[ExI] The Argumentative Theory of Reasoning

Richard Loosemore rpwl at lightlink.com
Thu Jun 16 17:29:48 UTC 2011

Gordon wrote:
> This seems to me an interesting subject to argue about. :) 
> According to this theory, which has gained a bit of press recently in philosophical circles, reason evolved not to ascertain truth but rather to aid us in arguing with others. It is primarily a social function. 
> I read this interesting summary:
> The argumentative theory of reasoning
> https://sites.google.com/site/hugomercier/theargumentativetheoryofreasoning
> Among other things, this theory seems to me to nicely explain the confirmation bias.
> I wonder... assuming this theory is "true" then how shall we ever know it? If reason evolved to help us win arguments and not to actually find truth, then how can we accept these reasoned arguments in support of the theory that this is so? :) 
> It seems to me that on this account we must reject the correspondence theory of truth (in which true propositions are defined as those which correspond to objective facts in the world) and accept the coherence theory of truth (in which true propositions are defined as those which cohere with a set of agreed-upon propositions). I don't see how else to make sense of the theory. In fact this so-called argumentative theory of reasoning seems to me a sort of complement to the coherence theory, with a nod to evolution theory.
> But I'm willing to listen to other arguments. :)

Like many evolutionary accounts, it can sometimes appear to be saying 
something substantial when it is not.

(For example, consider the logical reasoning involved when Pythagoras 
discovered his theorem.  Does it make a difference that that kind of 
reasoning was born from a history of argumentation?  Not really).

However, by looking at the role that argumentation plays in discourse 
*today*, it makes sense to see "reasoning" as much more to do with 
rhetoric battles and less to do with mathematical logic.  So, I think 
you are perfectly right to see a connection with the demise of the 
correspondence theory of truth:  if truth is about coherence, then 
argumentation is a way to increase the coherence of a system of "truths" 
by stirring the pot up as much as possible and letting it settle into a 
better (more coherent) state.

(cf the Boltzmann machine, and other relaxation systems, which get to a 
better state not by logical steps but by a process of annealing).

As for explaining confirmation bias (and all the other so called 
biasses):  we don't exactly need this new theory to explain that.

Richard Loosemore

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