Monday, June 19, 2006

Reasoning: purposeful thinking

The kind of thinking that has a purpose we term ‘reasoning’ – if thinking doesn’t have a purpose, we call it ‘daydreaming’, or ‘wishful thinking’. The features of reasoning given below should apply to your own reasoning skills.

1. All reasoning has a purpose
Reasoning is defined in the dictionary as ‘the act of using one’s intellectual abilities to draw a conclusion from a premise’. A premise is a logical previous statement from which another is inferred. In other words, we deduce one thing from another. (The Pocket Oxford Dictionary)
Example: If someone comes inside and takes off their wet coat, it is reasonable to assume that it is raining outside.
Reasoning is an everyday activity.
For example, if we couldn’t reason, we would have to go outside and stand in the rain before we understood that it was raining.
This brings us to the next point:-

2. All reasoning is an attempt to work something out; to figure something out; to solve a problem
Reasoning has direction; the direction of problem solving – we don’t know something we want or need to know, and we use our intellect – our ability to reason – to work it out; to find out what we want or need to know. We do this using our knowledge of the world.
For example, we could reason that the person entering the room wearing a wet coat has walked in front of a hosepipe or, but we use our knowledge of the world to inform us; we assume it is raining – this is the simplest explanation.

3. All reasoning is based upon assumptions
Assumptions – the things we assume are out there (rain not hosepipes, from the last example) – we use what we call our common sense – we assume that the simplest, most reasonable explanation is the one that is correct.

4. All reasoning is carried out from a point of view
Because we have desires and feelings - because we are human beings rather that robots, we come to everything from our point of view.
For example, the people we call sensitive, or fair-minded, or reasonable take other people’s points of view into account as well as their own before they act upon their reasoning. Selfish people, on the other had, only take into account their own point of view.

5. All reasoning is based upon information of some kind; on data; on evidence
The raw material for reasoning is evidence – evidence can take many forms.
For example, we can see the man’s coat is wet, so we reason that he has got wet from some exposure to water – we assume from our knowledge of the world that it is raining outside. We combine what we see( evidence) with our common sense assumptions, and deduce from the man’s wet coat that it is raining outside. We do this without having to go outside to see for ourselves.

6. All reasoning is expressed by concepts and ideas
A concept is a general notion – an idea – an abstract thought. Thought processes (the things our brains do) are removed from reality – we are able to think of things without doing them. There are many ways that ideas come into our minds, and we can use language to express some of them.
For example, we say things like the following to express our thoughts.
1. “What if…”
2. “I wonder why …..?”
3. “I think that …..”
4. We ask questions, beginning with words like:-
b. Why?
c. What?
d. Where?
e. When?
f. How?
And we ask questions that include assumptions.
o Do/Does?
For example, if we ask the question, “Do you eat cornflakes for breakfast?” we are making the assumption that the person we are talking to:-
a) Understands English
b) Eats breakfast
c) Knows what cornflakes are
o Did? (think of another question using these words, then think of the assumptions you are making in asking the question)
o Is/Are?
o Was/Were?

7. All reasoning includes inferences; from these we draw conclusions and give meaning to data
It is in the inferring – using evidence to make decisions based upon that evidence that we use our judgement. It isn’t as simple as expressing an opinion, but rather it is something like weighing the evidence of some sort of mental scales to come to a decision or solve a problem.

8. All reasoning leads somewhere; has implications and consequences
Once we have used evidence and included our assumptions and points of view, and hopefully some common sense, we arrive at the point at which that decision or that solution will affect something else – in the future – concerning our actions and our thoughts, and those of others affected by what we choose to do, think or say.

Robert L. Fielding


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