Can evolution get us off the hook? Evaluating the ecological defence of human rationality

Consciousness and Cognition 33:524-535 (2015)
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Abstract
This paper discusses the ecological case for epistemic innocence: does biased cognition have evolutionary benefits, and if so, does that exculpate human reasoners from irrationality? Proponents of ‘ecological rationality’ have challenged the bleak view of human reasoning emerging from research on biases and fallacies. If we approach the human mind as an adaptive toolbox, tailored to the structure of the environment, many alleged biases and fallacies turn out to be artefacts of narrow norms and artificial set-ups. However, we argue that putative demonstrations of ecological rationality involve subtle locus shifts in attributions of rationality, conflating the adaptive rationale of heuristics with our own epistemic credentials. By contrast, other cases also involve an ecological reframing of human reason, but do not involve such problematic locus shifts. We discuss the difference between these cases, bringing clarity to the rationality debate.
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