Sunday, March 13, 2011

What is Reasoning?

Reasoning has been defined as process where a person draws conclusions based on evidence or principles (Sternberg, 2009). Seen as opposing processes, there are two types: deductive and inductive. Deductive reasoning starts with generalizations; its conclusions are reached as new knowledge is produced by applying knowledge directly to what is already known. Inductive reason relies on the ability to gradually build up an understanding of how something works.

When I think of deductive reasoning, it is the removal of extraneous, inconsequential knowledge and application of new facts and figures to understand something. It seems to be the observation of the consequences instead of the inner workings of a problem. Inductive reasoning seems to be the building of a case and moves from facts into something that can be generalized. It works through the problem and arrives at a conclusion based on the inner workings of the problem.

When trying to understand the distinction between the two methods, provides examples that draw distinctions between the two types, but also admits that the differences in these types of reasoning are not always clear. However, my daughter tells me that deductive reasoning "aims at certainty, and inductive reasoning aims at probability." Of all the references, hers seems to be the most succinct.

One of the best experiences of inductive reasoning I ever experienced occurred during my Master’s degree when I was asked. “Why are there only 15 (Bach) two-part inventions?” My teacher, Cary Lewis, took me through the process of inductive reasoning by helping me gather information through the observations of music history (i.e. when these pieces were written, why, etc.) In the course of gathering the information, the assimilation enabled me to derive an answer.

Bach was only able to write 15 two-part inventions because well-tempered tuning of musical instruments had not come into existence at the time he composed them. Prior to well-tempered tuning, only 15 major and minor keys existed in Western harmony due to the tuning system of the 18th century. After well-tempered tuning developed, the key signatures expanded to 24, and Bach wrote two books of preludes and fugues called the "Well-Tempered Clavier" to demonstrate the versatility of this new tuning system. The answer to the question was induced through the examination of the history, and could be inferred when carefully considering the information and putting it all together into a probability.

When thinking of deductive reasoning, I think of Sherlock Holmes and his ability to derive answers from his application of knowledge to a problem. This type of reasoning always seems to take the form of “If …. then … but … then that means ….” For example, the other morning, I found a chocolate chip cookie on top of the stove. My daughter had baked cookies the night before and left four of them on the counter to cool so she could take them to school the next day. When I cut the light on in the kitchen, it seemed odd that one of the four cookies were not in the same place. Next, I asked my daughter if she had left a cookie on top of the stove, she replied “No.”, so I could determine that if she had not put it there, then that would mean that something else had. I was able to reason that I had a mouse under the stove and when I removed the drawer, I found evidence of a mouse.

Deductive reasoning arrives at an answer by starting from the top and working its way down to the answer. It seeks to be “certain”. (I am certain I need to get a mousetrap.)

When reading (Sternberg, 2009) the section on alternative reasoning, it appears that there is an alternative kind of reasoning, which is a complementary system that combines association and rules-based systems to determine an outcome. The two systems are conceptualized “within a connectionist framework” (p. 522) and referred to as a connectionist model of reasoning. When trying to find concrete examples of this type of reasoning, the text gravitated to concepts from neuroscience to explain it. (This was horrendously difficult to understand.) However, I think this model is only another name for “creativity”, because when placed in this context, creativity can be described as a type of reasoning that involves both association and rules.

An example might be how I derived an advertising strategy for a yoga program at a local church where I work. Working within the rules and knowledge of Tibetan prayer flags and connecting this imagery with the mission of the program (association), I was able to arrive at a solution that would solve the problem (Jacobs, 2011).

Reasoning, in my opinion, is one of the more difficult topics to disucss because it is a process that a human being constantly navigates. We deduce, we induce, and we draw associations. We can be right or we can be wrong—no matter how we think—because right and wrong is relative to a person’s perception. What I think is more important is that a person maintains and cultivates the ability to reason and never loses the ability to think an independent thought.


Cary Lewis. (n.d.) The Lanier Trio. Retrieved from

Deductive versus inductive reasoning. (n.d.) Retrieved

Jacobs, A. (2011). Signs of the Spirit. @ peace with yoga blogspot. Retrieved from

Sternberg, R. J. (2009). Cognitive psychology (5th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning. ISBN 9780495506294.

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