In the opening lines of his essay ‘An Outline of Intellectual Rubbish‘, Bertrand Russell wrote that ‘Man is a rational animal – so at least I have been told. Throughout a long life, I have looked diligently for evidence in favor of this statement, but so far I have not had the good fortune to come across it’. Russell’s cry of despair is echoed by many writers. There is a cottage industry of books purporting to show that man is anything but a rational animal. Human reason, or so we are told, is a paltry and botched device, riddled with bias and error. Humans are foolish, obstinate, superstitious, irrational. The psychologist John Kihlstrom called it the People are Stupid School of Psychology (PASSP).
What arguments can an attorney, called in to defend Homo sapiens against these charges of irrationality, bring forward in favor of her client? In a new paper for a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition, my colleagues Michael Vlerick Ryan McKay and I have explored one such line of defence: the Ecology Apology.