Rationality, biology and optimality

Price, Carolyn (2002). Rationality, biology and optimality. Biology and Philosophy, 17(5) pp. 613–634.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022556019609


A historical theory of rational norms claims that, if we are supposed to think rationally, this is because it is biologically normal for us to do so. The historical theorist is committed to the view that we are supposed to think rationally only if, in the past, adult humans sometimes thought rationally. I consider whether there is any plausible model of rational norms that can be adopted by the historical theorist that is compatible with the claim that adult human beings are subject to rational norms, given certain plausible empirical assumptions about our history and capabilities. I suggest that there is one such model: this model centres on the idea that a procedure is rational if it has been endorsed (or at least not rejected) by mechanisms that have the function to ensure that the subject learns to reason in a way that approaches a certain kind of optimality.

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