The Art Of Thinking


Reasoning  is defined as: “The act, process or art of exercising the faculty of reason; the act or faculty of employing reason in argument; argumentation, ratiocination; reasoning power; disputation, discussion, argumentation.” Stewart says: “The word reason itself is far from being precise in its meaning. In common and popular discourse it denotes that power by which we distinguish truth from falsehood, and right from wrong, and by which we are enabled to combine means for the attainment of particular ends.”

By the employment of the reasoning faculties of the mind we compare objects presented to the mind as percepts or concepts, taking up the “raw materials” of thought and weaving them into more complex and elaborate mental fabrics which we call abstract and general ideas of truth. Brooks says: “It is the thinking power of the mind; the faculty which gives us what has been called thought‑knowledge, in distinction from sense‑knowledge. It may be regarded as the mental architect among the faculties; it transforms the material furnished by the senses… into new products, and thus builds up the temples of science and philosophy.” The last‑mentioned authority adds: “Its products are twofold, ideas and thoughts. An idea is a mental product which when expressed in words does not give a proposition; a thought is a mental product which embraces the relation of two or more ideas. The ideas of the understanding are of two general classes; abstract ideas and general ideas. The thoughts are also of two general classes; those pertaining to contingent truth and those pertaining to necessary truth. In contingent truth, we have facts, or immediate judgments, and general truths including laws and causes, derived from particular facts; in necessary truth we have axioms, or self‑evident truths, and the truths derived from them by reasoning, called theorems.”

In inviting you to consider the processes of reasoning, we are irresistibly reminded of the old story of one of Moliere’s plays in which one of the characters expresses surprise on learning that he “had been talking prose for forty years without knowing it.” As Jevons says in mentioning this: “Ninety‑nine people out of a hundred might be equally surprised on hearing that they had been converting propositions, syllogizing, falling into paralogisms, framing hypotheses and making classifications with genera and species. If asked whether they were logicians, they would probably answer, No! They would be partly right; for I believe that a large number even of educated persons have no clear idea of what logic is. Yet, in a certain way, every one must have been a logician since he began to speak.”

So, in asking you to consider the processes of reasoning we are not assuming that you never have reasoned—on the contrary we are fully aware that you in connection with every other person, have reasoned all your mature life; That is not the question. While everyone reasons, the fact is equally true that the majority of persons reason incorrectly. Many persons reason along lines far from correct and scientific, and suffer therefor and thereby. Some writers have claimed that the majority of persons are incapable of even fairly correct reasoning, pointing to the absurd ideas entertained by the masses of people as a proof of the statement. These writers are probably a little radical in their views and statements, but one is often struck with wonder at the evidences of incapacity for interpreting facts and impressions on the part of the general public. The masses of people accept the most absurd ideas as truth, providing they are gravely asserted by some one claiming authority. The most illogical ideas are accepted without dispute or examination, providing they are stated solemnly and authoritatively. Particularly in the respective fields of religion and politics do we find this blind acceptance of illogical ideas by the multitude. Mere assertion by the leaders seems sufficient for the multitude of followers to acquiesce.

In order to reason correctly it is not merely necessary to have a good intellect. An athlete may have the proper proportions, good framework, and symmetrical muscles, but he cannot expect to cope with others of his kind unless he has learned to develop those muscles and to use them to the best advantage. And, in the same way, the man who wishes to reason correctly must develop his intellectual faculties and must also learn the art of using them to the best advantage. Otherwise he will waste his mental energy and will be placed at a disadvantage when confronted with a trained logician in argument or debate. One who has witnessed a debate or argument between two men equally strong intellectually, one of whom is a trained logician and the other lacking this advantage, will never forget the impression produced upon him by the unequal struggle. The conflict is like that of a powerful wrestler, untrained in the little tricks and turn of the science, in the various principles of applying force in a certain way at a certain time, at a certain place, with a trained and experienced wrestler. Or of a conflict between a muscular giant untrained in the art of boxing, when confronted with a trained and experienced exponent of “the manly art.” The result of any such conflict is assured in advance. Therefore, everyone should refuse to rest content without a knowledge of the art of reasoning correctly, for otherwise he places himself under a heavy handicap in the race for success, and allows others, perhaps less well‑equipped mentally, to have a decided advantage over him.

Jevons says in this connection: “To be a good logician is, however, far more valuable than to be a good athlete; because logic teaches us to reason well, and reasoning gives us knowledge, and knowledge, as Lord Bacon said, is power. As athletes, men cannot for a moment compare with horses or tigers or monkeys. Yet, with the power of knowledge, men tame horses and shoot tigers and despise monkeys. The weakest framework with the most logical mind will conquer in the end, because it is easy to foresee the future, to calculate the result of actions, to avoid mistakes which might be fatal, and to discover the means of doing things which seemed impossible. If such little creatures as ants had better brains than men, they would either destroy men or make them into slaves. It is true that we cannot use our eyes and ears without geting some kind of knowledge, and the brute animals can do the same. But what gives power is the deeper knowledge called Science. People may see, and hear, and fool all their lives without really learning the nature of things they see. But reason is the mind’s eye, and enables us to see why things are, and when and how events may be made to happen or not to happen. The logician endeavors to learn exactly what this reason is which makes the power of men. We all, as I have said, must reason well or ill, but logic is the science of reasoning and enables us to distinguish between the good reasoning which leads to truth, and the bad reasoning which every day betrays people into error and misfortune.”

In this volume we hope to be able to point out the methods and principles of correctly using the reasoning faculties of the mind, in a plain, simple manner, devoid of useless technicalities and academic discussion. We shall adhere, in the main, to the principles established by the best of the authorities of the old school of psychology, blending the same with those advanced by the best authorities of the New Psychology. No attempt to make of this book a school text‑book shall be made, for our sole‎ object and aim is to bring this important subject before the general public composed of people who have neither the time nor inclination to indulge in technical discussion nor academic hair‑splitting, but who desire to understand the underlying working principles of the Laws of Reasoning.‎


The Process Of Reasoning

The processes of Reasoning may be said to comprise four general stages or steps, as follows:

I. Abstraction, by which is meant the process of drawing off and setting aside from an object, person or thing, a quality or attribute, and making of it a distinct object of thought. For instance, if I perceive in a lion the quality of strength, and am able to think of this quality abstractly and independently of the animal—if the term strength has an actual mental meaning to me, independent of the lion—then I have abstracted that quality; the thinking thereof is an act of abstraction; and the thought‑idea itself is an abstract idea. Some writers hold that these abstract ideas are realities, and “not mere figments of fancy.” As Brooks says: “The rose dies, but my idea of its color and fragrance remains.” Other authorities regard Abstraction as but an act of attention concentrated upon but the particular quality to the exclusion of others, and that the abstract idea. has no existence apart from the general idea of the object in which it is included. Sir William Hamilton says: “We can rivet our attention on some particular mode of a thing, as its smell, its color, its figure, its size, etc., and abstract it from the others. This may be called Modal Abstraction. The abstraction we have now been considering is performed on individual objects, and is consequently particular. There is nothing necessarily connected with generalization in abstraction; generalization is indeed dependent on abstraction, which it supposes; but abstraction does not involve generalization.”

II. Generalization, by which is meant the process of forming Concepts or General Idea. It acts in the direction of apprehending the common qualities of objects, persons and things, and combining and uniting them into a single notion or conception which will comprehend and include them all. A General Idea or Concept differs from a particular idea in that it includes within itself the qualities of the particular and other particulars, and accordingly may be applied to any one of these particulars as well as to the general class. For instance, one may have a particular idea of some particular horse, which applies only to that particular horse. He may also have a General Idea of horse, in the generic or class sense, which idea applies not only to the general class of horse but also to each and every horse which is included in that class. The expression of Generalization or Conception is called a Concept.

III. Judgment, by which is meant the process of comparing two objects, persons or things, one with another, and thus perceiving their agreement or disagreement. This we may compare the two concepts horse and animal, and perceiving a certain agreement between them we form the judgment that: “A horse is an animal;” or comparing horse and cow, and perceiving their disagreement, we form the judgment: “A horse is not a cow.” The expression of a judgment is called a Proposition.

IV. Reasoning, by which is meant the process of comparing two objects, persons or things, through their relation to a third object, person or thing. This we may reason (a) that all mammals are animals; (b) that a horse is a mammal; (c) that, therefore, a horse is an animal; the result of the reasoning being the statement that: “A horse is an animal.” The most fundamental principle of reasoning, therefore, consists in the comparing of two objects of thought through and by means of their relation to a third object. The natural form of expression of this process of Reasoning is called a Syllogism.

It will be seen that these four processes of reasoning necessitate the employment of the processes of Analysis and Synthesis, respectively. Analysis means a separating of an object of thought into its constituent parts, qualities or relations. Synthesis means the combining of the qualities, parts or relations of an object of thought into a composite whole. These two processes are found in all processes of Reasoning. Abstraction is principally analytic; Generalization or Conception chiefly synthetic; Judgment is either or both analytic or synthetic; Reasoning is “either a synthesis of particulars in Induction, or an evolution of the particular from the general in Deduction.

There are two great classes of Reasoning:

1. Inductive Reasoning, or the inference of general truths from particular truths.

2. Deductive Reasoning, or the inference of particular truths from general truths.

Inductive Reasoning proceeds by discovering a general truth from particular truths. For instance, from the particular truths that individual men die we discover the general truth that “All men must die;” or from observing that in all observed instances ice melts at a certain temperature, we may infer that “All ice melts at a certain temperature.” Inductive Reasoning proceeds from the known to the unknown. It is essentially a synthetic process. It seeks to discover general laws from particular facts.

Deductive Reasoning proceeds by discovering particular truths from general truths. This we reason that as all men die, John Smith, being a man, must die; or, that as all ice melts at a certain temperature, it follows that the particular piece of ice under consideration will melt at that certain temperature. Deductive Reasoning is therefore seen to be essentially an analytical process.

Mills says of Inductive Reasoning: “The inductive method of the ancients consisted in ascribing the character of general truths to all propositions which are true in all the instances of which we have knowledge. Bacon exposed the insufficiency of this method, and physical investigation has now far outgrown the Baconian conception. … Induction, then, is that operation by which we infer that what we know to be true in a particular case or cases, will be true in all cases which resemble the former in certain assignable respects. In other words, induction is the process by which we conclude that what is true of certain individuals of a class is true of the whole class, or that what is true at certain times will be true in similar circumstances at all times.”

Regarding Deductive Reasoning, a writer says: “Deductive Reasoning is that process of reasoning by which we arrive at the necessary consequences, starting from admitted or established premises.” Brooks says: “The general truths from which we reason to particulars are derived from several distinct sources. Some are intuitive, as the axioms of mathematics or logic. Some of them are derived from induction. … Some of them are merely hypothetical, as in the investigation of the physical sciences. Many of the hypotheses and theories of the physical sciences are used as general truth for deductive reasoning; as the theory of gravitation, the theory of light; etc. Reasoning from the theory of universal gravitation, Leverrier discovered the position of a new planet in the heavens before it had been discovered by human eyes.”

Halleck points out the interdependence of Inductive and Deductive Reasoning in the following words : “Man has to find out through his own experience, or that of others, the major premises from which he argues or draws his conclusions. By induction we examine what seems to us a sufficient number of individual cases. We then conclude that the rest of these cases, which we have not examined, will obey the same general laws. … The premise, ‘All cows chew the cud,’ was laid down after a certain number of cows had been examined. If we were to see a cow twenty years hence, we should expect that she chewed her cud. … After Induction has classified certain phenomena and thus given us a major premise, we proceed deductively to apply the inference to any new specimen that can be shown to belong to that class.”

The several steps of Deductive Reasoning shall now be considered in turn as we proceed.‎