The rationality debate in psychology: Philosophical Perspectives

Friday, 2018, February 9 - 12:00
Department of Philosophy, Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB)


I use the rationality debate in cognitive psychology in order to illuminate how philosophy and the sciences should be related, for the mutual benefit of each discipline. According to naturalism, the relation is one of – at least – close allies. Naturalists try to reduce the role of philosophy to a minimum, or claim that philosophy’s tasks, methods, aims, or results will some day be replaced by the sciences. Consider now the questions: What is rationality? What are proper norms of good reasoning? While these have traditionally been viewed as philosophical questions par excellence, it has become a commonplace to claim that they have been conquered by the cognitive and social sciences over the course of the 20th century. This conquest, however, has been a problematic one. In part I, I contrast the psychological approaches of heuristics-and-biases and fast-and-frugal heuristics to the study of reasoning, showing that they do not coincide (a) about the nature of rationality, (b) the methods for investigating it, and (c) are not likely to make progress without assumptions and arguments that are genuinely philosophical. In part II, I argue that the concept of rationality is too heterogeneous to be definable a priori or by means of conceptual analysis alone. The starting material for a philosophical analysis of rationality and its norms should be actual scientific experimentation and theory, despite of its problems. This supports a “critical” naturalism.

Sturm, T. 2012. The “rationality wars” in psychology: Where they are and where they could go. Inquiry, 55, 66-81.(pdf)

Sturm, T. 2014. Intuition in Kahneman and Tversky’s psychology of rationality. Rational Intuition: Philosophical Roots, Scientific Investigations. Ed. by L. Osbeck & B. Held.Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 257-286.(pdf)

Interview with Thomas Sturm on the Science of Rationality and the Rationality of Science (2017) (pdf)