What is Reason?

Reasoning is something that we learn to do instinctively from the time we are young. When our brains were new to the world, we learned by watching, asking questions, observing cause and effect, and testing the boundaries around us. When we reason, we are exercising a very precise set of skills which are honed over time. By understanding the basics of how to reason, we can learn to identify falsehoods, prejudices, presumptions, and misstatements, or even truthful statements designed to mislead.

Why is Reason Important?

Since people can be prideful and tend to hate being wrong, we can sometimes find ourselves defending an indefensible position because our passions have gotten in the way.  Rather than attempting to engage the people who disagree with us, we often prefer to seek refuge by associating with like-minded people.  Reason is the tool we must use when faced with an argument opposed to our stance on a particular issue. We can use reason to grow and learn, elevating our sense of self-confidence and the confidence that others have in us.

We are often encouraged to suspend our ability to reason and simply accept a given opinion or sales pitch without thinking critically.  Rather than allowing the audience to make rational, fact-based decisions for themselves, media outlets use specific tactics to achieve their goal of convincing others to accept their position.  These methods can be seen or heard on billboards, television, radio, magazines, and the internet.  Although sometimes deceitful, those using various forms of persuasion are simply doing their jobs, and doing it well.  It is our job as reasoners to recognize ploys, examine facts, reject fallacies, and ultimately be in control of our own conclusions.

How to Reason

1. Keep an Open Mind- The realization that we are often wrong is the first step toward rational thought.  Start with an open mind and be able to view the topic at hand from others’ points of view.  We must accept that we may not always hold the correct answers.  In fact, there may be multiple viewpoints, and none of those presented may turn out to be true.  It is crucial to listen to what others are saying because they provide you with a whole new perspective and opportunity to learn something.  It is simply unreasonable to assume that we could never be wrong. Hear the opposing viewpoint without judgment and use reason to determine whether the position is fact or fiction.

2. Be a Truth-Seeker- Making assumptions and having too much trust in information sources can be dangerous.  The information available to us today can be staggering — any and every answer can be found with a simple internet search — but it can be difficult to determine the accuracy of this information. You may have heard the sarcastic expression, “If it’s on the internet, it must be true.”  Sources should be checked carefully in order to verify information.

We should consistently search for multiple sources of evidence, seeking the truth, and remaining open to anything we may find. We must search for proof regardless of the outcome, rather than merely searching for facts to support an already formed conclusion.  To use reason, we simply have to find information for ourselves, rather than trust that all information given to us is factual.  Once we are able to determine what the facts are and we can put aside our strongest feelings, we are beginning to use reason.

3. Don’t Get Emotional- Another way that we tend to walk away from reason and toward mistakes is by becoming overly passionate about our stance or offended by another’s. There is a time and a place for passion, but if we want to learn how to reason, we must put our feelings aside. People can be so easily blinded by feelings that they lose the ability to reason logically. Most commonly, when we are passionate about a subject, we can be overcome by apparent truths that are actually false.

We should be wary of people attempting to convince us of their perspectives through emotional pleas or angry outbursts. The attempt to get us upset, angry, frustrated, or disturbed is an attempt to take away our reasoning ability.  The same thing happens with overly positive and enthusiastic portrayals of apparent truths, such as in commercials. Once we are emotionally compromised, false statements will slip by and enter into our brains without us stopping to question whether they are actual truth or just conveniently provided apparent truths

4. Learn and Apply Logic- Much of the rhetoric we encounter on a day to day basis can be assessed using tools and lessons of logic from thinkers as far back as Aristotle and Cicero.  So who needs logic?  We all know something about logic from our experience with arguing, just as we know something about grammar from learning our primary language while growing up.  Asking who needs logic is a bit like asking who needs grammar.  By studying the principles of logic and becoming familiar with the fallacies of argument, we can become responsible skeptics.

Put Reason into Practice

To become a reasoner, ask questions and simplify your search for answers. Start without a conclusion.  Do not assume you are correct, leave your passions behind, and begin a thorough exploration of facts. If you find proof that supports the opposite viewpoint from the one you had held, be open minded. Knowing the truth will make you feel empowered. You will feel like your eyes are opening for the first time on a more interesting, exciting, and invigorating world.

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