Strengths and weaknesses of reason

Personally as a knower I believe reason to be the strength of the mind to logically evaluate observations. In daily life we face tons of obstacles which require us to think, understand and logically find solutions; this means that on a daily bases everybody uses reason as a way to overcome these obstacles. However is reason the only method used to overcome these obstacles and is it the most effective way to find solutions? I used to believe that reason was the most powerful and effective method to obtain sophisticated and efficient solutions to everyday problems.

By giving yourself the time to think about the obstacle or challenge you give yourself the opportunity to see all the possible ways of solving the challenge and you can finally choose the most suitable solution. If you were to react on impulse the solution has a higher risk of obtaining undesired results or it may take longer to obtain the correct result. When designing a chemistry lab for example, all factors that could effect the investigated reaction should be taken into consideration and should be listed as controlled variables.

These variables are then kept constant through out the experiment; their effects are thus minimized. If you do not give yourself enough time to think of all the external factors that could affect your experiment there is a greater chance of obtaining incorrect data. This example shows that reason is an effective way of knowing because it is based upon providing time to apply your own knowledge before attempting to overcome obstacles. This time eliminates possible flaws in the solution. When organizing my ideas and evaluating my own reasoning I realized that reasoning’s main weakness is that it takes time.

Organizing all your thoughts can take time and then I realized that in many situations we have an initial reaction, which is often driven by our emotion. This initial reaction or feeling is our emotion reacting to our sense perception. In many cases we see, hear, taste or feel something, these are all observations through sense perception. These observations then give us a feeling which is “fed” by our emotions, I use the word “fed” because it is something we can often not control or suppress.

Personally I have experienced this in many different situations, an example of this is when I heard about my ex-girlfriend seeing new guys. I initially felt anger and disgust but after taking time to put my thoughts in order I realized that I had no right to feel like that. In this example the knowledge provided by emotion was incorrect or “wrong” but was instantaneous where as reasoning provided me with a logical approach; this however consumed more time. Reason is always based upon logic; this means that the outcome has a high chance to be correct.

Many of our everyday “truths” are based upon logical explanations supported by observations. In physics for example, every theory we learn is based upon experimental data that explains the real life situations the most accurately. As the theory is based upon logic, knowledge and data it may seem flawless; however the logic used to obtain these theories is not always as flawless as we may believe. The two commonly used examples of flawed reasoning are inductive- and deductive- reasoning; inductive reasoning works from specific truths to generalizations where as deductive reasoning does the opposite, [Elizabeth, 2009].

The logic follows a simple three-step outline; this makes the reasoning clear and easy to follow for others. There are many situations in which deductive reasoning provides simple, fast and logical explanations. An example of deductive reasoning from when I was younger is that spiders are poisonous, poison kills, thus spiders kill. When I was younger I thought this was true as it was based upon my knowledge and logic, this was the reason I was scared of spiders; however when I grew older I realized that my reasoning ignored spiders that are not harmful to humans.

This extra information made me realize that there are spiders I should fear but other I shouldn’t. The example shows that the logic used in reasoning cannot always be correct and is highly dependent on the knower’s knowledge of a subject. This made me realize that the theories we learn and use to explain the world we live in aren’t always the truth but simply the most logical explanation of the situation at hand. I have learnt in TOK that there is no definite truth, however situations require explanations and the explanation with the least flaws is provided as the truth.

As was mentioned before reason is highly dependent on observations, this means that our logic works on sense perception. Sense perception is another way of knowing and has it’s arguable strengths and weakness which influence the strengths and weakness of reason. Sense perception is one of the most basic ways of knowing; ever since you were born your senses are developing. In your everyday life we rely highly on our senses to make decisions; in many cases these observations provide us with useful and fast decisions. Personally I see sense perception as a strong and useful bases to build reason upon.

For example, every morning when I hear my father turn on the shower I know that I will have to hurry up and leave the house to be on time for school. In this example the observation is done through sense perception, this observation then triggers my reason and starts a logic chain of thoughts. In many cases our senses provides us with reliable observations, however our senses can easily be fooled causing our logical reasoning to be based on inappropriate observations. Reason is a way of knowing that is highly dependent on the use of language as all your thoughts are processed in words or sometimes explained to others through words.

In any school assignment for example we have to show our reasoning through explanations that require us to use language. Language is another way of knowing that has its strengths and weaknesses therefore these also influence our reasoning. As an international student I have witnessed the effect of cultural background on language first hand. By having a Dutch nationality and having lived most of my life in Holland, where prostitution is legal, I have no negative connotations towards the word prostitute.

Other cultures and religions however frown upon prostitution creating negative emotions towards the word. In many cases friends of mine find it strange that I do not frown upon prostitutes or find them disgusting. This example shows how cultural backgrounds effect the meaning or interpretation of a word and even more so that reason is not applicable. Language is strongly influenced by culture which can influence reason. However if we were to have no language how would we organize our thoughts or explain them to others? In this sense language supports reason and it has no means of existing without it.

Reason has its strengths and weaknesses and I have realized that every way of knowing has them as well, just like every coin has two sides. I also realized that there are always two sides to every situation, all my examples show a weakness as well as a strength of reasoning. It depends on your personal interpretation and your own views upon situations. Personally I still have a similar definition of reason as I had at the beginning of this essay however I know now that there are many factors that influence our reasoning; these vary from emotion and sense perception to language.

TOK showed me that every situation could be approached from different perspectives. This also means that I now realize that there is no exact truth only a logical explanation for all situations and if there is no better explanation then it must be considered the truth. I also now know that reason is not the strongest but simply the most logical way to overcome daily obstacles; this does not mean it is the best way as there is no method to objectively judge what is best.

Reason provides us with knowledge and intellect as human beings but is neither the strongest nor the weakest way of knowing. This entire essay however is based upon my knowledge, reasoning and personal experiences. This should be taken into consideration as the essay is based upon the assumption that I have sufficient knowledge and understand to logically explore a way of knowing. On top of that the examples based on past experiences may be experienced differently depending on the person.

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