Metalogic and the psychology of reasoning
Lee, John Richard
The central topic of the thesis is the relationship between logic and the cognitive psychology of reasoning. This topic is treated in large part through a detailed examination of the recent work of P. N. Johnson-Laird, who has elaborated a widely-read and influential theory in the field. The thesis is divided into two parts, of which the first is a more general and philosophical coverage of some of the most central issues to be faced in relating psychology to logic, while the second draws upon this as introductory material for a critique of Johnson-Laird's `Mental Model' theory, particularly as it applies to syllogistic reasoning. An approach similar to Johnson-Laird's is taken to cognitive psychology, which centrally involves the notion of computation. On this view, a cognitive model presupposes an algorithm which can be seen as specifying the behaviour of a system in ideal conditions. Such behaviour is closely related to the notion of `competence' in reasoning, and this in turn is often described in terms of logic. Insofar as a logic is taken to specify the competence of reasoners in some domain, it forms a set of conditions on the 'input-output' behaviour of the system, to be accounted for by the algorithm. Cognitive models, however, must also be subjected to empirical test, and indeed are commonly built in a highly empirical manner. A strain can therefore develop between the empirical and the logical pressures on a theory of reasoning. Cognitive theories thus become entangled in a web of recently much-discussed issues concerning the rationality of human reasoners and the justification of a logic as a normative system. There has been an increased interest in the view that logic is subject to revision and development, in which there is a recognised place for the influence of psychological investigation. It is held, in this thesis, that logic and psychology are revealed by these considerations to be interdetermining in interesting ways, under the general a priori requirement that people are in an important and particular sense rational. Johnson-Laird's theory is a paradigm case of the sort of cognitive theory dealt with here. It is especially significant in view of the strong claims he makes about its relation to logic, and the role the latter plays in its justification and in its interpretation. The theory is claimed to be revealing about fundamental issues in semantics, and the nature of rationality. These claims are examined in detail, and several crucial ones refuted. Johnson- Laird's models are found to be wanting in the level of empirical support provided, and in their ability to found the considerable structure of explanation they are required to bear. They fail, most importantly, to be distinguishable from certain other kinds of models, at a level of theory where the putative differences are critical. The conclusion to be drawn is that the difficulties in this field are not yet properly appreciated. Psychological explantion requires a complexity which is hard to reconcile with the clarity and simplicity required for logical insights.