Conceptual understandings about Reason

Despite the perception of reasoning being a pure method of decision making, when applied to real life situations it is still subject to numerous cognitive and paradigm biases that influence the premises we start with, and therefore the claim we end up with.

No one is really free of bias and in some way or the other, our sight of a situation is limited by our paradigms. This means that every time we make a decision our paradigm and our biases dictate how we go about reasoning the decision. To take a controversial example for instance, in the US there is a lot of discussion about gun violence, and gun regulation. Firstly as an outside party, only reading and hearing about instances where guns have caused deaths, I am likely to associate guns with death and therefore deem them unsafe and as a result, support a gun ban. This is a very extreme sort of judgment and lacks nuance but that is because it is heavily influenced by the limited information I am exposed to about the consequences and uses of guns, biasing me against them. Someone who has lost a loved one to gun violence might lean the same way as me, as their emotion-filled experiences will heavily influence their outlook on this situation, so they will probably start with a  similar premise as me “guns cause violence and unjustified death”. However, in a case where a gun has helped someone defend themselves, they are more likely to label it as a self-defense mechanism and see the benefits of owning a gun, leading their argument to support a pro-gun approach. The problem arises when we realise that both arguments are completely valid, but which one is then true? It is hard to make the judgment in these cases, and this is exactly what makes this topic controversial.

In order to end with a claim that is both true and valid, we must start with the truth and follow a valid chain of reasoning, this means that we can’t generate truth through the process of reasoning, but rather preserve or uncover new truths.

This means that although when we feel like we have ‘logically’ generated truth, it technically already existed in the premise, we just end up by presenting it in a completely new way. This is not to devalue the process of reasoning, because actually being able to connect ideas and present them differently is equal to discovering something. For example in maths, new knowledge/ areas of maths are all built of the same axioms, but they paraphrase those axioms into new contexts so that they are more applicable to a certain mathematical situation. Same way when we are applying reason to real-life situations, often an argument we use in one situation we redirect it to our situation, in a way this is applying the same premise to both situations but it individualises the arguments that come out of it.

Our tendency to project biases and paradigms onto reasoning results in us making hidden assumptions about the logic of our reasoning

This point connects to the first CU, where I talked about the unconscious influence of biases and paradigms on our line of reasoning. To further break the first point down it is also important to point out that when this occurs we often have hidden assumptions in our reasoning, which we usually don’t point out because it is obvious to us but not to others. Logical syllogisms help spot such assumptions. This CU talks more to the presentation of an argument, what I mean by this is that when we are presenting our argument to someone else we are likely to skip out talking about the ‘hidden’ and ‘assumed’ premises we have made. To a distracted listener, our argument will, therefore, sound more promising and robust. But why is it important to be aware fo the hidden assumptions in the first place? It’s important because these hidden premises are the statements that are most swayed by our biases, and when we leave them out we are completely cutting out the potential to discuss the issue, and it is also not necessary that the hidden assumptions are ‘true’.

An example: murder is always wrong, therefore capital punishment is wrong.

The hidden premise/ assumption is that capital punishment is a form of murder. In such a case there is a lot of ambiguity even in the term murder, because what classifies a death as murder?

All these CUs highlights that reasoning is not as pure as we assume it or want it to be, and as a result, we must be aware of its downfalls before blindly trusting a decision because it was based on ‘logical reasoning’.


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One Comment

  1. Nicholas Alchin Reply

    Excellent work Aarushi; you have a good grasps of the important ideas here. Where you use examples (#1 and #3), they help explain – having one for #2 would have been useful – and this is a good thing to remember when we come to essays 🙂


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