Reason, we are told, is what makes us human, the source of our knowledge and wisdom. If reason is so useful, why didn't it also evolve in other animals? If reason is that reliable, why do we produce so much thoroughly reasoned nonsense? In their groundbreaking account of the evolution and workings of reason, Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber set out to solve this double enigma. Reason, they argue with a compelling mix of real-life and experimental evidence, is not geared (...) to solitary use, to arriving at better beliefs and decisions on our own. What reason does, rather, is help us justify our beliefs and actions to others, convince them through argumentation, and evaluate the justifications and arguments that others address to us. In other words, reason helps humans better exploit their uniquely rich social environment. This interactionist interpretation explains why reason may have evolved and how it fits with other cognitive mechanisms. It makes sense of strengths and weaknesses that have long puzzled philosophers and psychologists--why reason is biased in favor of what we already believe, why it may lead to terrible ideas and yet is indispensable to spreading good ones.--. (shrink)
Short abstract (98 words). 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 humans’ exceptional dependence on communication and 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. (shrink)
When people speak, their words never fully encode what they mean, and the context is always compatible with a variety of interpretations. How can comprehension ever be achieved? Wilson and Sperber argue that comprehension is an inference process guided by precise expectations of relevance. What are the relations between the linguistically encoded meanings studied in semantics and the thoughts that humans are capable of entertaining and conveying? How should we analyse literal meaning, approximations, metaphors and ironies? Is the ability to (...) understand speakers' meanings rooted in a more general human ability to understand other minds? How do these abilities interact in evolution and in cognitive development? MEANING AND RELEVANCE sets out to answer these and other questions, enriching and updating relevance theory and exploring its implications for linguistics, philosophy, cognitive science and literary studies. (shrink)
Humans massively depend on communication with others, but this leaves them open to the risk of being accidentally or intentionally misinformed. To ensure that, despite this risk, communication remains advantageous, humans have, we claim, a suite of cognitive mechanisms for epistemic vigilance. Here we outline this claim and consider some of the ways in which epistemic vigilance works in mental and social life by surveying issues, research and theories in different domains of philosophy, linguistics, cognitive psychology and the social sciences.
What makes humans moral beings? This question can be understood either as a proximate question or as an ultimate question. The question is about the mental and social mechanisms that produce moral judgments and interactions, and has been investigated by psychologists and social scientists. The 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. (shrink)
The central problem for pragmatics is that sentence meaning vastly underdetermines speaker’s meaning. The goal of pragmatics is to explain how the gap between sentence meaning and speaker’s meaning is bridged. This paper defends the broadly Gricean view that pragmatic interpretation is ultimately an exercise in mind-reading, involving the inferential attribution of intentions. We argue, however, that the interpretation process does not simply consist in applying general mind-reading abilities to a particular (communicative) domain. Rather, it involves a dedicated comprehension module, (...) with its own special principles and mechanisms. We show how such a metacommunicative module might have evolved, and what principles and mechanisms it might contain. (shrink)
This paper questions the widespread view that verbal communication is governed by a maxim, norm or convention of truthfulness which applies at the level of what is literally meant, or what is said. Pragmatic frameworks based on this view must explain the frequent occurrence and acceptability of loose and figurative uses of language. We argue against existing explanations of these phenomena and provide an alternative account, based on the assumption that verbal communication is governed not by expectations of truthfulness but (...) by expectations of relevance, raised by literal, loose and figurative uses alike. Sample analyses are provided, and some consequences of this alternative account are explored. In particular, we argue that the notions of ‘literal meaning’ and ‘what is said’ play no useful theoretical role in the study of language use, and that the nature of explicit communication will have to be rethought. (shrink)
This the tenth volume in the Vancouver Studies in Cogntive Science series. It concerns metarepresentation: the construction and use of representations that represent other representations. Metarepresentations are ubiquitous among human beings, whenever we think or talk about mental states or linguistic acts, or theorize about the mind or language. It is crucial to the unconscious process we use to divine the mental states of others, and ultimately to any workable theory of the mind. This volume collects previously unpublished studies on (...) the subject by an interdisciplinary group of contributors, including: Daniel Dennett, Alvin Goldman, Keith Lehrer, Leda Cosmides and John Tooby. (shrink)
Humans are expert users of metarepresentations. How has this human metarepresentational capacity evolved? In order to contribute to the ongoing debate on this question, the chapter focuses on three more specific issues: i. How do humans metarepresent representations? ii. What came first: language, or metarepresentations? iii. Do humans have more than one metarepresentational ability?
Humans have two kinds of beliefs, intuitive beliefs and reflective beliefs. Intuitive beliefs are a most fundamental category of cognition, defined in the architecture of the mind. They are formulated in an intuitive mental lexicon. Humans are also capable of entertaining an indefinite variety of higher-order or "reflective" propositional attitudes, many of which are of a credal sort. Reasons to hold "reflective beliefs" are provided by other beliefs that describe the source of the reflective belief as reliable, or that provide (...) explicit arguments in favour of the reflective belief. The mental lexicon of reflective beliefs includes not only intuitive, but also reflective concepts. (shrink)
In two experiments, we investigated whether 13-month-old infants expect agents to behave in a way consistent with information to which they have been exposed. Infants watched animations in which an animal was either provided information or prevented from gathering information about the actual location of an object. The animal then searched successfully or failed to retrieve it. Infants’ looking times suggest that they expected searches to be effective when—and only when—the agent had had access to the relevant information. This result (...) supports the view that infants’ possess an incipient metarepresentational ability that permits them to attribute beliefs to agents. We discuss the viability of more conservative explanations and the relationship between this early ability and later forms of ‘theory of mind’ that appear only after children have become experienced verbal communicators. (shrink)
On the relevance-theoretic approach outlined in this paper, linguistic metaphors are not a natural kind, and ―metaphor‖ is not a theoretically important notion in the study of verbal communication. Metaphorical interpretations are arrived at in exactly the same way as literal, loose and hyperbolic interpretations: there is no mechanism specific to metaphors, and no interesting generalisation that applies only to them. In this paper, we defend this approach in detail by showing how the same inferential procedure applies to utterances at (...) both ends of the literal-loose-metaphorical continuum, and how both literal and metaphorical utterances may create poetic effects. (shrink)
Language is both a biological and a cultural phenomenon. Our aim here is to discuss, in an evolutionary perspective, the articulation of these two aspects of language. For this, we draw on the general conceptual framework developed by Ruth Millikan (1984) while at the same time dissociating ourselves from her view of language.
Much evidence has accumulated in favor of such a dual view of reasoning. There is however some vagueness in the way the two systems are characterized. Instead of a principled distinction, we are presented with a bundle of contrasting features - slow/fast, automatic/controlled, explicit/implicit, associationist/rule based, modular/central - that, depending on the specific dual process theory, are attributed more or less exclusively to one of the two systems. As Evans states in a recent review, “it would then be helpful to (...) have some clear basis for this distinction”; he also suggests that “we might be better off talking about type 1 and type 2 processes” rather than systems. We share the intuitions that drove the development of dual system theories. Our goal here is to propose in the same spirit a principled distinction between two types of inferences: ‘intuitive inference’ and ‘reflective inference’. We ground this distinction in a massively modular view of the human mind where metarepresentational modules play an important role in explaining the peculiarities of human psychological evolution. We defend the hypothesis that the main function of reflective inference is to produce and evaluate arguments occurring in interpersonal communication. This function, we claim, helps explain important aspects of reasoning. We review some of the existing evidence and argue that it gives support to this approach. (shrink)
This chapter determines a major empirical hurdle for any future discipline of memetics. It mainly shows that one can find very similar copies of some cultural item, link these copies through a causal chain of events which faithfully reproduced those items, and nevertheless not have an example of memetic inheritance. In addition, the stability of cultural patterns is proof that fidelity in copying is high despite individual variations. It is also believed that what is offered as an explanation is precisely (...) what needs to be explained; what is offered as a solution is in fact the very problem to be solved. Moreover, the issue is whether the relative stability observed in cultural transmission is proof of replication. The example of the acquisition of language is briefly addressed. The Darwinian model of selection is informative, and in various ways, for thinking about culture. Imitation is of course well worth investigating. On the other hand, the grand project of memetics is misled. (shrink)
Our main aim in this paper is to show that constructing an adequate theory of communication involves going beyond Grice’s notion of speaker’s meaning. After considering some of the difficulties raised by Grice’s three-clause definition of speaker’s meaning, we argue that the characterisation of ostensive communication introduced in relevance theory can provide a conceptually unified explanation of a much wider range of communicative acts than Grice was concerned with, including cases of both ‘showing that’ and ‘telling that’, and with both (...) determinate and indeterminate import. (shrink)
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. (shrink)
The claim that the human cognitive system tends to allocate resources to the processing of available inputs according to their expected relevance is at the basis of relevance theory. The main thesis of this chapter is that this allocation can be achieved without computing expected relevance. When an input meets the input condition of a given modular procedure, it gives this procedure some initial level of activation. Input-activated procedures are in competition for the energy resources that would allow them to (...) follow their full course. What determines which of the procedures in competition get sufficient resources to trigger their full operation is the dynamics of their activation. This dynamics depend both on the prior degree of mobilisation of a modular procedure and on the activation that propagates from other active modules. It is quite conceivable also that the mobilisation of some procedures has inhibitory effects on some others. The relevance-theoretic claim is that, at every instant, this dynamics of activation provides rough physiological indicators of expected relevance. The flow of energy in the system is locally regulated by these indicators. As a result, those input-procedure combinations that have the greatest expected relevance are the more likely ones to receive sufficient energy to follow their course. (shrink)
An understanding of cause--effect relationships is fundamental to the study of cognition. In this book, outstanding specialists from comparative psychology, social psychology, developmental psychology, anthropology, and philosophy present the newest developments in the study of causal cognition and discuss their different perspectives. They reflect on the role and forms of causal knowledge, both in animal and human cognition, on the development of human causal cognition from infancy, and on the relationship between individual and cultural aspects of causal understanding. The result (...) is a state-of-the-art, informative, insightful, and interdisciplinary debate aimed at the non-specialist. (shrink)
Henrich and Boyd (2002) were the first to propose a formal model of the role of attraction in cultural evolution. They came to the surprising conclusion that, when both attraction and selection are at work, final outcomes are determined by selection alone. This result is based on a deterministic view of cultural attraction, different from the probabilistic view introduced in Sperber (1996). We defend this probabilistic view, show how to model it, and argue that, when both attraction and selection are (...) at work, both affect final outcomes. (shrink)
We argue that the presence of a word in an utterance serves as starting point for a relevance guided inferential process that results in the construction of a contextually appropriate sense. The linguistically encoded sense of a word does not serve as its default interpretation. The cases where the contextually appropriate sense happens to be identical to this linguistic sense have no particular theoretical significance. We explore some of the consequences of this view. One of these consequences is that there (...) may be many more mentally represented concepts than there are linguistically encoded concepts. (shrink)
Our book Relevance (Sperber and Wilson 1986) treats utterance interpretation as a two-phase process: a modular decoding phase is seen as providing input to a central inferential phase in which a linguistically encoded logical form is contextually enriched and used to construct a hypothesis about the speaker's informative intention. Relevance was mainly concerned with the inferential phase of comprehension: we had to answer Fodor's challenge that while decoding processes are quite well understood, inferential processes are not only not understood, but (...) perhaps not even understandable (see Fodor 1983). Here we will look more closely at the decoding phase and consider what types of information may be linguistically encoded, and how the borderline between decoding and inference can be drawn. It might be that all linguistically encoded information is cut to a single pattern: all truth conditions, say, or all instructions for use. However, there is a robust intuition that two basic types of meaning can be found. This intuition surfaces in a variety of distinctions: between describing and indicating, stating and showing, saying and conventionally implicating, or between truth-conditional and non-truth-conditional, conceptual and procedural, or representational and computational meaning. In the literature, justifications for these distinctions have been developed in both strictly linguistic and more broadly cognitive terms. The linguistic justification goes as follows (see for example Recanati 1987). Utterances express propositions; propositions have truth conditions; but the meaning of an utterance is not exhausted by its truth conditions, i.e. the truth conditions of the proposition expressed. An utterance not only expresses a proposition but is used to perform a variety of speech acts. It can.. (shrink)
How are non-declarative sentences understood? How do they differ semantically from their declarative counterparts? Answers to these questions once made direct appeal to the notion of illocutionary force. When they proved unsatisfactory, the fault was diagnosed as a failure to distinguish properly between mood and force. For some years now, efforts have been under way to develop a satisfactory account of the semantics of mood. In this paper, we consider the current achievements and future prospects of the mood-based semantic programme.
Obscurity of expression is considered a flaw. Not so, however, in the speech or writing of intellectual gurus. All too often, what readers do is judge profound what they have failed to grasp. Here I try to explain this guru effect by looking at the psychology of trust and interpretation, at the role of authority and argumentation, and at the effects of these dispositions and processes when they operate at a population level where, I argue, a runaway phenomenon of overappreciation (...) may take place. (shrink)
Having defended the usefulness of our definition of reasoning, we stress that reasoning is not only for convincing but also for evaluating arguments, and that as such it has an epistemic function. We defend the evidence supporting the theory against several challenges: People are good informal arguers, they reason better in groups, and they have a confirmation bias. Finally, we consider possible extensions, first in terms of process-level theories of reasoning, and second in the effects of reasoning outside the lab.
Although a few pioneers in psycholinguistics had, for more than twenty years, approached various pragmatic issues experimentally, it is only in the past few years that investigators have begun employing the experimental method in testing pragmatic hypotheses. We see this emergence of a proper experimental pragmatics as an important advance with a great potential for further development. In this chapter we want to illustrate what can be done with experimental approaches to pragmatic issues by presenting one case, that of so-called (...) ‘scalar inferences’, where the experimental method has helped sharpen a theoretical debate and has provided uniquely relevant evidence. We will focus on work done by the first author and his collaborators or work closely related to theirs, but other authors have also made important contributions to the topic. (shrink)
Human, cognition, interaction, and culture are thoroughly intertwined. Without cognition and interaction, there would be no culture. Without culture, cognition and interaction would be very different affairs, as they are among other social species. The effect of culture on mental life has always been a main concern of the social sciences and, after a long period of almost total neglect, it is more and more taken into consideration in cognitive psychology. The effect of cognition, and in particular of the ability (...) to attribute mental states to others, on interaction has become a important topic of investigation in developmental and social psychology. Little attention, on the other hand, is paid to the effect of cognition on culture. All would agree, of course that the human mind is what makes human culture possible. Quite generally, however, the mind is seen as a mere enabler of culture, a pure opportunity with no constraints attached, nothing that might contribute to shaping, or at least to biasing cultural contents. Against this neglect of cognition, I will argue that understanding the mind is doubly important to the study of culture. Psychological considerations are crucial both to a proper characterization of what is cultural and to a proper explanation of cultural phenomena. Most anthropologists may be too savvy to still talk of the mind as a “blank slate”, but they too often meet any discussion of psychological factors in culture with a blank stare. Most evolutionary theorists who see cultural evolution as an analogue of biological evolution by natural selection postulate rather than investigate the few particulars of the human mind.. (shrink)
We argue that there is a continuum of cases without any demarcation between more individual and more cultural information, and that therefore “culture” should be viewed as a property that human mental representations and practices exhibit to a varying degree rather than as a type or a subclass of these representations and practices (or of “information”). We discuss the relative role of preservative and constructive processes in transmission. We suggest a revision of Richerson and Boyd’s classification of the forces of (...) cultural evloution. (shrink)
The idea that cultural evolution exhibits variation, competition, and inheritance and therefore can be studied by adjusting the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection is an attractive one. It has been argued by a number of authors (e.g., Campbell 1960; Monod 1970; Dawkins 1976; Cavalli-Sforza and Feldman 1981; Boyd and Richerson 1985; Durham 1991; Aunger 2002; Mesoudi et al. 2004) and pursued in a variety of ways, some (Dawkins and memeticists) staying close to the Darwinian model, others (e.g., Boyd, (...) Richerson, and their collaborators) being more innovative. We agree that there are relevant analogies between biological and cultural evolution and, in particular, that cultural items do exhibit variation, competition, and cumulative modification. On the other hand, we believe that a proper understanding of the mechanisms of cultural propagation drawing on the work of cognitive and social scientists (see Sperber and Hirschfeld 1999 for a review) contradicts the idea that culture exhibits inheritance in the strict sense needed for the theory of evolution by natural selection to apply straightforwardly to it. If so, it will take more than adjusting the Darwinian model to be faithful to the Darwinian inspiration. (shrink)