Science of Learning: Reason & Thinking

As with so many of the areas of The Science of Learning, the title appears so self-evident as to not even be an area that needs mentioning. Sadly, however, this is not really the case. Reason, as well as rational thinking (coming up), is one of the fundamental differences between humans and animals. However, if that is the case then there are many masquerading as a human who, demonstrated by their ability to reason, appear to be non-human animals. I think that what I should say is that the ability to reason is a fundamental difference between humans and animals.

The ability to reason is a basic thinking skill that allows us to construct and follow our own thought patterns and follow the thinking of another person. Henle has noted that normal, everyday thinking does not always follow the basic rules of logic, but a person must, at least occasionally, employ the rules of logic in order to understand and follow the thought patterns of other individuals.

The ability to reason well is a higher order thinking skill. According to Halpern, reason is the ability to draw a valid conclusion from a series of statements. In other words, reason is the application of the principles of logic to thinking.

The principles and rules of logic ensure that if the preceding statements are true, the conclusion that follows is true. There are various aspects of logic that go beyond the scope of this article, however, teaching students to use reason in their thinking can and should be done. The primary problem is that teachers need to have a grasp of logic before they can apply the to the learning process. At some point, both teachers and students need to engage in learning the principles and rules of logic. There must be a common language spoken so that teachers can communicate errors and fallacies and such in the same language that the students know. It is not enough to say to a student that the use of an ad hominem attack is a common fallacy in reasoning that does not bolster an argument. Unless both the teacher and the student know how to use the language of logic, miscommunication and a complete lack of understanding is the result.

I am a firm believer that formal logic should be taught early in a university education and that teachers should support that learning throughout a student’s formal learning years.

This teaching and reinforcement will not stop people from engaging in unreasonable arguments, but at least anyone with a university degree would be able to both point out the shortcoming in an argument and the listener would be able to understand what is being pointed out.

Since all of the higher order thinking skills rely on reason and reasonable arguments, reason and logic are a foundational knowledge that both teachers and students must learn and understand in order for higher order thought processes to be taught and learned.

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