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Foundations of Various Reasoning Skills

Foundations of Various Reasoning Skills

Reasoning skills are those skills that allow an individual to approach a problem, understand how to solve it, and then apply certain cognitions to arrive at a viable solution. There are a number of reasoning skills that relate to different concepts, and that can be developed and used.

There are four major categories of basic reasoning skills:

  1. Storage skills
  2. Retrieval skills
  3. Matching and categorical skills
  4. Execution skills

Storage and retrieval skills relate to memory skills. Through storage and retrieval, information can be consolidated, that is stored in long-term memory, and retrieval allows that information to be tapped into and utilized. Storage and retrieval can be understood in terms of encoding processes of memory found in the neuroscientific and cognitive psychology literature. The basic process, however, involves information being transformed into short-term memory, then into long-term memory under the right conditions (like repetitive exposure, for example). The learning has to be conscious, with the learner taking in the information mindfully and making a point to remember it. Retrieval can be helped along by the use of memory skills when the information is being encoded. These memory skills include mnemonics, visual representations of the information, auditory representations, and others. Through the development of memory skills, storage and retrieval can be enhanced.

Matching skills are related to categorizing information. When new information is taken in, that information is matched to knowledge already stored, as an individual uses matching and categorical skills. The new information is related to older information, in terms of patterns, similarities, differences, and relationships. There are a number of different matching skills:

a. Categorization: individuals classify objects or concepts into groups, where each group shares certain characteristics. Examples include learning a foreign language, whereby the new language is related to the already known language for similarities in sound, vocabulary, and culture. An aspect of categorizing is chunking, where objects are grouped. An example:

You have to remember this list of items, such as a supermarket list:

Milk, chicken, detergent, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, canned soup, pasta, honey, cereal, hot chocolate, olive oil, beef, tomato paste, canned beans, broccoli, lobster, dishwasher soap, tea, sweet peppers, hand soap, salt, cake frosting, bread, shampoo, pineapple, nuts, asparagus, mango

An effective way to group these objects is to chunk them by categories: food items, non-food items. These two groups can be further chunked into meats, vegetables, fruits, canned items, bottles items, cleaning materials, drinks, and others.

From there, each item can be categorized, and efficiently retrieved.

b. Extrapolation: allows individuals to match informational patterns from one concept to another. This is effective during the thinking process by streamlining it: it becomes unnecessary to begin from start when new information is encountered. Rather, the individuals takes in the new information and adapts it to a new situation utilizing patterns already learned. Anytime old information is incorporated into new information, extrapolation occurs.

c. Analogical reasoning: involves the individual to see similarities between different objects or concepts, and use knowledge about the first set of objects or concepts to understand the new objects or concepts. For example, an individual with a basic understanding of human memory learning about computers may recognize that random access memory (RAM) and long-term memory is similar enough in their relationships to the hard drive. By utilizing this analogy, the individual would have a foundation for understanding short-term and long-term memory, and the relationships that exists between them, and the computer. Analogical reasoning combines concepts of categorization and extrapolation, in order to deal with new information and relationships.

d. Evaluation of logic: allows individuals to compare the structure of information with an internalized system of logic. This enables an understanding of whether the information is valid or not. Evaluation of value: allows an individual to match information to an internalized value system and analyze the logic of that value system.

Executive skills are executive in the sense that they coordinate other skills in order to allow individuals to build new cognitive structures or thought processes. They also allow the restructuring of old processes as new things are learned. There are three basic executive skills:

a. Elaboration is the process by which information is inferred. These inferences are made using the other skills of categorization, elaboration, analogical reasoning and retrieval of information. Elaboration is important when the learning situation provides only incomplete information, or when the learner is not perceiving all the information available. Neither situation is a mistake or a problem; rather, a learner elaborates as needed to arrive at a conclusion or an understanding.

b. Problem solving is the process of finding a strategy or information that is necessary to achieve goals or overcome a problem and arrive at a solution. A major aspect of problem solving is creativity, since many problems require original thinking in order for a solution to be arrived at.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online class in Critical Thinking?

c. Composing is the process of creating new information. The goal here is to express an idea or concept. Composing is a specific aspect of problem solving, where the problem is to communicate an idea or concept in ways that are appropriate to a given audience. Composing can be comprised of either written, oral or visual communication of ideas.

Arguments are a major aspect of basic reasoning. It is important to clarify and evaluate arguments, and then to present and defend your own arguments.

When looking for an argument, it is necessary to look for a set of statements that are related to each other. That is one statement--the conclusion--is supported by the other statement(s)--the premises.

There is a method that can be utilized to clarify an argument that has been determined. There are five steps to this method:

  1. Identifying the argument's conclusion
  2. Identify all the premises, which are used to support the conclusion
  3. Add implicit premises: an implicit premise are unstated reasons, pieces of evidence, or considerations that need to be added to the argument's more explicit premises, so that the explicit premises are clearly defined to the conclusion
  4. Apply the Charity Principle: this principle states that, when clarifying an argument, make the argument make sense to you, given what the author has presented. This is important because when trying to criticize an argument that is bound to failure is a waste of resources. To apply the Charity Principle, it is important to eliminate unnecessary premises and language the author provides. That is, distill the argument down to its basic premises. Remember, brevity is the soul of wit. It is also important when clarifying an argument to state the premises to indicate how they are purported to support the conclusion.
  5. Regiment the argument: when regimenting an argument, you must first indicate each part: premise or conclusion. Then, it is necessary to list each part on its own. This will help clarify an argument's form and its content, which will also help in using the Charity Principle.

These concepts indicate how to clarify an argument. Once an argument is clarified, it is necessary to evaluate the argument. Evaluation allows you to determine if an argument's premises actually do support the conclusion.

A basic method can be used to evaluate an argument. A good argument is one that is reasonable with a conclusion that is supported by proper premises. There are two steps for evaluating an argument:

  1. Test the argument's form, that is, its logical structure and pattern
  2. Test the argument's premises

To test the argument's form, you must determine the quality of the rational relationships between the premises and the conclusion. An argument that has good logical patterning is one where the premises are sufficient to support a conclusion that would be supported if the premises were true. At this first step of argument evaluation, the question of whether the premises are true are ignored, and instead, the argument's form is what is focused on. Whether or not an argument has proper form depends on the type of argument that argument is: deductive or inductive argument.

A deductive argument is used to prove that the conclusion is true. That is, it works to establish a conclusion. A mathematical proof is an example of a deductive argument. When a deductive argument is properly formed, the argument can be described as valid. To earn the label of valid, a deductive argument must have a conclusion that would absolutely have to be true if its premises were accurate. That is, a valid argument is truth-preserving: the form will always yield a true conclusion if given true premises. If an argument has improper form, that argument is considered to be invalid. An invalid argument is not truth-preserving.

An inductive argument attempts to show that the conclusion is somewhat reasonable to believe. The case a detective builds slowly to propose the doubt of a suspect is an example of an inductive argument.

There is a good method of determining of determining whether or not an argument is valid. This is called the Validity Test. The Validity Test involves two steps:

  1. Determine the argument's form: to do this, replace the argument's content with capital letters, like Q, R, S, T,... which will then serve as placeholders for the content. Doing this provides an argument schema that may look like this:

Q1: If Q then R

Q2: Q.

C. R

Q1: Oodores are borgles

Q2: Borgles are Suvers

C. Oodores are Suvers

  1. Try proving that the form is NOT truth-preserving

A valid argument is truth-preserving when it is given premises that are true and the conclusion is then true. To determine if an argument is valid, then, try to construct an argument where all the premises are true, but the conclusion still yields as false. If a false conclusion can be generated under these circumstances, then the argument form is invalid, and therefore, is not truth-preserving. Since al invalid arguments are bad, an argument with invalid form is a bad argument.

However, if you are unable to determine a false conclusion, then the argument is valid, and therefore, truth-preserving.

If you determine that an argument is valid, you get to test the argument's premises. To do this, you must determine if it is reasonable to believe ALL the premises involved in a particular argument. If the answer is "yes,", then the argument is good: it is valid and has reasonable premises. If there are doubts, on the other hand, then the argument is bad.

A conditional is a claim of "If Q then R." A conditional says that whenever its antecedent holds, its consequent will also hold true. In other words, there cannot be a situation where the antecedent is true but the consequent, or conclusion, is false. To evaluate an argument with conditionals, you will need to know if a particular conditional is reasonable for you to believe it. A good method to use to determine the reasonableness of a conditional statement is the Counterexample Method:

  1. Translate the statement into an "If Q then R" form
  2. Imagine a situation in which the condition hold but its consequent does not.

If a situation can be imagined where the conditions are true but its consequent is not, a counterexample has been found. The conditional is therefore considered to be false.

The exercise of trying to find a counterexample is called conducting a thought experiment. To qualify as a counterexample, a statement does not have to be unoriginal or far-fetched. It could be an out of the ordinary set of circumstances, as long as the example is coherent and follows a logical pattern.

Quick summary:

There is no one final way of finding arguments. Rather, an argument must be reflected on. There are standards that can be used to clarify and evaluate an argument, including:

1. Identifying the argument's conclusion .

2. Identifying all the premises .

3. Adding in any implicit premises .

4. Applying the Charity Principle .

5. Regimenting the Argument.

Completing these steps will result in an argument that has form and content that are clear and concise. Then, an argument can be evaluated by performing the Validity Test on it. If an argument is valid, it is truth-preserving. To perform the Validity Test:

  1. Figure out the argument's form
  2. Try to construct scenarios in which the argument has true premises but a false conclusion

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