Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of reason as a way of knowing

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Fahim Khan


Evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of reason as a way of knowing

According to Henry David Thoreau, “All generalizations are false – including this one” (R. Lagemaat, 2005, p. 111). By acknowledging only the beginning half of the statement, it refers to the negative connotations when applying deductive logical as a form of reasoning. While the deductive statements may be more ‘certain’ than inductive reasoning, it lacks the validity in the form of information and other issues arise when referring back to whether or not the premises are true – if I was to notify everyone that ‘my brother goes to Cambridge University’, the initial response I would receive is that my brother must be extremely intelligent. Certain premises are disregarded here – the only premise other people find significant is that Cambridge University accepts only the extremely intelligent, but would often ignore other premises which contradict that particular statement. One example would be that ‘Cambridge University has a Disability Resource Centre (DRC) which offers university places for students suffering from a particular disability’; while both premises are ‘true’ and ‘valid’, it does not follow that the conclusion is true and Thoreau highlights this problem regarding deductive reasoning. Thoreau then contradicts his own previous deductive statement to prove and emphasise other issues – when referring back to the syllogism about my brother, the conclusion that ‘my brother is extremely intelligent’ is true only if the premises are true. However, how do we know that the premises are true? Such knowledge cannot be conjured out of pure logic, but is in fact based upon experience (or inductive reasoning) to prove such claims. Other questions arise as a result – how reliable is inductive reasoning? What distinguishes a good generalisation from a bad generalisation? The remaining part of the essay is aimed on solving these questions as well as examining the three forms of reasoning – inductive, deductive and informal – in different areas of knowledge in order to come up with a conclusion whereby the strengths and weaknesses of reason as a way of knowing would be evaluated.

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“Deductive reasoning is any form of reasoning that moves from the general to the particular” (R. Lagemaat, 2005, p. 114). A syllogism is a form of deductive reasoning which consists of the following elements: two premises and a conclusion; three terms, each of which occurs twice and; quantifiers, such as ‘all’ or ‘some’ or ‘no’, which signifies a quantity that is being referred to. Referring back, an example of a syllogism would be, ‘All Cambridge University graduates are intelligent’, ‘My brother is a Cambridge University graduate’, and ‘Therefore, my brother is intelligent’. However, to be sure that the conclusion of ...

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