Thursday, January 04, 2007

Reason and Judgement

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Aristotle said that our human capacity to reason is one of the definitive features of being a member of the human race. Indeed, his definition of a human being was "Rational animal". This being the case, we should celebrate our rational faculties.

One of the contexts in which our rationality plays a key role is when we make judgements. Descartes (in his 4th Meditation for instance), offers an account of error that is based upon our making judgements, without sufficiently ensuring that judgements are in accordance with reason. Thus, if we are to make good judgements, then we are going to need good reasoning skills.

Unfortunately, good reasoning is a skill. Whilst (almost) everyone has some rational capacities, not everyone is a good reasoner. Consider an analogy. Most people, who do not have specific functional deficits, have some capacity to run. This does not imply that everyone can run well. For instance, a person who takes little exercise will not be able to run as well as someone who has trained for the Olympic team. The situation is similar with reasoning. A person who has been trained to reason well, will be able to make much better judgements than a person who has no training.

People on blogs reason and make judgements all the time. However, it is quite often the case that the reasoning is at times defective. Indeed, it is one of the great ironies of blogs that occasionally folks who pontificate about judgement and reasoning are most often guilty of the most elementary logical mistakes.

So, in order to try and raise the quality of judgements made by folks on blogs and elsewhere, I will be beginning an occasional series of posts under the by-line "Better Reasoning". In these posts, I will attempt to describe a few basic technical concepts about reasoning. Philosophers are almost unique amongst academics in so much as we have several thousand years of serious study of logic and reasoning. In other words, we have explicit training in good reasoning, that others may not have. By introducing an explicit discussion of reasoning, it is hoped that the quality of judgements made on blogs will go up. I will begin these posts in the next couple of days.

This is a fundamentally 'philosophical' project. This is because the Greek roots of the term 'philosophy' means "Love of Wisdom". One of the great enemies of wisdom is stupidity. Poor reasoning often leads people to stupid conclusions. Thus, one step towards wisdom is to be able to avoid stupidity. Hopefully, the discussion offered here will help in this respect.

The CP

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