Instigator / Pro
14
1500
rating
3
debates
66.67%
won
Topic
#5207

Humans are not the "rational animal"

Status
Finished

The debate is finished. The distribution of the voting points and the winner are presented below.

Winner & statistics
Better arguments
6
3
Better sources
4
2
Better legibility
2
1
Better conduct
2
0

After 2 votes and with 8 points ahead, the winner is...

Ball-425
Parameters
Publication date
Last updated date
Type
Standard
Number of rounds
5
Time for argument
Two days
Max argument characters
16,500
Voting period
One week
Point system
Multiple criterions
Voting system
Open
Contender / Con
6
1500
rating
8
debates
37.5%
won
Description

Contrary to Aristotle's statement that "Humans are the rational animal" the case that we are not is far more compelling

Round 1
Pro
#1
Definitions:
Belief:
NOUN:
1. an attitude towards a proposition or claim
2. an acceptance that a statement is true

Rationality:
ADJECTIVE
  1. based on or in accordance with reason or logic:

    Aristotle maintained that humans are different from lower animals in that we have a rational soul, despite the fact that we are capable of ignoring or forgetting it. Aristotle also comes to the conclusion that the contemplative life is the highest kind of life for humans, who have rational souls, much as Plato's Socrates taught us that the scrutinized life, examined by reason, is the life worth living.

Aristotle was wrong about humans being primarily rational animals. Not because human irrationality proves that we aren’t rational. Aristotle didn't think we are always rational, just that we have the unique capacity to be rational. But there is something more fundamental that distinguishes humans from the other animals. We are believing animals. Aristotle is right in that I differ from the insects in my yard because I can reason in ways they can’t. However, a bigger difference between those animals and myself is that I believe in ways they can’t – how it is appropriate to behave in different spaces, about the cosmos, etc.

My question is which is more fundamentally human: reason, or belief? I argue it's the latter.

The way philosophers have depicted us for a long time is as follows: reason is the primary player, and belief is what we do along the way before another bout of reasoning. We reason, then we believe; and ideally, we keep reasoning in order to search for better and truer beliefs. 

Two questions can be asked: First, is this an accurate depiction of how humans work? Second, is this is how humans should work?

The answer to the first question is no. The more we learn about the human mind, and its deep-rooted psychological biases, the more our minds look tailor-made for belief-preservation. This makes it difficult and unpleasant to challenge long-held beliefs through reason. For instance, our confirmation bias leads us to   more readily seek out arguments and evidence which support our existing beliefs. The status quo bias finds humans favoring the preservation of ways we’ve gotten used to over changes in those ways. The anchoring bias finds that how we appraise information is affected by how the issue was initially presented. If X is the first way I hear an issue framed, we are more likely to use X as the standard by which we judge subsequent arguments about that issue. These three biases along with MANY others point to our tendency towards preserving existing beliefs rather than rising above them to challenge them with reason. Kathryn Schultz's book, Being Wrong (2010), about the puzzle of why it feels so good to be right, and so bad to be (or to realize we are) wrong. If humans are primarily rational, rather than believing, creatures, shouldn’t we feel good about recognizing ourselves as being wrong – at least if we discover our wrongness by rational means? But Schultz writes that for most of us most of the time, we don’t. On the contrary, belief preservation feels amazing, and given the cognitive biases I just mentioned (and many others), we struggle to avoid giving up our already-held beliefs. Schultz points out that we love belief so much that when one becomes dislodged, we rush to fill the hole with another.

Look at how argument works on social media and elsewhere. We can clearly see the following tendencies:
(1) People tend to defend beliefs they hold much more often and enthusiastically than they honestly entertain arguments against their beliefs.
(2) The more a person is challenged on beliefs important to them, the more anger is likely to seep into the discussion; and
(3) People are rarely happy to be presented with insinuations that they are wrong or to admit flaws in their belief. (Note the asymmetry between what happens in arguments, and the elation that often happens in echo-chamber spaces where people collectively confirm a belief they share.)

But let's look at a rebuttal: If belief is more natural to us than reasonable self-criticism, this is all the more reason to become more contemplative. But look how prone we are to defend our beliefs, even to the point where we make every effort avoid giving up faulty ones.
The point is not to say we don't reason and exalt belief, but to say that the latter plays a more important role in our lives than the ‘rational animal’ view suggests.
If anything, belief and reason are complementary. While reason helps us cope with uncertainty by giving us a means to think things through, belief helps us cope with uncertainty by allowing us to feel respite from it. If all we ever did was maintain our existing beliefs, we would never progress or adapt in a changing world. But if all we ever did was reason, we would never be able to rest in any security about anything we believe. Of course, neither Aristotle nor any other ‘rational animal’ human-definer suggest that reasoning should be omnipresent in our lives at the expense of belief: they just suggest that we persistently test our beliefs against reason (our own and others’). I suggest by contrast that while we should sometimes do just this, too much of it would be too disorienting and exhausting for most humans to find livable.

Assume, for instance In my opinion, global warming is an actual phenomenon caused by humans. I get a lot of benefits from this idea, one of several that I have. It first completes some gaps in my understanding of the world, including how it functions and how I relate to it. Secondly, it provides me with a tool to help me decide how I'm going to get around that globe. Third, my belief provides me with a framework within which to judge what evidence to take seriously and what to disregard when presented with differing perspectives on climate change and related concerns. In a similar vein, my belief enables me to justify to myself the existence of this range of opinions. It's not because there are too many complexities in the world for some people to validly come to different conclusions, it’s because I see the world correctly, whereas those who disagree with me are either mistaken or wrongly motivated. My belief might even help me organize the world into good and bad people and help me socially bond with the good. If I lose my belief, then I lose all of that. Our minds want an understanding about the world that marries accuracy, workability, and efficiency. We want beliefs that give us a sense that we understand the world well enough (accuracy) that we can better think about and navigate it (workability) in manageable ways (efficiency). This is true for small beliefs – like what diet is healthiest – to large beliefs, like my political or religious beliefs. Understandings that satisfy some acceptable combination of accuracy, workability, and efficiency become beliefs, and the more a belief satisfies me, the more I will come to rely on it. And the more I come to rely on it, the more upholding it becomes important to me.

Many beliefs are rooted in emotions, intuitions, and subjective experiences rather than purely rational considerations. People typically hold beliefs based on gut feelings, personal experiences, and emotional attachments far more than they do because of rational considerations.

It is for all of these reasons I affirm that humans are not the rational animal

Con
#2
I would start my debate by asking an elementary idea, if everything is similar and irrational then it becomes the ideal rationality of the society. i.e. if everyone is irrational then it becomes rational for that society. Aristotle calls humans a rational animal because he compares us to animals. animals lack basic rationality and responsibility, they live just for the sake of living. they live without any form of morality and rationality, we humans are certainly more rational than them. 
if we look and compare ourselves to animals we will find that we are far more rational than them.
Aristotle was wrong about humans being primarily rational animals. Not because human irrationality proves that we aren’t rational. Aristotle didn't think we are always rational, just that we have the unique capacity to be rational. But there is something more fundamental that distinguishes humans from other animals. We are believing animals. Aristotle is right in that I differ from the insects in my yard because I can reason in ways they can’t. However, a bigger difference between those animals and myself is that I believe in ways they can’t – how it is appropriate to behave in different spaces, about the cosmos, etc.
here is an interesting argument that we humans are believing animals and are not rational and I will ask my opponent a straightforward question, we humans are different from animals in the aspect that we can believe, we humans have our own beliefs, how exactly can a human have a belief system without actually having the basic rationality to identify which belief suits us the best? if we humans are not rational then why are we unique in the aspects of virtue, ideals, and beliefs? how can we even have a debate on this particular topic if we are not unique and rational in the first place?
This means that we are endowed with certain cognitive powers, namely, intellect and reason, that enable us to engage in various cognitive operations, such as concept formation, judging, or reasoning. It is these operations that shape how we perceive and interact with the world. We conceptualize the brown furry thing we see as a dog, we judge that the dog is hungry when it desperately stares at the feeding bowl, and we reason that we should feed it if we want its hunger to disappear. To some extent, these cognitive operations even put us in a position to build our worlds like, for instance, the world of logic or the world of science. In these worlds, dogs are not simply our pets or companions but they become the objects of our research. We might study their biology, physiology, and psychology and perhaps find out that dogs are just as smart and intelligent beings as we are. This finding would change how we treat dogs. We would begin to give them all the rights we grant to human beings and dog-lead producers might finally become redundant. all of this is possible because we humans are more rational and reasonable than an animal from a zoo.
The anchoring bias finds that how we appraise information is affected by how the issue was initially presented.
this is indeed a fascinating argument, anchoring bias is a faulty heuristic, it is a flaw that keeps us from calling ourselves completely rational but I will put a very fundamental question here, why is this bias so common in the case of humans? it is because we humans can reason in the first place, to ease the process of reasoning in situations and to take quick decisions. this is because the mind can reason and be rational even if such rationality is not correct but at the very end of the day this capability is unique to humans. we, humans, can prioritize such pieces of information because we have subconscious rationality. 
If X is the first way I hear an issue framed, we are more likely to use X as the standard by which we judge subsequent arguments about that issue. These three biases along with MANY others point to our tendency towards preserving existing beliefs rather than rising above them to challenge them with reason.
this is not properly correct, I would move this idea on a historical basis. The Renaissance period of history is a period that stands against this statement as a very good example, it was a period when people were considered to grow intellectually and question various orthodox ideas such as the Christian model of the universe, etc. with the help of reasonable and sound logic. it was a period in which people started to question various things and ideals, various writers emerged and wrote texts that looked at various topics with different dimensions in partially unbiased ways. 
it is also quite incorrect to assume that a person is more likely to go with statement X while deciding if statement X is the first thing that he hears. it is a very subjective and varied idea, this statement will vary from person to person depending on the person that you chose for this experiment. some people fall into this category and some people stand out as exceptions hence it is quite incorrect to assume that humans will follow this very basic structure. the entire point is that there are exceptions to this is the fact that humans are rational on some level, all humans at the very end of the day are more rational than other animals.
 (1) People tend to defend beliefs they hold much more often and enthusiastically than they honestly entertain arguments against their beliefs.
(2) The more a person is challenged on beliefs important to them, the more anger is likely to seep into the discussion; and
(3) People are rarely happy to be presented with insinuations that they are wrong or to admit flaws in their beliefs. (Note the asymmetry between what happens in arguments and the elation that often happens in echo-chamber spaces where people collectively confirm a belief they share.)
this idea is also very interesting because of the fact a human is enthusiastic about discussing the topics and things he likes and feels anger when the topic or object is opposed. this entire thing is because we humans have evolved emotions, we feign affection with our beliefs, but there is a dilemma here, this statement again is quite subjective. many people will not fall into this idea, some people accept the criticism of their beliefs and yet follow them it is because they are rational about it. we have beliefs at the very end of the day because we are conscious and rational about objects, ideas, and topics that suit us the best, we pick such beliefs at the very of the day because we find them rationally inclining with our interests and personality. we humans are rational about our personality as well.
with all of these arguments, I can conclude that we humans are more rational than other animals as we are aware and rational about picking and choosing our beliefs. we are aware of our interest and choose to defend it because we find it reasonable and rational to do so.  and other animals lack such ability, hence we are rational animals.
Round 2
Pro
#3
I thank my opponent for engaging in this debate.

I would start my debate by asking an elementary idea, if everything is similar and irrational then it becomes the ideal rationality of the society. i.e. if everyone is irrational then it becomes rational for that society. Aristotle calls humans a rational animal because he compares us to animals. animals lack basic rationality and responsibility, they live just for the sake of living. they live without any form of morality and rationality, we humans are certainly more rational than them. 
if we look and compare ourselves to animals we will find that we are far more rational than them.
Rationality implies the ability to reason logically and make informed decisions based on evidence and principles, not just similarity or irrationality. Rationality isn't about everyone being the same or irrational; it's about the quality of thought and decision-making processes. I think understand what you are getting at, and it would be that rationality is somewhat relative (e.g. in a world where everyone had an IQ of 50 then an IQ of 60 may be rational) but it is not as relevant as a point here: For Aristotle, rationality doesn't just mean being different from animals; it entails the unique and fundamental capacity for reasoning. He didn't define rationality merely as a contrast to animal behavior but as a fundamental attribute of human nature. Contrary to that idea though I will argue belief is more fundamental. 

here is an interesting argument that we humans are believing animals and are not rational and I will ask my opponent a straightforward question, we humans are different from animals in the aspect that we can believe, we humans have our own beliefs, how exactly can a human have a belief system without actually having the basic rationality to identify which belief suits us the best? if we humans are not rational then why are we unique in the aspects of virtue, ideals, and beliefs? how can we even have a debate on this particular topic if we are not unique and rational in the first place?



To clarify I am not saying that humans are not rational. I am disagreeing with rationality as the primary player and what is most prevalent within us. See my statements above. Now to rebut:
(1):  You argue that rationality is fundamental to belief formation. Rationality is important, but it doesn't always dictate our beliefs, as evidenced by the various cognitive biases that influence human thought processes. Also see the point I made where I claimed that many beliefs are rooted in emotions, pure intuitions, gut feelings etc. rather than rational considerations. This is non-disputably true given (a) cognitive biases that make us cling to and form beliefs based on emotional resonance and comfort instead of objective reason (b) The Limbic System  our brain's emotional processing center plays a great role in decision-making and belief formation. This system often operates faster than our analytical prefrontal cortex, leading to decisions and beliefs swayed by emotion before reason even has a chance to catch up. (Damasio, A. R. (1994). Descartes' error: Emotion, reason, and the human brain. Grosset/Putnam.) (c) Social influence.  Social pressure strongly influences our beliefs. We tend to adopt the beliefs of our group, family, or culture, often driven by the desire to belong and avoid social ostracization. This reliance on emotional social cues overrides individual critical thinking. (Asch, S. E. (1951). Effects of group pressure upon the modification and distortion of judgments. Studies in Social Psychology, 1, 79-134.).  Now keep in mind this list is non-exhaustive there are literally so many other examples like social icks in which we judge things based on an uncomfortable icky feeling (Like incest or things of the like)

Refer to my statements above where I say belief and rationality are actually complementary but on balance belief is the bigger player.

this is indeed a fascinating argument, anchoring bias is a faulty heuristic, it is a flaw that keeps us from calling ourselves completely rational but I will put a very fundamental question here, why is this bias so common in the case of humans? it is because we humans can reason in the first place, to ease the process of reasoning in situations and to take quick decisions. this is because the mind can reason and be rational even if such rationality is not correct but at the very end of the day this capability is unique to humans. we, humans, can prioritize such pieces of information because we have subconscious rationality. 
I am not saying that humans cannot reason or that they are solely irrational. Cognitive biases, by definition, are deviations from rationality and judgement and they serve to (a) Form beliefs based on faulty measures and (b) Preserve pre-existing beliefs. I will extend my former statement in response to your latter argument and reiterate that I am not saying that humans can never be rational. 

it is also quite incorrect to assume that a person is more likely to go with statement X while deciding if statement X is the first thing that he hears. it is a very subjective and varied idea, this statement will vary from person to person depending on the person that you chose for this experiment. some people fall into this category and some people stand out as exceptions hence it is quite incorrect to assume that humans will follow this very basic structure. the entire point is that there are exceptions to this is the fact that humans are rational on some level, all humans at the very end of the day are more rational than other animals.
This is what we have empirically seen with humans (Along with many other biases) These patterns are not coincidence and are backed by research. (Refer to links above). Of course, we aren't using biases every single time, but it happens more often than not. Also see: Zhang Y, Lewis M, Pellon M, Coleman P (2007). A Preliminary Research on Modeling Cognitive Agents for Social Environments in Multi-Agent Systems

this idea is also very interesting because of the fact a human is enthusiastic about discussing the topics and things he likes and feels anger when the topic or object is opposed. this entire thing is because we humans have evolved emotions, we feign affection with our beliefs, but there is a dilemma here, this statement again is quite subjective. many people will not fall into this idea, some people accept the criticism of their beliefs and yet follow them it is because they are rational about it. we have beliefs at the very end of the day because we are conscious and rational about objects, ideas, and topics that suit us the best, we pick such beliefs at the very of the day because we find them rationally inclining with our interests and personality. we humans are rational about our personality as well.
with all of these arguments, I can conclude that we humans are more rational than other animals as we are aware and rational about picking and choosing our beliefs. we are aware of our interest and choose to defend it because we find it reasonable and rational to do so.  and other animals lack such ability, hence we are rational animals.
Empirically and given my arguments thus far this is a verifiable pattern of what happens in discussion and not subjective.  Now I think even if we entertain that emotions were evolved (Which I don't think would harm my argument despite its origins). We can effectively say that rationality also evolved as an adaptive mechanism in tandem with beliefs.

I will also extend the following argument:

But let's look at a rebuttal: If belief is more natural to us than reasonable self-criticism, this is all the more reason to become more contemplative. But look how prone we are to defend our beliefs, even to the point where we make every effort avoid giving up faulty ones.
The point is not to say we don't reason and exalt belief, but to say that the latter plays a more important role in our lives than the ‘rational animal’ view suggests.
If anything, belief and reason are complementary. While reason helps us cope with uncertainty by giving us a means to think things through, belief helps us cope with uncertainty by allowing us to feel respite from it. If all we ever did was maintain our existing beliefs, we would never progress or adapt in a changing world. But if all we ever did was reason, we would never be able to rest in any security about anything we believe. Of course, neither Aristotle nor any other ‘rational animal’ human-definer suggest that reasoning should be omnipresent in our lives at the expense of belief: they just suggest that we persistently test our beliefs against reason (our own and others’). I suggest by contrast that while we should sometimes do just this, too much of it would be too disorienting and exhausting for most humans to find livable.

Assume, for instance In my opinion, global warming is an actual phenomenon caused by humans. I get a lot of benefits from this idea, one of several that I have. It first completes some gaps in my understanding of the world, including how it functions and how I relate to it. Secondly, it provides me with a tool to help me decide how I'm going to get around that globe. Third, my belief provides me with a framework within which to judge what evidence to take seriously and what to disregard when presented with differing perspectives on climate change and related concerns. In a similar vein, my belief enables me to justify to myself the existence of this range of opinions. It's not because there are too many complexities in the world for some people to validly come to different conclusions, it’s because I see the world correctly, whereas those who disagree with me are either mistaken or wrongly motivated. My belief might even help me organize the world into good and bad people and help me socially bond with the good. If I lose my belief, then I lose all of that. Our minds want an understanding about the world that marries accuracy, workability, and efficiency. We want beliefs that give us a sense that we understand the world well enough (accuracy) that we can better think about and navigate it (workability) in manageable ways (efficiency). This is true for small beliefs – like what diet is healthiest – to large beliefs, like my political or religious beliefs. Understandings that satisfy some acceptable combination of accuracy, workability, and efficiency become beliefs, and the more a belief satisfies me, the more I will come to rely on it. And the more I come to rely on it, the more upholding it becomes important to me.
It is for all of these reasons that I negate humans are the "rational animal" and affirm that belief is far more fundamental to humans.
Con
#4
Forfeited
Round 3
Pro
#5
Not much to add.

Reminders:

Belief > Reason (for humans in general—not absolutely)
Cognitive biases and other mental models contribute to belief preservation 
Humans act far more on belief than they do reason 
Con
#6
Forfeited
Round 4
Pro
#7
Forfeited
Con
#8
Forfeited
Round 5
Pro
#9
Forfeited
Con
#10
Forfeited