In short, to be logical requires a meshing of analysis, judgement, reasoning, and rationality. These, merged into logic, can yield reasonableness, but very, very few people know what the criteria for good reasoning are. Now you will.

The words “reason,” “reasons,” and “reasonable,” are so much parts of the everyday lexicon of the English language that few of us ever stop to think about what the words really mean. Worse, though, than not appreciating the real meanings of the words is the fact that we too often pervert their intents by applying them in situations that don’t come anywhere close to demonstrating reasonableness.

For example, have you ever heard a variation of this statement:

“I have my reasons and you have yours. Neither of us is necessarily right or wrong, we just have our own reasons.”

Anyone who would say this doesn’t understand what reasoning is, because what is implied is that opinions, beliefs, values, and preferences are reasons and that flexible preferences can serve as roots for reasonableness. We use many words incorrectly and without concern for literal meanings, and while this in itself may not be damaging, what can hurt is what people do when they actually want to apply reason in its real sense. Can they if they don’t know what the process involves?

Another common misusage often occurs when someone says: “Be reasonable,” when implicitly they intend to relay the message “be fair minded”; a tacit call for balance. Implicitly, the suggestion usually means: “Why can’t you see things the way I see things.” But, if we really want someone to be reasonable, the onus is on us to establish a case that epitomizes the concept. This is why it is important to understand what being “reasonable” means and why each of us should have the same understanding and definition so there is no misunderstanding.

If the first and foremost goal of effective thinkers is to make the unconscious aspects of thinking conscious, nowhere is consciousness more important than in the province of reason. Definitions of “reason,” and “reasoning” reveal why:

“…a rational ground or motive; a logical defense; the drawing of conclusions or inferences from observations, facts, or hypotheses…”

“…to find out, from consideration of what we already know and what research can tell us, something else which we do not know..”

“…to reach true or highly probable conclusions by posing true premises and by then pursuing research completely and exhaustively to generate defensible, quantifiable, and provable evidence that supports with certainty and clarity ones decisions or assertions.”

So, if we interpret and draw inferences from the definitions, to be reasonable demands that we be able to state a clear and cogent premise, be willing and able to produce factual (or at the very least, highly probable) evidence to support our premise, and, then, when appropriate, we should be able to sum up our position by generating conclusions that follow logically.

Because some issues are multi-cognitive (more than one issue, many options, and more than one answer) and because we must rely on educated probability, as opposed to absolute certainty attainable only in situations where facts and evidence are indisputable, being reasonable does not always mean we are right, it just means we did everything humanly possible to minimize the risk of being wrong. The question is, though, how often do most people engage in the mental rigor and devote the time for research to be able to provide premise, evidence, and conclusion to prove they have applied reason? The bywords for people who want to exemplify reasonableness should be:

“What are the verifiable facts and evidence to support my/your position?”

“Where can I find other examples of what I am exploring?”

“What assumptions am I making that I should challenge?”

“Others may disagree with my position; from what position will they argue?”

Books about critical thinkingWhether we like it or not, what is, or is not, reasonable cannot be determined by us alone.  The final judge of reasonableness are the target audiences of our communication.  For example, an employer may believe and say: “This is a reasonable amount of work and a reasonable assignment.” Implicitly this would suggest that evidence must exist to prove that other people with similar training and in similar circumstance, have been able to do the work successfully. If one wanted to be explicit, however, about being reasonable, it would be wise to cite evidence to avoid possible misunderstandings and to lessen resistance. Being reasonable often means being slow to judgment; facts take time to gather.

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Reasoning should not be a subjective matter

It is vital to recognize that reasonableness, because it is not a subjective thing, also is not dependent on us, it is dependent on evidence; we can’t make something reasonable if the facts cannot be found to support such a claim. This premise was noted in the words of Charles S. Pierce, the 19th century intellectual, in his work “The Fixation of Belief,” contained in Popular Science Monthly, in 1877:

“…Consequently, reasoning is good if it be such as to give a true conclusion from true premises, and not otherwise. Thus, the question of validity is purely one of fact and not of thinking…the true conclusion would remain true if we had no impulse to accept it; and the false one would remain false, though we could not resist the tendency to believe in it….”

To illustrate this point, we could use the spatial relationships of the sun and the earth. A person who relied on observation only might think himself eminently reasonable to suggest that the sun revolves around the earth. How could it be otherwise, he sees the sun rise every morning and sees it set every night? In this instance, the “reasons” and “reasoning” behind his observations are valid, but due to ignorance of how planets and stars really interact, accurate conclusions still could not be reached.

The powerful inference in the foregoing is that reasonableness is predicated on thorough, sound, balanced, and objective research. If we can assure ourselves that we have done all of these in situations that require reasonableness, we will have gone several steps further down that path than do many people.

We should also appreciate that thinking and reasoning are not synonymous. Reasoning, as has been shown, is much more formal because of the requirement of proof. For example, are we thinking, or reasoning, when we debate subvocally what we want to eat for breakfast? It depends. If we decide on the three eggs, six pieces of bacon, and toast dripping with butter, we have likely exercised  preferences  and  we  have made a decision, but did it necessarily involve reason? Well, not if cholesterol in our diet is a concern. If we wished to apply reason to such a thought process, anticipation and consequences would also have come into play.

Do we have time to be so reasonable?

That is a question post-secondary students often ask in critical thinking classes, and it is true that not every issue requires the type of lengthy deliberation that being totally reasonable would suggest. The level of enquiry that we deem adequate will constantly vary according to the gravity of the circumstance. Clearly, if we persist in being totally reasonable at all times, we may end up with few friends and certainly no spouse, as exemplified in this quote by author/academic Rick Garlikov, in his writings about reason:

“A woman I knew, whose EX-husband was a philosopher, used to justifiably resent his examining everything she said in minute detail. She got tired of explaining things like precisely what she meant by ‘medium’ toast.”

Part of being reasonable is also found in the ability to exercise good judgment and being able to examine situations objectively, even when it is our own reasonableness that is at issue. In summation, being reasonable is not a difficult concept to understand, it is just time consuming to be—do your research so routinely and thoroughly that you never (or rarely) have to worry about being able to successfully defend it.

Can we infer that it is reasonable to assume?

The words “reasonable,” “infer,” and “assume” are often co-joined in thoughts and communication, as in: “It is reasonable to assume…,” or: “Based on the evidence, can we infer…” If one is satisfied with “probable likelihood” as the litmus test for being reasonable, and if probability is as close as one can get to absolute fact, then the use of the words “assume” and “infer” may be appropriate. But, in general, caution is advised because, by definition, these words are not predicated on absolute accuracy, probability, or provability. Reason equals facts and evidence, while inference and assumptions equal probabilities and calculated likelihood at best.

For example, if you see someone staggering down a ghetto street, incoherent and in a disheveled state, you might assume that the person is drunk or stoned and on the basis of that assumption draw the inference that he or she is either at, or on the way to hitting bottom. The reasonable person, however, would make neither the assumption nor draw the inference because neither would be supported by known facts. After all, the person could be a middle class citizen in the wrong place at the wrong time who was robbed, roughed up to the point where clothes were torn and dirty, and perhaps sustained a blow to the head which would account for the incoherence and staggering. Or, he or she could have been driving through the ghetto, gotten into a car accident, and be incoherent from a head injury, or they could be suffering a diabetic attack. Or???

There could be many possibilities and the drunk assumption is simply the easiest to make because we equate the depressed neighborhood with down-and-out people and down-and-out people have been known to turn to substance abuse to obliterate psychological pain. Still, the point should be evident: Reasonable people tend not to rely so much on assumptions or inferences because assumptions are often wrong and by definition, we must make assumptions to draw inferences.

Logic is a hybrid process, of which reason is a part

It seems appropriate, when writing about reasonableness, to include an analysis of logical thinking. Our society and our business world place high value on logical thinking and for good reason—logical thought is a hybrid process involving analysis, reasoning, rationality, and judgment. When all of these thinking processes are performed effectively and in concert, the results can be powerful and convincing, whether we are thinking about actions, beliefs, conclusions, plans, desires, politics, emotions, fears, people, workplace situations, history, relationships, etc.

First, definitions to ensure common understanding of the context of logic and logical:

Logic and logical: “…the criteria of valid inference…interrelation or sequence of facts or events when seen as inevitable or predictable; analytic; deductive; capable of valid, objective reasoning in an orderly coherent fashion; an ingredient of rationality…”

When Star Trek’s Mr. Spock uttered his famous favorite line: “…it is not logical…” his inference tended to be: “it does not follow…,” meaning that someone’s thinking had departed from objective reasoning by venturing into the often illogical realm of emotions; emotion being, as it often is, devoid of analysis, reasonableness, judgment, or rationality.

Logical thinking can be demonstrated as a hybrid process by isolating the four mental functions described, all of which are interconnected and largely dependent upon each other to produce logical thinking and each of which are domain-specific structures that can be stimulated into action via linguistic cues (the words we use to describe them).

Analysis: clearly the first step in pursuit of logic is to break down a situation into its component parts in order to ascertain what there is to be logical about.

Reasonableness: the research and collection of verifiable and quantifiable facts and evidence, or highly probable conclusions, that objectively support decisions, plans, or assertions.

Judgment: “…process of forming an opinion or evaluation by discerning and comparing; careful weighing of evidence and testing of premises; to determine relative worthiness or appropriateness..”

Rationality, or being rational, is closely associated with, and dependent upon being reasonable, but it tends to have a slightly different syntactical meaning for many people:

Rationality: from Latin, “ratio,” meaning reason; when rationality is present we can claim, and will be seen by most others, to say or do things based on good reasoning and this reasoning, in turn, will be judged as ”good,” only if we have supportive and verifiable facts and evidence, and if it is believed that we have made every effort to think and research objectively. For example, people are not likely to be seen as either “reasonable” or “rational” (at least by reasonable and rational people) if they smoke or drink in anything that could be said to resemble excess.

Although the word “logic” may seem like only five letters that conjure images in many of our minds about the pointy-eared Vulcan of the television series, Mr. Spock never did justice to the concept in terms of helping generations of North Americans to truly understand its real depth and complexity.

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