Notre Dame, Paris
In commercial and political messages, when we see any reasoning at all, most of it is one-sided. The conclusion may be true, but there is no attempt to be fair to other points of view. By contrast, an editorial I once read distinguished itself: at the beginning, the writer fully stated the reasons for the position opposed to his own. Only then did he argue for his own position. His editorial drew comments from readers for months.
Reasoning is useful in many ways as we cultivate our quality of thinking. It enables us to sharpen our thinking in pursuit of insight. An insight expressed as a statement may become a premise from which reason draws a conclusion. Reason seeks consistency between beliefs and identifies contradictions where beliefs are inconsistent. Reason finds ways to test beliefs to see whether they correspond with reality. Reason enables us to say why we accept beliefs that we do, and empowers us to examine beliefs that differ from our beliefs.
In the 13th century, during what is sometimes called “the dark ages,” a remarkable edifice was constructed in Paris featuring the twin towers of faith and reason. Thomas Aquinas constructed a system of theology by practicing a model of the exercise of reason. Of course the system is improvable, but consider its strengths. Thinking about a particular subject, Thomas took into consideration ideas from ancient and contemporary thinkers of different religions. He organized his discussion of topics into a sequence of sharply focused questions. Then he listed objections to his view coming from a variety sources, and he set forth his own view in a brief, clear, and reasoned way. Finally he showed how to handle the previously stated objections.
We may not have the knowledge or ability of a Thomas Aquinas, but we can improve our quality of thinking by exercising ourselves by trying something like his method: organizing our ideas in terms of clear questions, seeking fairly to understand perspectives different from our own, and respectfully giving reasons for our own position.