The Oxford dictionary defines reasoning as ‘The action of thinking about something in a logical, sensible way’. I don’t like it. Something bugs me about this definition. It seems narrow and parochial- indicative in the words ‘logical’ and ‘sensible’ which connote a certain concreteness about thinking. Can reasoning not be abstract or creative- perhaps the very antithesis of the dictionary definition?
A few weeks ago my eldest daughter who is 4 years old was reading one of the books from the Read, Write Inc series. In this short narrative, Fat Cat greedily devours numerous fish whilst his companion Pug the Dog warns him against this mortal sin. When finished I questioned her about the story’s events. I asked ‘is Fat Cat greedy?’ to which she replied ‘no- he was sad so he wanted to eat’. Her application of reasoning was not grounded in the actual text itself one could argue. There seemed little or no textual evidence for suggesting that Fat Cat was comfort eating. So where did she get this reasoning idea from? Why was it so abstract?
This short interaction roused the following questions:
-how important is the skill of reasoning?
-can it be described as a skill?
-how do we develop it?
-should it always be concrete, ‘sensible’ and ‘logical’?
-does our society value concrete reasoning over abstract?
In answer to the first question…
How important is the skill of reasoning?
As an English teacher of 9 years, reasoning is such an important skill for students. For exams and coursework it must be exhibited in a logical and sensible way leaving little room for wild conjecture. Indeed, ideas imposed upon the text from a seemingly random and ungrounded premise will not be rewarded by any examiner. All reasoning must be grounded in the textual detail. In this context, logical and sensible reasoning is king.
Can it be developed?
By golly it can! I have come to love Socratic seminars, a teaching/discussion method where participants apply their powers of reasoning for each argument/view presented. For the uninitiated, you can read more about Socratic seminars here. Reasoning is developed through detailed questioning of a text. Responses to questions must be supported by textual evidence, either directly in front of the respondent or wider textual knowledge. I have come across no more effective method for developing reasoning than the Socratic. I have watched the reasoning ability of seemingly dormant minds sky rocket. This is no overstatement here.
Should it always be concrete, ‘sensible’ and ‘logical’ as defined by the Oxford dictionary?
Of course not! No one can logically reason (is that an oxymoron?) that it should always be concrete. The very nature of our brains is illogical, random and not as ‘sensible’ as we like to think. The book ‘Thinking; fast and slow’ will tell us this. Is the surrealist artist unreasonable since their very interpretation of the world is the opposite of sensible and logical? Fancy using those words to describe the Spanish painter, Dali!?
Some of my questions remain unanswered leaving me to probe further into this field. As an educator, part of my job is about developing the mind and brain function of pupils. Reasoning is a crucial aspect of thinking human beings. We should all be committed to developing thinking skills irrespective of subject or level. It could not be more crucial in an age where we are bombarded with information and ideas. Thinking and reasoning for ourselves is a matter of self-preservation. I am left with the knowledge of just how little I know about the thinking process. How much do you know?