The normativity and reasonability of human rationality

Williams, Fred Madison
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In my dissertation, I argue that rationality, for real humans, is best understood as a strategy for communication and interacting in a social environment. In particular, I argue that humans are rational to the extent that they are able to understand and be understood by others, to the extent that they can give and accept reasons and explanations. This raises a pair of questions. The first concerns the source of the norms for giving and accepting reasons. The second is why we should accept and follow these norms if they are not guaranteed to preserve truth or optimize outcomes. I address the first question by arguing that these norms function as constraints on our imaginations, on the ways in which we can think about or understand the world. This goes beyond the traditional view that these norms govern acceptable inferences. Rather, I argue, the more significant function of these norms is to govern the structure of our reasoning in the sense of guiding considerations about the relevance and form of our understandings of situations. This suggests an answer to the second question. We ought to accept these norms because they are self-confirming. Following them allows us to communicate and interact with others who follow these same norms. In those endeavors that require interaction and coordination in a social group, being understood is frequently more important than being right.