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Collected Papers, Volume 2Knowledge, Rationality, and Morality, 1978-2010$
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Stephen Stich

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199733477

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199733477.001.0001

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Could Man Be an Irrational Animal?

Could Man Be an Irrational Animal?

Some Notes on the Epistemology of Rationality

(p.49) 3 Could Man Be an Irrational Animal?
Collected Papers, Volume 2

Stephen Stich

Oxford University Press

Aristotle thought man was a rational animal. From his time to ours, however, there has been a steady stream of writers who have dissented from this sanguine assessment. Recently, however, there have been rumblings of a reaction brewing—a resurgence of Aristotelian optimism. Those defending the sullied name of human reason have been philosophers, and their weapons have been conceptual analysis and epistemological argument. The central thrust of their defense is the claim that empirical evidence could not possibly support the conclusion that people are systematically irrational. And thus the experiments which allegedly show that they are must be either flawed or misinterpreted. This chapter takes a critical look at these philosophical defenses of rationality. The central thesis is that the philosophical arguments aimed at showing irrationality cannot be experimentally demonstrated are mistaken. Before considering these arguments, this chapter sets out a few illustrations of the sort of empirical studies which allegedly show that people depart from normative standards of rationality in systematic ways.

Keywords:   Aristotle, human reason, rationality, philosophical defense, irrationality

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