreted on neighborhood semantics and prove the two systems to be equally expressive.
  • 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
    A Mutualistic Approach to Morality: The Evolution of Fairness by Partner Choice
    (2013-02-01) Baumard, Nicolas; André, Jean-Baptiste; Sperber, Dan
    What makes humans moral beings? This question can be understood either as a proximate “how” question or as an ultimate “why” question. The “how” question is about the mental and social mechanisms that produce moral judgments and interactions, and has been investigated by psychologists and social scientists. The “why” question is about the fitness consequences that explain why humans have morality, and has been discussed by evolutionary biologists in the context of the evolution of cooperation. Our goal here is to contribute to a fruitful articulation of such proximate and ultimate explanations of human morality. We develop an approach to morality as an adaptation to an environment in which individuals were in competition to be chosen and recruited in mutually advantageous cooperative interactions. In this environment, the best strategy is to treat others with impartiality and to share the costs and benefits of cooperation equally. Those who offer less than others will be left out of cooperation; conversely, those who offer more will be exploited by their partners. In line with this mutualistic approach, the study of a range of economic games involving property rights, collective actions, mutual help and punishment shows that participants' distributions aim at sharing the costs and benefits of interactions in an impartial way. In particular, the distribution of resources is influenced by effort and talent, and the perception of each participant's rights on the resources to be distributed.