Evaluate the Strengths and Weaknesses of Reason as a Way of Knowing

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There are four main ways of knowing – reason, perception, language and emotion. However each one of them have their own strengths and weaknesses and only by knowing them will we be able to better use these ways of knowing to gain knowledge. This essay will seek to examine the strengths and weaknesses of reason as a way of knowing.

Reason is often seen as one of the most powerful ways of knowing – for it ‘seems to give us certainty’ (Lagemaat, 112). Reason uses logic to form arguments and conclusions. A benefit of reason using logic in reason is that it allows us access to innate or a priori knowledge – knowledge we cannot access any other way. One definition of A priori knowledge is innate knowledge that is not derived from experience but rather, are universal rules that we apply. (Cahn,Eckert,Buckley). There are several different forms that reason takes but these are mainly inductive and deductive reasoning – which will be discussed later in the essay.

A major strength of reason as a way of knowing is that the information we gather from using it is certain. This is a great strength because we are provided with a strong prediction model that we can build knowledge upon, thus providing us with information that we can believe to be true.

We look to how this is applied in an area of knowledge the natural sciences. Take for instance the concept of neutralization reactions in Chemistry. In theory we know that a base would react with an acid to produce salt and water – a hypothesis that, up till this point, has been proven to be true – to form a salt and water. If we are presented with the following argument:

All bases react with acids to form salt and water.
Unknown sample X reacted with an acid and formed salt and water. We can conclude that unknown sample X is a base.

We used deductive reasoning to arrive at the conclusion above. Deductive reasoning provides us with a conclusion that is absolutely certain. The way deduction works is that we go from general premises to a specific conclusion (Langemaat, 234). Like the example above, so far we have seen that all acid-base reactions produce water and salt thus we believe sample X is a base as well. At this point in time, there is no dispute against the law of the acid-base reaction and this will remain a law of chemistry. This certainty reason provides is an extremely important strength as this shows that reason allows us to create strong foundations that can be expanded upon.

However with this certainty that reason brings, it has its weaknesses too. The first weakness of reason as a way of knowing is that it is limited. While we realise that unknown sample X is a base, this is all we know of it. This is where the weakness of deductive reason lies, it provides us with an extremely certain conclusion so that we can build upon our foundations that have been set but at the same time, we are limiting our knowledge to just this small scope. Also, the certainty of the conclusion depends on the truth of the premises. How can we prove that these premises are true? We believe that the premises are true because they have not been renounced as of yet. However if they were in fact wrong, our conclusion would be false as well resulting in a completely false argument.

From this we can see that while reason can provide us with very certain conclusions, it limits us to building knowledge upon a specific foundation and the truth of the conclusion is based on the truth of the premises.

The next strength of reason helps us generate laws to explain abstract concepts and gain this knowledge in areas that our senses cannot reach. This is a very important strength of reason as it shows how detached reason is from the empirical and sense perception. We look to the natural sciences once again - the concept of temporary dipole attraction between diatomic molecules. If we have the following argument:

I, Br and Cl form temporary dipoles
I, Br and Cl are group VII...
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