Analyzing Explanations for Seemingly Irrational Choices

International Journal of Applied Philosophy 15 (2):267-286 (2001)
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People make significant decisions in contexts of risk and uncertainty. Some of these decisions seem wise under the circumstances, and others seem like irrational choices. In both cases, people offer reasons as clarifications and explanations of these choices to others and to themselves. Argument analysis, a technique well known in philosophy and more generally in the humanities, can explicate the strands of assumptions, intermediate conclusions, data, warrants, and claims that the person articulates. But alone, argument analysis often falls short of revealing why the person’s decision makes sense to that person. Thefindings of empirical research into the influences of cognitive heuristics, the mental shortcuts we all use in decision making and problem solving, adds focus to the analysis of these choices. This paper links these two powerful analytic strategies, and provides a much fuller, more fruitful picture of explanations for seemingly irrational choices. Using an example explanation for deciding not to quit smoking, the paper makes both its methodological argument and its implicit argument for the significance of extending this analytical strategy to applied contexts. The implications of extending this analysis of everyday argument to management, health care, and education could be profound.



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