The Key Elements of Reasoning
This chapter begins our in-depth exploration of how to use reasoning more effectively in order to make us smart thinkers. As suggested in chapter 1 , learning to use reasoning better requires that we be more aware of what we are already doing. We need to learn some basic terms and concepts with which to talk and think about reasoning. The aim of this chapter is to improve our awareness of how we are actually doing reasoning. The focus in this chapter is on claims. In the next chapter we look at the process of linking claims together to form reasoning.
There are three main areas that we will cover in this chapter: 1 We will look at language, since reasoning is a way of manipulating and using words and statements. Language allows us to make claims about the world. Claims are the key component of reasoning. 2 We need to understand more about the significant properties of these claims which affect how we use them in reasoning. 3 We see how claims function differently, as premises or as conclusions, depending on how we link them together. The conclusion is what you are arguing for or explaining.
The premises are how you get to your conclusion. Every time we argue or explain something, we use language—regardless of whether we are thinking to ourselves or communicating with others. As children, we learn to use language so ‘naturally’ that we tend to take its use for granted. In fact, there are many subtleties and complexities in language.
Knowing something about these can help our reasoning by giving us more conscious control over the material (language) with which we are reasoning. There are four distinct ‘levels’ of languageuse that build together to create ‘language’ as we know it. The first level is a word—for example, ‘student’ or ‘reasoning’—which is the basic unit of language.
Words have meanings, usually more than one, and often multiple meanings are ‘denotative’ (that is, what the word explicitly says) or ‘connotative’ (the more subtle, ‘hidden’ meanings of words). We will see, through this book, that definitions of words are important but, for the moment, we are just interested in words insofar as they can form statements.