Effective Reasoning/Print version

Everyone reasons. Humans are reasoning animals. Further, humans reason with words and symbols.

To reason is to use thought to come to some conclusion. Reasoning can be done alone or in groups.

Unfortunately, being human does not assure any of us that we will reason effectively. In other words, reasoning does not have to produce particularly useful results. Productive reasoning is both an art and a science.

I hope to present here information that will allow most to develop both the skill and the knowledge to reason effectively.

Particularly, I will be discussing informal reasoning. For a complete exposition of effective reasoning, see, also, the Wikibooks Introduction to Moral Reasoning, Formal Logic, and Systems of Logic.

Potential Outline

Effective Reasoning

Reason is what makes us human human! It is our USP (unique survival process)

Naturally, the human animal is weak, slow and lacking strong jaws or sharp claws. Yet somehow our species has come to dominate the world and everything in it, short of Mother Nature herself. How did this happen?

Evolutionary Philosophy

This is a controversial topic which proposes that, like our cousins, the great apes, we were once a forest dwelling species that abandoned or was excluded from "the Garden of Eden" and had to survive by eating grass and carrion, which somehow transmuted into wheat, rice and bread along with fishing animal hunting and herding.

The key to this transformation was (allegedly) the mastery of fire and weaponry, both of which are highly dangerous to a social species such as homo sapiens. Learning to make controllable fire and reliable tools requires high levels of communication, so emotional responses developed so that language and reason emerged.

To discover more on this, try first the work of the polymath Noam Chomsky, a professor in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) USA. He is a linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, logician, historian, political critic, and publisher of some very controversial critiques of the modern world.

Formal reasoning

Formal reasoning is concerned only with the forms of arguments. Certain forms of arguments have been identified which are valid. In other words, if the original statements (or premises) in those arguments are true, then the conclusions must necessarily be true also. Therefore, the form:

All marbles are red. All red things are bright. Therefore, all marbles are bright.

is a valid form.

The truth of the first two statements is not of interest. But, assuming that they are true, the last statement must necessarily be true.

Formal reasoning is deductive in nature. In other words, as said above, the conclusion of a valid formal argument follows necessarily from the premises. Notice that deductive reasoning produces no new information. It simply rearranges what is already known into a new statement of the same information.

Notice also that deductive or formal reasoning does not require any reference to external reality. It can be completely divorced from external reality. Therefore:

All unicorns are white. All white things are virtuous. Therefore, all unicorns are virtuous.

is a perfectly good and valid deductive argument.

Formal reasoning is addressed in other Wikibooks - Formal Logic, and Systems of Logic.

Informal Reasoning

Informal reasoning includes formal reasoning but it also is concerned with all the other elements of reasoning. It addresses the probability of truth of premises and conclusions. Informal reasoning is common, every-day reasoning.


Truth seems obvious enough - we learn to tell the truth at an early age. Unfortunately, one of the features of language is it enables us to imagine future scenarios which are fanciful (which is what fiction writers do). In short it enables us to be untruthful to ourselves as well as others.

Emotionally, we react to situations. Emotions are primitive, quick and dirty survival tools - the sort of thing that makes one jump away from a flame or lash out at an attacker. We could not survive without such tactical tools.

We humans can - uniquely, and because of language - make up stories about what might happen if we did this or that, and so predict the effect of our actions. These are the long-term strategic tools that have made mankind master of the earth.

Our reports and predictions fall along a scale: they may be entirely true, partly true, false or disastrous. Reason draws us to the positive end of this scale. thoughtless blind obedience, stupidity and madness lead to errors, some of which may literally be fatal errors. Effective reasoning is our only hope of survival today and tomorrow (just as it has been for some three million years or whenever it was that our species first emerged)


Individuals who get these stories of the future approximately right (reasonable models, accurate projections), and can marshal available resources become leaders. Those who get it radically wrong are considered mad or insane. Most of us are sometimes leaders and sometimes followers - but this is a recent innovation.

For much of human history human society has been hierarchical: people were raised from infancy to believe that they belonged to an immutable social group such as 'royalty' nobility' or 'serfdom' The Hindu caste system is perhaps the most structured, but it happened (and still happens) everywhere. Director, manager or employee; pope, cardinal or priest; Officer, NCO or private soldier, and so on.

Thinking allowed

The reformation, the enlightenment and above all the twentieth century wars in Europe came about through reason. Better educated people talking together, writing treatises and printing books broke the shackles of the old order.

The age of reason is accelerating through radio, television, the Internet and mobile phone technologies. It is not important that most of the material is simply entertaining, what matters is that it gives us food for thought. We can use these toys to imagine new products, services, social orders. If human imagination is reasonable, we humans should enjoy happy and fulfilled lives. If not, then crisis, recession and chaos might ensue, so that even medieval lunatic asylums might start to look like attractive places to live!

Informal reasoning is intuitive and not reliant on logical thought or debate within a a formal process developed by philosophers such as Confucius, who promoted debate within families and communities in China, Plato, who evolved logical debate between scholars in Greece or Avicenna, who developed these ideas during the Islamic Golden period, from which developed the study of modes of reasoning which might 'prove' or 'disprove' contentious proposals. However, perhaps because of the word informal in the title, the precise definition of informal logic and reasoning is a matter of some dispute!

Most formal methods are deductive' which means taking an ideas apart and analyzing the integrity of its components.

The alternative is inductive reasoning which means searching for reliable related facts that might support or destroy the proposal.

Reasoning is however much more complicated than a collection of logical proposals. Essentially it is problem solving. Inventing new ways of thinking by both analysis of the problem and synthesis of the solution.

Problem Solving

One way to do this is to analyze all the givens and the wanteds to evolve a process. For example, if one is hungry, then one might reasonably search the memory for all edibles and their probable location, or one could search the locality and list everything - eatable or not. Most of us would use a bit of both, by collecting a larder or store and organizing its contents precisely to avoid being hungry in the future.

The Reason WHY?

Informal reasoning starts at an early age, 'on Mama's knee' or 'sitting with Nelly'. A wag once said that we humans inherit sanity from our children constantly demanding to know asking "Why?", "Why?", "WHY?". Another suggested we should be careful with wishes in case we got what we wanted.

The Dispute

Informal reasoning is disputed because, for some, the term does not exclude formal processes, it simply allows intuition, taste and interpretation that goes beyond the 'clinical' logic and the 'habitual' truth.

For example, it is widely held that it is possible to travel too fast in a vehicle, because of the risk of injury or death.

In fact no-one has yet died from speed. What kills people is the rapid deceleration and sudden stop against an immovable obstacle or the arrival of potential energy that becomes kinetic that kills and maims people.

Informal reasoning says - go slowly, leave space, avoid excessive braking, try to predict what those other idiots are doing.... simply because, in accidents, many different vectors are significant, and we rely on previous experience. As Bismark noticed, we don't have time to make every mistake for ourselves - we learn from others: The famous Nelly, mentioned above, our teachers, our friends, our reading.

Its the economy, stupid!

Once you realize that everything is complicated, and getting more so every day, you also realize that these formal thinking tools have their limits. Philosophers, theologians and business gurus do indeed discover bits of useful 'truths', but really, they have as much effect on human reasoning as do meteorologists on the weather. That is to say, they report rather than control the process of thoughtful reasoning.

We all absorb culture form our families and societies: paternalism versus participation at home, control versus guidance at school, religion versus socialism in our society and so on. But we also have male and female traits, and even our brain in two parts. It is not an absolute truth, but in general, men are better at spatial and functional relationships (maybe because they once had to form teams to hunt woolly mammoths). Women, however excel at verbal skills (probably because they had to stop the men from killing each other - who knows?)

Informal reasoning therefore somewhat colored by the gender, religion and profession of the thinker. But its purpose is not simply to solve problems, it is to rethink 'common sense' and 'reason' and to share those new thoughts by what might perhaps be called 'entrepreneurial skills'.

Stuff and Junk

As EF Shumaker remarked in his treatise 'Small is beautiful' much of what we do is create 'stuff'. Products, services, beliefs, fears or hopes, all of which are saleable, and most of which are 'junk' - things to throw away, such as the information leaflet in every packet of medicine, or the plastic bags we buy in order to throw away rubbish (which, today, is mostly the pretty packaging).

These unnecessary products and services have always been with us, and are part of our rich human heritage. Without a bored shepherd playing with a reed, maybe we would not have the music of woodwind and brass. It was informal reasoning that made the production of food and shelter a minor concern that ceased to consume all the available 'human resources'.

Thinking is what makes us human. To err is human - maybe to reason is divine? It has been proposed that our intelligence is a survival strategy, our 'unique selling point' in which formal logic has its place alongside education, culture and experience. That language - the medium of thinking - emerged from early tool-making. But the most important tool we ever made is reasoning - thinking things through, however imperfectly me may do that.

Effective Reasoning/Forms of Informal Reasoning

Problem Solving/Decision Making
Analogical Reasoning
Causality and Correlation
Scientific Reasoning
Probabilistic Reasoning
Aesthetic Reasoning
Moral Reasoning

Need for Reasoning

Organizing Information (Deduction)
Solution of Problems
Resolution of Controversies
Discovery of Truth

Elements of Reasoning

Effective Reasoning/Assumptions and Conclusions

Deduction and induction are two different methods of reasoning.

  • Deduction uses logical assumptions to reach a logical conclusion. It involves reasoning from one or more statements (premises) to reach a logical conclusion. In deductive logic, inference leads from a set of premises to a conclusion just as certain as the premises. If the premises are true, the conclusion cannot be false.
  • Induction uses observations to justify a conclusion. In other words, inductive reasoning is drawing conclusions by going from specific to general. While deductive reasoning goes from general information to specific conclusion.

Inductive reasoning

Simple Definition: using observations to form a general conclusion.

Examples of Inductive Reasoning
Example #1 1) I see white swans on my walk every morning.

2) My friends say they've only seen white swans.

3) Therefore, all swans are white.

Example #2 1) Every time I have seen the sun rise, it has been in the east.

2) I have observed this pattern for several years.

3) Therefore, the sun always rises in the east.

Example #3 1) I drink coffee every morning.

2) Caffeine is addictive.

3) Coffee contains caffeine.

4) Therefore, I'm addicted to caffeine.

Problems with Inductive Reasoning

Uses of Inductive Reasoning

Deductive reasoning

Simple Definition: using logical premises to reach a logical conclusion.

If p represents all the premises, and q represents the conclusion then  . In other words, if all the premises are true, then the conclusion must also be true.

Effective Reasoning/Truth and Falsity

Effective Reasoning/Validation, Fallacy, Reliability


Effective Reasoning/Verbal and Nonverbal Reasoning

Effective Reasoning/Semantics and Syntax

Effective Reasoning/Functions of Language and Forms of Discourse

Effective Reasoning/Content

Effective Reasoning/Agreement and Disagreement

Effective Reasoning/Information, Concept, Reality, Virtual Reality

Effective Reasoning/Fact and Opinion

Effective Reasoning/Subjective and Objective

Sources of Appeal

Effective Reasoning/Empiricism

Effective Reasoning/Force

Effective Reasoning/Origin and Agreement

Effective Reasoning/Circumstance

Effective Reasoning/Relationship and Relevancy

Definition and Focus

Effective Reasoning/Definition and Problem Solving

Effective Reasoning/Definition and Discourse

Effective Reasoning/Kinds of Definition

Effective Reasoning/Meaning

Effective Reasoning/Defining

Effective Reasoning/Ambiguity


Effective Reasoning/Proof, Support, Evidence, and Warrant

Effective Reasoning/Forms of Deduction

Inductive Reasoning

Effective Reasoning/Analogical Reasoning

Effective Reasoning/Causal Connection

Effective Reasoning/Mill's Methods

Effective Reasoning/Science

Effective Reasoning/The Scientific Method

Effective Reasoning/Experimentation and Ad Hoc Hypothesis

Effective Reasoning/Sociological/Anthropological Methods

Effective Reasoning/Probability

Effective Reasoning/Probabilistic Method

Effective Reasoning/Expected Value

Effective Reasoning/Intuition and Reasoning


Literary Criticism

Aesthetic Criticism

Moral Reasoning

Apologetics and Religious Criticism

Informal and Formal Reasoning

Formal reasoning is concerned only with the forms of arguments. Certain forms of arguments have been identified which are valid. In other words, if the original statements (or premises) in those arguments are true, then the conclusions must necessarily be true also. Therefore, the form:

All marbles are red. All red things are bright. Therefore, all marbles are bright.

is a valid form.

The truth of the first two statements is not of interest. But, assuming that they are true, the last statement must necessarily be true.

Formal reasoning is deductive in nature. In other words, as said above, the conclusion of a valid formal argument follows necessarily from the premises. Notice that deductive reasoning produces no new information. It simply rearranges what is already known into a new statement of the same information.

Notice also that deductive or formal reasoning does not require any reference to external reality. It can be completely divorced from external reality. Therefore:

All unicorns are white. All white things are virtuous. Therefore, all unicorns are virtuous.

is a perfectly good and valid deductive argument.

Formal reasoning is addressed in other Wikibooks - "Formal Logic", and "Systems of Logic".

Informal reasoning includes formal reasoning but it also is concerned with all the other elements of reasoning. It addresses the probability of truth of premises and conclusions. Informal reasoning is common, every-day reasoning.


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with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts, and no Back-Cover Texts.
A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU
Free Documentation License".

If you have Invariant Sections, Front-Cover Texts and Back-Cover Texts, replace the "with...Texts." line with this:

with the Invariant Sections being LIST THEIR TITLES, with the
Front-Cover Texts being LIST, and with the Back-Cover Texts being LIST.

If you have Invariant Sections without Cover Texts, or some other combination of the three, merge those two alternatives to suit the situation.

If your document contains nontrivial examples of program code, we recommend releasing these examples in parallel under your choice of free software license, such as the GNU General Public License, to permit their use in free software.