Are there any rules of reason? What sort of authority have they? How is it enforced? It is proper that the reader should ask such questions; and in order to answer them, author and reader must come to some understanding as to what reasoning is.
Reasoning by our older author’s Shakespeare, Milton, etc. is called "discourse of reason", or "discourse" simply. The expression is not yet obsolete in the dialect of philosophers. But "discourse" also means talk, especially talk monopolized. That these two things, reasoning and talk should have come to be called by one name, in English, French, Italian and Spanish, a name that in classical Latin means simply, running about, is one of the curious growths of speech; but there are not many languages, if any, on the face of the globe, -judging from a tolerably large sample, - which do not acknowledge that reasoning is a sort of talk with oneself.
We cannot say that reasoning is argument addressed to oneself. For an argument is a communication by which the arguer endeavors to produce a predetermined belief in the mind he addresses. In reasoning, on the contrary we seek the truth, whatever it may be, not knowing beforehand that it is the truth. Two people in conversation may cooperate in this task. It is an operation in which arguments that might be put forward, on one side and on the other, are sought for by "running over" facts that look as if they might be pertinent, and putting them together in various ways. The possible arguments, once suggested, are submitted to criticism. Each is judged to be very strong, moderately strong, weak, or altogether worthless. Thereupon, an opinion is chosen and is adopted with a certain degree of conscious confidence. Upon that we shall be prepared to shape our actions, whether boldly or cautiously.
Reasoning, or, at any rate, logical reasoning, distinctly approves of itself. It tells itself that the process by which its conclusion was reached was a trustworthy process. Had it not been so, a different proceeding would have been used. This feature of reasoning is expressed by saying that it is deliberate. We often run over facts and hastily form ideas which will influence or even govern our actions, without any critical deliberation, being hardly conscious of performing any such operation. Here it is important to distinguish different situations. It may be that although our opinion was adopted without deliberation, we shall afterward reflect that such opinions are untrustworthy, and shall promptly recall the facts which led to our belief and subject them to critical reconsideration. It may be that, although the operation was not performed a minute before, we find ourselves utterly unable to say what the impressions of sense were, which led to our resulting idea, except that they were such as to produce that impression. For example, I look at my watch and note that the position of the minute-hand agrees with that of the second-hand. I turn back to my writing; other thoughts supervene; and at the end of a minute, it may be quite difficult for me to recall what were the positions of minute-hand and second-hand that led me to that conclusion. But the mental image of the face of my watch, which was present to me for a second or so, the percept, as the psychologists call it, was a mental construction. The impressions of sense were various sensations of light each connected with a sense of place. I may fancy I can argue out what these must have been before my mind built them into a percept; but to recall them separately from the percept built out of them would be utterly beyond my power. Between these two extreme cases there are many gradations. My wife and I talk English and French to each other almost indifferently. She comes into my study and utters certain sounds in consequence of which I jump up and run to the front door. If, a moment later, I ask myself why I did so, I shall recall the meaning of my wife’s words, but I shall only be able to say whether she spoke in English or in French by asking myself whether it is my general impression that under similar circumstances she habitually employs French or English. Take another case. The force of our disposition from certain facts to form certain opinions is, for most people, sometimes so overpowering that we find ourselves unable to conceive a state of things contrary to our opinion, and forgetting that this inability is personal to ourselves, we say that the thing is unthinkable. Many of the ancients found the idea of antipodes to be unthinkable. "What! Men whose feet stick to the under side of the earth! Do things dropped from their hands fly up to the earth?" There are people who find that the idea that a ball shot toward the north star and never deviating from its course, should after a time be descried returning from the direction of the south pole of the heavens toward its original starting-point is unthinkable. It is nothing but the uncontrollable force of experienced facts which makes it so to them. Let them go through a course of study upon the foundations of geometry, and they will be led to doubt whether that may not be what would happen.
Una de las ventajas de los textos en formato electrónico respecto de los textos impresos es que pueden corregirse con gran facilidad mediante la colaboración activa de los lectores que adviertan erratas o errores. En este sentido agradeceríamos que se enviaran todas las sugerencias y correcciones a firstname.lastname@example.org
Fecha del documento: 13 diciembre 2005
Ultima actualización: 9 febrero 2005