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The Enigma of Reason

The Enigma of Reason

Hugo Mercier, Dan Sperber

ISBN 9780674237827

Publication date: 03/04/2019

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“Brilliant…Timely and necessary.” —Financial Times

“Especially timely as we struggle to make sense of how it is that individuals and communities persist in holding beliefs that have been thoroughly discredited.”
—Darren Frey, Science

If reason is what makes us human, why do we behave so irrationally? And if it is so useful, why didn’t it evolve in other animals? This groundbreaking account of the evolution of reason by two renowned cognitive scientists seeks to solve this double enigma. Reason, they argue, helps us justify our beliefs, convince others, and evaluate arguments. It makes it easier to cooperate and communicate and to live together in groups. Provocative, entertaining, and undeniably relevant, The Enigma of Reason will make many reasonable people rethink their beliefs.

“Reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant…Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way?…Cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber [argue that] reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems…[but] to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.”
—Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker

“Turns reason’s weaknesses into strengths, arguing that its supposed flaws are actually design features that work remarkably well.”
Financial Times

“The best thing I have read about human reasoning. It is extremely well written, interesting, and very enjoyable to read.”
—Gilbert Harman, Princeton University

Praise

  • Reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Rarely has this insight seemed more relevant than it does right now. Still, an essential puzzle remains: How did we come to be this way? In The Enigma of Reason, the cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber take a stab at answering this question… [Their] argument runs, more or less, as follows: Humans’ biggest advantage over other species is our ability to cooperate. Cooperation is difficult to establish and almost as difficult to sustain. For any individual, freeloading is always the best course of action. Reason developed not to enable us to solve abstract, logical problems…[but] to resolve the problems posed by living in collaborative groups.

    —Elizabeth Kolbert, New Yorker

Authors

  • Hugo Mercier is a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research, working in the Cognitive Science Institute Marc Jeannerod in Lyon.
  • Dan Sperber is a researcher in the Departments of Cognitive Science and of Philosophy at the Central European University, Budapest, and in the Institut Jean Nicod at the École Normale Supérieure, Paris.

Book Details

  • 408 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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