UCL Working Papers in Linguistics 14 (2002)

Relevance and rationality



Subjects’ poor performance relative to normative standards on reasoning tasks has been supposed to have ‘bleak implications for rationality’ (Nisbett & Borgida, 1975).

More recent experimental work suggests that considerations of relevance underlie performance in at least some reasoning paradigms (Sperber et al., 1995; Girotto et al.,

2001; Van der Henst et al., 2002). It is argued here that this finding has positive implications for human rationality since the relevance theoretic comprehension procedure is computationally efficient and well-adapted to the ostensive communicative environment: it is a good example of bounded and adaptive rationality in Gigerenzer’s terms (Gigerenzer and Todd, 1999), and, uniquely, it is a fast and frugal satisficing heuristic which seeks optimal solutions.

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