How To Understand and Apply Reason
Reason is misunderstood in our world today. This section should help in learning more about Reason, Debate, Fallacies, Science and the Scientific Method.
Applying Reason: Understanding Reason
Reason is defined as “the ability to use intuitive and logical thought processes to develop rational inferences and arguments based on degrees of evidence (empirical and circumstantial).” Thus, Reason is an ability to use our innate thought processes. However, we must realize that the process of Reason is about finding balance within the context of the rational.
The balance is between two so-called opposing forces that are logic and intuition. Many try and push the notion that the two are mutually exclusive but this is not the case. Studies have shown that both are invaluable for our ability to navigate existence and the world around us. Both have their place and both should be used but a balance between the two is required.
Balance simply means that we use both our intuitive processes and our logical processes to develop an inference. An inference is defined as “the act of passing from data to generalizations usually with calculated degrees of certainty.” An inference or argument is developed from our ability to use our thought processes that in turn help to explain the world around us. We look at the evidence available and then develop these inferences.
Evidence can be either empirical or circumstantial. Empirical evidence is capable of being verified or disproved by observation or experiment while Circumstantial evidence is in need of more information but gives a general direction for which observation and experiment can go. Both are valid and useful at looking at the world but one must realize the difference. Circumstantial evidence guides us but is not proof so that it is open to interpretation.
Reason allows us to better understand our world, interact with our world and live in our world. It is a tool that has stood the test of time in this regard. However, it is one of many tools that we can employ and we must admit that it is not perfect but the best we have in this endeavor.
Applying Reason: The Process of Reasoning
There are two types of reasoning skills that are important for us. They are:
♦Deductive Reasoning: The process of starting with a general statement and arriving at a specific conclusion. A valid example would be, “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore Socrates is mortal.” An invalid example would be, “Every criminal opposes the government. Everyone in the opposition party opposes the government. Therefore everyone in the opposition party is a criminal.”
♦Inductive Reasoning: The process of starting with a specific statement and arriving at a general conclusion. This does not stand on the same footing as deductive because the conclusion may change as new information is gained. An example would be, “All of the planets we have observed in the universe revolve around a star; therefore, to discover more planets we should begin by locating other stars.”
Applying Reason: Facts vs. Opinion
We all have our opinions and we are entitled to them both naturally and legally within the United States as well as many other westernized societies. Opinions will always play a role in the process of discussion and debate so one should expect them to be interjected at various times. However, many times an opinion will be given as fact and this is improper. Opinions are not facts and should not be portrayed as such.
An Opinion is a belief or conclusion held with confidence but not substantiated with positive knowledge or proof. An example is the belief that the universe and all the planets were created over a period of six days and have existed for only six-thousand years. There are two primary problems with this opinion being stated as fact with the first being that there is no evidence to support this belief and the second being that all available evidence proves this belief as incorrect. As such, it is an opinion rather than a fact.
A Fact is something that is known with certainty, has been verified objectively or has real and demonstrable existence. An example is the proven belief that the Earth revolves around the Sun. The evidence for this fact is overwhelming and supports this view. As such, it is more than just mere opinion, it is also fact.
The proper approach within the debate would be for the person (or group) to state that “this is my opinion.” Unfortunately, many opinions are given as fact and this produces a problem within the debate as there is not proper evidence to support it. This can lead to a general breakdown in the discussion and can lead to a more problematic approach in which false logic is employed.
Applying Reason: Understanding Logical Fallacies
The logical fallacy is the most popular and improper tool that is used in out times. A logical fallacy is an erroneous argument that can be based on a false starting statement (premise), a false supporting statement, or a faulty logic method that can result in a false conclusion. Essentially, they are defective arguments that are put forward as valid arguments. Logical fallacies can be highly effective if one is not familiar with them.
The best examples of logical fallacies come from our politicians. While politics should be an endeavor of logic it is usually full of fallacious thought. Anytime that you have heard a politician attack another rather than the argument, then you have witnessed a logical fallacy. Unfortunately, it happens far too often and they can be rewarded for it.
Below is a list of logical fallacies with examples that will help in understanding these fallacies. With a little practice, we all can learn to identify fallacies when they occur as well as avoid them so that we are not a part of the problem.
There are numerous fallacies that exist and many are rare at best. The following is a list of those that are most common. It is important to note that the following have been culled from numerous sources and are made up of a large cross section of political, religious and social thought.
The most Common Fallacies are:
♦Ad Hominem: This is Latin for “attack the man” and is an irrelevant attack on the person or group being debated rather than addressing his/her/its argument. Examples are “John Smith’s argument for the existence of Israel is irrelevant because he is bald and fat” and “embryonic stem cell research destroys human life and anyone that supports it is like a Nazi because they liked to destroy life too.”
♦Appeal to Authority: This is an improper yielding to an opinion by someone or something that is in a position of power or an expert who is out of his/her area of expertise. An example is “the Bible says that the Earth was created in 6 days; therefore, it is correct despite the contrary evidence” and “we should abolish the death penalty because many respected people, such as actress Ima Awesome, have publicly stated their opposition to it.”
♦Appeal to Ignorance: This is the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true and vice versa. Essentially, it is the idea that absence of evidence is not absence of evidence. Examples are “there is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore, UFOs must exist” and “people have been trying for centuries to prove that God exists but no one has yet been able to prove it; therefore, God does not exist.”
♦Special Pleading: This is an attempt to rescue a proposition that is in deep logical and/or rhetorical trouble. Examples are “it may be hard for you to believe that God is merciful and at the same time can condemn non-believers to eternal punishment because you do not understand the Biblical doctrines of original sin and free will” and “my client may have broken the law by stealing a television, but he is poor and it is excusable.”
♦Observational Selection: This is when only favorable circumstances are given. The philosopher Francis Bacon described it as counting the hits and forgetting the misses. An example is “a state boasts of the Presidents it has produced (but is silent on its serial killers)” and “a boxer boasts of how many fights that he has won (but does not mention the loses).”
♦Post hoc (also called the questionable cause): This is Latin for “it happened after, so it was caused by” and it is questionable cause when there is not sufficient evidence to support it. Examples are “I know of a 40-year-old who looks 60 because she takes contraceptives” and “the President lowered taxes and then the rate of violent crime went up; therefore, he is responsible for the rise in crime.”
♦Excluded Middle (also called the either/or fallacy): This is when only the two extremes are considered in a continuum of intermediate possibilities. Examples are “Either you love your country or you hate it” and “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
♦Slippery Slope (related to excluded middle but not as subtle): This is when it is suggested that that if one undesirable action is allowed to occur, then it will inevitably lead to another similar but less desirable action without sufficient evidence. Examples are “animal experimentation reduces our respect for life which means that we become more tolerant of violent acts like war and murder leading to the end of civilization” and “if compulsory prayer is removed from the public school system then all religious expressions in all aspects of life will someday be outlawed.”
♦Straw Man: This is when one sets up an unrelated and easily refuted objection to an argument or the opponents position is misinterpreted to make it easier to attack. Examples are “scientists believe in the process of Evolution because they deny the existence of God and as such believe that all living things simply fell together by pure chance” and “conservatives want to change welfare benefits because they care more about big business and money than they do for poor people.”
Many times the individual using this method is unaware that they are doing so. Also, one will notice that some are similar in nature. The post hoc is a “cause and effect” in which the event has already occurred and the slippery slope is a “cause and effect” in which the event has not occurred but it is suggested that it will.
Applying Reason: Positive Skepticism
Skepticism is the use of doubt. Doubt can be a powerful tool in our understanding of the world. It makes us take a closer look at what is out there and what is being claimed. The Skeptics Society defines skepticism as “One who questions the validity of particular claims of knowledge by employing or calling for statements of fact to prove or disprove claims, as a tool for understanding causality.”
Skepticism is extremely important in our world today as we are besieged by all sorts of claims. It makes us look at what we believe and to know when we are basing our beliefs on knowledge or on conjecture. However, skepticism can be positive or negative depending on how it is used. A positive skeptic is the one mentioned above that looks at causality but remains open to new possibilities.
The negative skeptic is not open to new possibilities but remains closed and fails to see the changes that are occurring before their very eyes. This does not mean that the positive skeptic believes all that is placed before him but will entertain the possibility until evidence can be provided. Positive skepticism is an important attribute in our ability to understand our existence.
Applying Reason: Science and the Scientific Method
Science and the method that it employs have made our world a better place. We are now safer, healthier and more knowledgeable about the world we live in. However, even with such positive elements, science and its method are greatly misunderstood. Science can be defined as “a set of mental and behavioral methods designed to describe and interpret observed or inferred phenomenon, past or present, aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation.”
Science allows us to test what we have come to observe or infer. It does this through a very basic method that can be reproduced. Thus, science is provisional in that it is always gaining new knowledge and theories are in a state of flux. Science is not static but is dynamic. For some, this indicates that science does not reveal truth but these people are completely wrong and are ignorant of what science is.
This is seen when we hear that Evolution is not a theory. However, the definition of a scientific theory and one that is used everyday are vastly different. A scientific theory is “a well-supported testable statement to account for a set of observations.” This simply means that it has evidence to support it and can be tested. So, evolution is a scientific theory and not a general theory.
The scientific method is as follows:
1. Observation(s) are made that can be tested for greater understanding
2. A Hypothesis is created that explains the observation
3. A series of experiments are made to test the observation
4. The experiments reveal data that can be analyzed
5. Analysis of the data will reveal whether the Hypothesis is true or not
6. The experiment can be repeated and carried out by others for corroboration.
This is done is all areas of science and it is the repeatable aspect that makes science such a potent force. I can make claims and those claims can then be tested by others to determine if they were right. If I made mistakes then these will come out and my hypothesis may need to go back to the drawing board.
Science does have its limits. It cannot explain that which does not fit into the natural laws and universe. This means that it cannot make claims regarding such things as God and purpose. Essentially, science is interested in the “how” and not the “why” because it cannot explain nor test the “why.” A scientist who states that there is no God or purpose is speaking from a philosophical point of view and not science.
Science is also limited by our understanding of the world now and our abilities. This is much that we do not know and it will take time before we are able to know some of the mysteries that we currently have. However, this does not mean that science will move backward and prove faith based beliefs such as Creationism. That boat is long gone and we are in the process of moving forward.
Science is a wonderful tool that gives us access to the wonders of the universe. It is up to us to use it properly and morally to benefit ourselves and the world. There is no reason for people to fear science as it does not make claims about purpose. That is left up to religion and personal preferences. We all use science everyday and we all are enriched by it whether we realize it or not.
Copyright © 2004 - 2010 J Hardwick