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Philosophy/Do people listen to reason?


QUESTION: “ Few reasoning researchers still believe that logic is an appropriate normative system for most human reasoning, let alone a model for describing the process of human reasoning, and many use the paradigm principally to study pragmatic and probabilistic processes”

I am slowly coming around to the idea, now in my late 40s, and having majored in Computer Science. Tthat logic and reason is not an especially good way of arguing with people or reasoning with them. DO you think that is correct, and what sort of alternate methods are there?
I feel that reasoning and arguing, instead of being logical, more often use the “strategies of war” that are outlined here:
For example, diluting the issue, suggesting circular reasoning, focusing on one instance as representative of all instances, etc etc
Once again, what do you think, and how to approach this?

ANSWER: I would guess that no contemporary philosopher thinks that logic should be the, as opposed to a, method of thinking or persuasion. Not the least among the reasons is that the world is a very messy place and few facts are deductively linked to each other. One can't reason from "the US Constitution has a method for electing Presidents" to "Barack Obama was re-elected President in 2012." Another is that (as the PubMed cite points out) we arrive at conclusions, then develop logical arguments as a means to convince ourselves or others. A third is that experiments show that we just don't react logically a lot of the time. (See the book, "Predictably Irrational.")

On the other hand, the ""strategies of war" approach is aimed at convincing (or sufficiently confusing...) someone; at its root, it has nothing to do with truth. One thing that we can be sure of (as we currently think of truth) is that the conclusion of a valid argument with true premises is true. If that weren't the case, math wouldn't work, and if math didn't work, neither the pyramids nor electric lights would work, either.

I think that we need to think of this in terms of what Ludwig Wittgenstein called "language-games." The basic concept is that mathematical reasoning and arguing over where to go for dinner are two different LGs, and it is a mistake to think that the rules of one necessarily apply to the other. (If you wants steak and she wants Chinese, is a Japanese steakhouse the "logical" answer (as opposed to a pretty good compromise...)?

I would suggest that you read Wittgenstein's "Philosophical Investigations" as a next step. It can be very enlightening.



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Charles,

The answer you give is very interesting, the idea of 'language games' especially in a husband and wife relationship or similar as mentioned above, is especially enlightening.

I will read up the references you have given. However I have another question. Applying what you said to a recently televised discussion on global warming, am I correct in saying that it is useful to look beyond the words said and facts stated in the discussion to the 'language', where language is taken to describe the words said as well as the background: the groups that the speakers represent, their cultures, position in the industry as well as the political and economic current events taking place  at the time of the discussion?

It's vitally important to consider those questions. (See Paul Krugman's blog in the New York times, where he often analyzes his colleagues' motives to good effect.)

At the same time, one had to watch for the argument from authority: "So-and-so said it, so it must be true. Always invalid. Another one to watch for is the argumentum ad hominen ("argument to the man.") You're a bastard, so you're wrong. The vocabulary, body language, tone of voice, etc., are often good clues to which language game is being played.


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Charles K. MacKay


I can answer a number of questions in philosophy; my academic concentrations (graduate school at Cornell) are ethics, political philosophy, and 19th-century German philosophy (Marx, Hegel, and hangers-on.)



BA, New College, 1971, Philosophy and Religion
Awarded four graduate fellowships upon graduation

MA, Cornell University, 1974
Social and Political Philosophy, Danforth Fellowship

All course work and dissertation drafts completed for Ph.D. Cornell University, 1971-1975, Social and Political Philosophy, Danforth Fellowship

Courses in statistics and microeconomics, George Washington University and The American University, 1976-1978

EXPERIENCE: Health Insurance Specialist 2005 - Present
Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service
US Department of Health and Human Services

Allentown Business School Instructor (Computer Science) 2003 - 2005

Northampton Community College
Adjunct Professor of Philosophy 2003 -2005

Lehigh County Community College
Adjunct Professor of Philosophy and Computer Science


Medicare Made Easy (with Charles B. Inlander) Addison-Wesley, 1989

Good Operations, Bad Operations (with Charles B. Inlander) Viking Press, 1993

Health Rebooted: Information Changes Everything (in press), 2008

Bachelor of Arts, Philosphy and Religion, New College, 1971 Master of Arts, Social and Political Philosophy, Cornell University, 1975

Awards and Honors
Danforth Fellowship, Woodrow Wilson Fellowship

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