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On the Universality of Argumentative Reasoning

Hugo Mercier

University of Neuchatel

March 11, 2010

Journal of Cognition and Culture, Vol. 11, pp. 85–113, 2011

According to the argumentative theory of reasoning, humans have evolved reasoning abilities (usually known as ‘system 2’ or ‘analytic’ reasoning) for argumentative purposes. This implies that some reasoning skills should be universals. Such a claim seems to be at odd with findings from cross-cultural research. First, a wealth of research, following the work of Luria, has shown apparent difficulties for illiterate populations to solve simple but abstract syllogisms. It can be shown however that once they are willing to accept the pragmatics of the task, these participants can perform at or near ceiling. Second, historical, sociological and anthropological research has been used to claim that some Eastern cultures have not developed argumentation. These claims are the result of oversimplifications and of a selective view of the data. A closer looks reveals instead very elaborate forms of argumentation, in Chinese culture particularly. Third, cross-cultural psychologists have carried out an extensive research program aimed at showing that Easterners do not rely on the principle of non-contradiction and that they use holistic rather than analytic thinking. A review of these experiments shows that no qualitative difference emerges in the way Easterners and Westerners deal with argumentation and that in the proper context both populations can easily have recourse to holistic or analytic thinking. It is possible to conclude from this critical review that the reasoning skills involved in argumentation seem to be universal even though they can be used in different ways in various cultural contexts.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 41

Keywords: Argumentation, Reasoning, Cross-cultural differences, Dual-process theory, Contradiction

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Date posted: March 14, 2011 ; Last revised: June 15, 2011

Suggested Citation

Mercier, Hugo, On the Universality of Argumentative Reasoning (March 11, 2010). Journal of Cognition and Culture, Vol. 11, pp. 85–113, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1784902

Contact Information

Hugo Mercier (Contact Author)
University of Neuchatel ( email )
Espace Louis Agassiz 1
Neuchâtel, 2000
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