Towards a descriptivist psychology of reasoning and decision making.
Our target article identified normativism as the view that rationality should be evaluated against unconditional normative standards. We believe this to be entrenched in the psychological study of reasoning and decision making and argued that it is damaging to this empirical area of study, calling instead for a descriptivist psychology of reasoning and decision making. The views of 29 commentators (from philosophy and cognitive science as well as psychology) were mixed, including some staunch defences of normativism, but also a number that were broadly supportive of our position, although critical of various details. In particular many defended a position that we call ‘soft normativism’, which sees a role for normative evaluation within boundaries alongside more descriptive research goals. In response, we clarify our use of the term ‘instrumental rationality’ and add discussion of ‘epistemic rationality’ defining both as descriptive and non-normative concepts. We consider the debate with reference to dual process theory, the new paradigm psychology of reasoning and empirical research strategy in these fields. We also discuss cognitive variation by age, intelligence and culture and the issue of relative vs absolute definitions of norms. In conclusion, we hope at least to have raised consciousness about the important boundaries between norm and description in the psychology of thinking.
Citation:Evans, J.St.B.T. and Elqayam, S. (2011). Towards a descriptivist psychology of reasoning and decision making. Behavioural and Brain Sciences. 34 (5), pp. 275-290