Could Man Be an Irrational Animal? Some Notes on the Epistemology of Rationality

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


Aristotle thought man was a rational animal. From his time to ours, however, there has been a steady stream of writers who have dissented from this sanguine assessment. Recently, however, there have been rumblings of a reaction brewing-a resurgence of Aristotelian optimism. Those defending the sullied name of human reason have been philosophers, and their weapons have been conceptual analysis and epistemological argument. The central thrust of their defense is the claim that empirical evidence could not possibly support the conclusion that people are systematically irrational. And thus the experiments which allegedly show that they are must be either flawed or misinterpreted. This chapter takes a critical look at these philosophical defenses of rationality. The central thesis is that the philosophical arguments aimed at showing irrationality cannot be experimentally demonstrated are mistaken. Before considering these arguments, this chapter sets out a few illustrations of the sort of empirical studies which allegedly show that people depart from normative standards of rationality in systematic ways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCollected Papers, Volume 2
Subtitle of host publicationKnowledge, Rationality, and Morality, 1978-2010
PublisherOxford University Press
ISBN (Electronic)9780199949823
ISBN (Print)9780199733477
StatePublished - Sep 20 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


  • Aristotle
  • Human reason
  • Irrationality
  • Philosophical defense
  • Rationality

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  • Cite this

    Stich, S. (2012). Could Man Be an Irrational Animal? Some Notes on the Epistemology of Rationality. In Collected Papers, Volume 2: Knowledge, Rationality, and Morality, 1978-2010 Oxford University Press.