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Rationality and the Reflective Mind 1: Dual Process Theory and the Great Rationality Debate


Conversation about rationality gets muddled because the term has a long history. It began it’s use calling humans the “rational animal” as in capable of reason. But this does not include any normativity. Cognitive scientists define the term more narrowly in terms of how close thinking and judgment come to a normative model.

Two camps, meliorists and Panglossians disa gree about whether human judgment can be termed irrational. Meliorists think humans are imperfectly rational, but can be improved. Panglossians deny that human behavior is irrational in many situations. Stanovich claims this is because Panglossians often confuse what is adaptive with what is rational, or most likely to achieve one’s goals.

There’s a nice summary of current thought on System 1 and 2 thinking, basically a summary of Thinking Fast and Slow.

Stanovich attempts to solve the “Great Rationality Debate” by pointing out that the two systems of the mind can have different “goals.” System 1 (fast) goals tend to be more likely to track with evolutionary goals- what is adaptive and likely to lead to reproductive success. Type 2 goals are more likely to be oriented towards the organism as a whole, instead of the reproduction of genes. Stanovich solves the whole debate by saying “Evolutionary adaptive behavior is not the same as rational behavior” (23).

This seems so obvious. Is this debate still going on? I suppose there’s no escape from the naturalistic fallacy.

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