Systematic Cognitive Bias in the History of Philosophy and its Cultural Transmission

A Case Study of Thomas Reid, Religion, and Science


  • Ryan Nichols California State University, Fullerton



Religion, philosophy, cognitive bias, Thomas Reid, Alvin Plantinga, philosophy of religion


This article argues influential eighteenth-century thinker Thomas Reid’s philosophical system gets infected with determinable cognitive biases when scientific claims jeopardize his core Christian commitments. These biases are most active, and led reliably to fallacious reasoning, when Reid writes about issues with implications on substance dualism and the human soul, and on the activity of supernatural agents in the material world. Falling into two halves, this article first presents cognitive biases (disconfirmation bias, motivated skepticism, selective attention), explaining the experimental context of their discovery and their sources in emotions. Next, the article walks through a series of textual case studies from published and unpublished writings that reveal the context, operation, and doxastic effects of these biases. Throughout special effort is made to empathize with Reid’s social context and its influence on his affirmation of fallacies in support of his faith.

Author Biography

Ryan Nichols, California State University, Fullerton

Ryan Nichols is a professor in the Department of Philosophy at California State University, Fullerton, and a research affiliate of the Centre for Human Evolution, Cognition, & Culture, University of British Columbia.


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How to Cite

Nichols, R. (2020). Systematic Cognitive Bias in the History of Philosophy and its Cultural Transmission: A Case Study of Thomas Reid, Religion, and Science. Journal of Cognitive Historiography, 5(1-2), 56–86.