Understanding Logic and Reason
Reason and logic are two closely related forms of thinking involving the comparison of terms that can be studied in terms of mathematics or philosophy and can be considered together as well as apart.
Terms, Logic, Reason, and Skepticism
It works like this:
- There are terms or concepts; like Socrates, men, or mortality.
- There are logical judgements; like Socrates is a man, and all men are mortal.
- Then there is reasoned inferences; like since Socrates is a man and since all men are mortal, therefore Socrates is mortal.
Then one could reason further, applying skepticism by asking, “how do we know all men are mortal?”
Meanwhile, one can apply logical rule-sets to their skepticism, like the scientific method does.
In other words, logic is a judgement with an expected outcome, like a rule-set, and reason is the act of critical thinking, combining, associating, questioning, and drawing inferences from judgements. Meanwhile terms are what is being worked with and skepticism is the art of questioning.
Together with conceptualizing, these are three increasingly more complex and probabilistic modes of thought (modes of conceptualizing and comparing terms, judgements, and inferences).
Are logic and reason arts or sciences? The answer is they are both. There is both an art (an action refined by practice) and a science (a type of knowledge refined by study) to reason and logic. Or, there is a certain art to reasoning with the science of logic. Or is there?!
Terms, Logic, and Reason With a Syllogism
The simplest example of using both logic and reason is the Syllogism already noted above.
One could describe the syllogism as a thing of logic (its barebones are really just a rule-set for making judgements), but lets discuss it as a thing of logic and reason (where our conclusion is our inference).
A syllogism is a logical argument that applies Deductive Reasoning (AKA Deductive Logic), to arrive at a logically certain conclusion based on the comparison of two or more propositions (statements, premises, judgements; two or more logical conclusions based on conceptions).
Consider the classic example of a deductive argument (a logical argument):
- All men are mortal. (judgement; we reasonably assume all men are mortal).
- Socrates is a man. (judgement; we look and see he is a man).
- Therefore, Socrates is mortal. (inference; we draw the logical conclusion Socrates is mortal).
There is logic to the above line of reasoning (since all men are mortal, and since Socrates is a man, Socrates is mortal), it is a consistent rule-set (so it is logic in that sense), but it is reasoning because one is deducing inferences to draw conclusions from judgments.
Reason as a Synonym for Applying Logic
So far all we have really done is worked with logic and logical reasoning (the syllogism), but the term “reasoning” has been used a lot (even though we didn’t compare syllogisms or approach it in a skeptical manner outside one instance, or apply more complex forms of reasoning). This is generally explained by the fact that we use our language loosely (and often use logic and reason as synonyms).
Synonyms and Syllogisms aside (sorry), logic and reason are two very different parts of the same puzzle (AKA the process of thought). So let’s look closer at how they are different.
TIP: As you may have already noticed, most of the time terms, judgments, and inferences are bumping up against each other (making them hard to discuss alone). Reasoning always involves terms and logic, logic always involves terms but can involve little to no reasoning, and terms only require the most basic forms of logic and reason to conceptualize. Pure logic (only logic) like mathematics requires almost no reasoning, a computer can do pure logic based on terms and make judgements. Meanwhile, advanced AI aside, comparing judgements and employing reason is a very human thing.
A Definition of Logic and Reason
At this point we can define our terms again as:
- A Term is any conceptualization.
- Logic tends to seek absolute truth via a series of judgements using specific rule-sets (like 1+1 = the judgement of 2, or Socrates + the features of a man = the judgement Socrates is a man),
- Reason compares judgements and draws inferences associating terms and logic to seek probable truths and deeper understanding via a mix of formal and informal rule-sets (a sort of critical thinking that uses logic, skepticism, justified beliefs, philosophy, hypotheses, and many other modes of thought to draw inferences from judgements, terms, and reasoned arguments; reasoning is the process of deduction, induction, and abduction).
How Logic and Reason are Different – Consider Terms, Judgements, and Inferences
To view this another way, let’s look at an excerpt from a very simple and insightful resource on logic, the mostly forgotten (but free online), Deductive Logic by St. George William Joseph Stock):
§32. There are three processes of thought
- Conception (the concept or the term).
- Judgement (the proposition or logic).
- Inference (reasoning).
These can be defined as:
- Conception, which is otherwise known as Simple Apprehension, is the act of forming in the mind the idea of anything, e.g. when we form in the mind the idea of a cup, we are performing the process of conception.
- Judgement, in the sense in which it is here used [Footnote: Sometimes the term ‘judgement’ is extended to the comparison of nameless sense-impressions, which underlies the formation of concepts. But this amounts to identifying judgement with thought in general.] may be resolved into putting two ideas together in the mind, and pronouncing as to their agreement or disagreement, e.g. we have in our minds the idea of a cup and the idea of a thing made of porcelain, and we combine them in the judgement—’This cup is made of porcelain.’ (this is what we do with the syllogism).
- Inference, or Reasoning, is the passage of the mind from one or more judgements to another, e.g. from the two judgements ‘Whatever is made of porcelain is brittle,’ and ‘This cup is made of porcelain,’ we elicit a third judgement, ‘This cup is brittle.’
Then this relates to the idea that:
- The concept is the result of comparing attributes.
- The judgement is the result of comparing concepts.
- The inference is the result of comparing judgements.
And likewise (to phrase the same thing in different words):
- The term is the result of comparing attributes.
- The proposition is the result of comparing terms.
- The inference is the result of comparing propositions.
Compare all of that to the idea that the laws of thought are all reducible to the three following axioms, which are known as The Three Fundamental Laws of Thought:
- The Law of Identity: Whatever is, is; or, in a more precise form, Every A is A.
- The Law of Contradiction: Nothing can both be and not be; Nothing can be A and not A.
- The Law of Excluded Middle: Everything must either be or not be; Everything is either A or not A.
And we have all the tools we need to use to understand and employ logic and reason.
The rule-sets and the judgements made from comparing terms are logic, and the inferences made from comparing propositions is reason, meanwhile terms are the names given to concepts.
Or, in simple logic:
- Observe concepts. ex. men, mortals, Socrates, Plato.
- Make judgements about concepts (logic). ex. All men are Mortal, Socrates is mortal, Plato is mortal.
- Compare judgements and make inferences (reason). ex. If Socrates and Plato fight to the death, there can be only one left alive, after-all, all men are mortal, even the great Socrates.
TIP: In other words, reason deals with probabilities and logic deals with absolutes. Logic seeks A + B = C judgements, and reason works with those judgements. Both are aspects of the art and science of comparing terms (where a term is A or B itself).
TIP: these modes of thought are all different, they have the same general end, which is the approaching of truth and understanding.
Examples of Logic and Reason
Logic is what makes a computer’s brain work, and reason is the skill one uses to fact-check using a search engine (comparing articles, being skeptical, applying logic, spotting false information based on experience, etc).
Logic is solving mathematic equations, reason is thinking of new ways to apply, combine, and refine those equations and the art of drawing inferences from them (the art of using deductive logic).
Moving On and Other Definitions
With the above said, given the close relation of logic and reason, and the sea of definitions from 300’s BC to today, I’m not going to offer a single specific answer as to exactly how to define logic and reason.
Rather, as I’ve already done a bit above, I’m going to offer many examples of the ways in which logic and reason relate and differ, offering my own opinions, and resources like Wikipedia definitions and insight into classical texts on logic.
So then, before we move on, here are the Wikipedia definitions:
- Logic is generally held to consist of the systematic study of the form of arguments. A valid argument is one where there is a specific relation of logical support between the assumptions of the argument and its conclusion. (In ordinary discourse, the conclusion of such an argument may be signified by words like therefore, hence, ergo and so on.)
- Reason is the capacity for consciously making sense of things, applying logic, establishing and verifying facts, and changing or justifying practices, institutions, and beliefs based on new or existing information. It is closely associated with such characteristically human activities as philosophy, science, language, mathematics, and art and is normally considered to be a definitive characteristic of human nature. Reason, or an aspect of it, is sometimes referred to as rationality.
TIP: In words, Reason is what makes us human, logic is what we often use to reason, both are modes of human thinking, but (cognitive AI aside) only logic can be mimicked by a modern machine. I keep using the computer analogy here, sorry.
Logic vs. Reason
With the above definitions in mind, the first thing to know about logic and reason is… that I’ve never seen the terms logic and reason defined perfectly (I’ve seen them defined very well many times, but never “perfectly”).
With that said, certainly, logic is the A+B=C science one (it is a formal system with clear rule-sets), and reason is the more broad and loose “art of critical thinking” that uses logic as one of its tools (it is a more informal system of induction, deduction, and associating that mixes in beliefs, opinions, and facts and rationalizes toward many ends).
Orators and philosophers use reason liberally, while the insurance adjuster generally sticks to logic.
Still, outside of very specific cases, it is hard to do any sort of thinking that doesn’t employ concepts, logic, and reason.
There are correct ways to reason (valid vs. invalid, sound and unsound), but the system has somewhat loose bounds beyond this… meanwhile logic demands rules so exact that a calculator could follow them flawlessly.
Logic is more a thing of the empirical, reason more theoretical. Logic is more a natural science, reason well suited for moral philosophy. A skeptic uses reason to deduce a range of probable answers, logic is binary.
Reason uses logic, but logic doesn’t have much need for reason after the rule-set has been formulated.
Reason is more like the human brain, pulling from experience, logic, ethics, morals, and tastes, considering many complex layers, associating and combing ideas, and logic is more like the cold and hard mathematics of a calculator.
With that in mind, Reason is more a thing of philosophy and critical thinking that moves one toward understanding of any sort, it can follow logical rule-sets, but can also use beliefs and opinions, it seeks truth and understanding over consistent answers (and can even be used to sway opinions, such as in oration and rhetoric).
A debater reasons, a lawyer reasons, and a person reasons with their friend to get them to share their cake.
Those who reason almost always use an assortment of different types of logic in their reasoning.
Logic is more a science that involves a series of judgments that includes formal logic like that used in mathematics and computing, and deductive logic (where conclusions are drawn from premisses).
A computer uses logic, a statistician uses logic, and a person reasoning often uses logic in their reasoning.
So, one would use logic to program a computer, but one might use reason to come up with easier ways to program the computer.
It makes sense to use logic in your reasoning, but logic itself doesn’t always require the use of reason.
In this sense we can say reason is a broad category of thinking, where logic is the aspect of thinking that can be translated to actionable and consistent rule-sets.
To frame this another way:
Both seek understanding, but logic is what makes a computer run, while reason is what made Jobs and Woz decide to build computers.
One doesn’t use reason to do their math homework, they reason with their mother to stay home from school.
One might use logic in a debate, but the art of rhetoric can sometimes involve using reason and not logic.
- Thus, Reason generally uses logic, although it doesn’t have to (one can use specific rule-sets in their reasoning such as because A is true, therefore B is also true; but they can also say, “knowing B is true, how can I use this to convince a person of C”).
- Meanwhile, logic doesn’t generally require reasoning (as finding “X” in the equation 1+X=2 requires nothing more than a rule-set).
ON LOGIC: A master of logic was Lewis Carrol (the guy who wrote Alice in Wonderland). Alice is actually a story poking fun at theoretical mathematics and almost all of his works are about logic. If you like your brain, you’ll love having it destroyed by Lewis’ “so far from Alice it stops being funny pretty quickly, and then becomes fun again” Symbolic Logic. The more logic you know, the better you’ll be able to reason, so if Carrol’s name isn’t reason enough… I mean, logically speaking. Ok, maybe that didn’t sell you, but if that is overwhelming try a System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive by John Stuart Mill (it is even more burly and will make you appreciate Carrol). Sorry, bad joke. Do read those, but start with Carrol’s Game of Logic (there is cake!) If you understand logic, you understand reason, reason is logic and then everything left over pertaining to critical thinking.
How to Argue – Philosophical Reasoning: Crash Course Philosophy #2
Reason can be used to seek any truth or understanding, but its inputs aren’t limited to facts and rule-sets. One can reason using emotions, opinions, or beliefs, and can arrive at illogical answers.
Reason is a process of critical thinking, but the result doesn’t define it.
For example, I can say, “I believe in Santa, and I want Santa to get me a unicorn, and I have only enough ingredients to make chocolate chip or blueberry cookies, since I don’t think Santa’s reindeer like chocolate, I’ll make the blueberry cookies.”
That line of reasoning is actually valid, even though nothing in the story is fact-based.
We can say the line of reasoning was “logical,” as it followed a rule-set… but I certainly would describe it as “logic-of-the-highest-order”.
Meanwhile, if I say, “I believe in Santa, and I want Santa to get me a unicorn, so I’m going to go steal stuff…” that reasoning is not very good. Santa doesn’t get bad kids presents, so stealing stuff is not (logically speaking) going to net one a Unicorn. In other words, my logic was off in my reasoning, so my reasoning was not good.
Logic and reason are both things of “pure reason”, but where logic deals with formal rule-sets most often applied to the natural sciences, reason can pull from anything and be applied to anything.
So, while the distinctions are somewhat semantic in every day language, there is a world of difference between the formal science of logic (which can make a computer run), and the more ethereal art of reasoning (which is what Google tries to get its search engines to do with endless lines of coded logic when you ask it “what is the difference between reason and logic”).
All the Enlightenment founders used reason, but Newton’s mathematics are a thing of logic. We can apply reason, even when we don’t know all the facts logically.
To end, I’d say this:
- Logic is the science of following a rule-set that produces consistent results.
- Reason is the application of “pure logic,” empirical evidence, experiment, and skepticism to find truths, facts, and theories (AKA “critical thinking”).
- Enlightenment is simply the natural conclusions to which reason leads.
In other words, if the goal is enlightenment, the foundation must start with logic, and to do logic, we must properly define our terms.
TIP: Logic and reason are also music programs. Great ones actually. In music, learning the intervals and chords and scales is a thing of logic, but improvising with those rule-sets is a thing of reason. 😀
Logic –The Structure of Reason (Great Ideas of Philosophy)
- Validity and Invalidity, Soundness and Unsoundness
- What is the difference between logic and reason?
- What is Kant’s argument about the relationship between logic and reason?
- Classical Logic