Reasoning: Definition & Examples

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  • 0:01 What Is Reasoning?
  • 0:53 Reasoning in the Real World
  • 2:25 Reasoning and Literature
  • 3:53 Reasoning and Composition
  • 5:15 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
James Greaver

Jim has a master's degree in secondary Education and has taught English from middle school level to college.

Expert Contributor
Ginna Wilkerson

Ginna earned M.Ed. degrees in Curriculum and Development and Mental Health Counseling, followed by a Ph.D. in English. She has over 30 years of teaching experience.

In this lesson, we will examine what reasoning is and how it's applied to literature and composition. We will look at some examples, and then you will take a short quiz to check your understanding of the concept.

What is Reasoning?

Reasoning is what we do when we take information that we are given, compare it to what we already know, and then come up with a conclusion. Simple, huh? While much of our ability to reason is innate, these skills can be taught and improved upon. Reasoning skills often happen subconsciously and within seconds. However, sometimes we need to think things through to reach a conclusion when we are presented with a tough question or situation.

Reasoning skills are essential to day-to-day life: we use them to make choices among possible options, to distinguish between positive and negative situations, to decide how to approach a problem and resolve it, and much more. As we consider some more specific examples, keep in mind this equation, which may help you to understand how it all works:

Given Information + Knowledge = Reasoned Conclusion

Reasoning in the Real World

We have to use reasoning skills all the time in the real world. For example, say you get invited to a family function, but you also have an important school assignment to finish. This requires reasoning, since you must consider the two choices, trying to balance family with schooling. Also, we are often presented with situations that force us to make moral decisions between right and wrong. Your friends may ask you to do something that you know you probably shouldn't do, such as smoking or drinking. In this case, you must reason between the harmful effects and the moral choice vs. pleasing your friends and having 'fun', as they may call it!

Let's look at another example and this time let's keep in mind our equation:

Given Information + Knowledge = Reasoned Conclusion

Say someone asks you what your favorite book is. Now you have been given something, a question regarding books that you like. You take that and pair it with what you already know, perhaps a mental list of books you have read. Then, out of this list of books, you mentally eliminate the ones you didn't care so much for and narrow down your choices to two or three. Finally, you consider what you liked about them, the interesting characters, plot lines, or themes, and you choose the one you liked best - The Hobbit. You have taken what you were given, paired it with what you already knew, and come to a conclusion based on that information. Here is what it might look like in our equation:

What's my favorite book? + Consider the books I have read, which I liked, and why = my favorite is The Hobbit.

Reasoning in Literature

There are many ways we use reasoning in literature. We use reasoning when we consider the characters and evaluate settings. We also use reasoning when we consider the plot and themes, imagining what may or may not happen later in the story.

For example, let's stick with the story of The Hobbit. Focusing on the character Bilbo Baggins, we can consider the concept of character development, which is the way an author creates interest in his or her characters through the way they speak, act, look, and even how they are seen by other characters. As you read the story, you see Bilbo interacting with other characters. You see him allowing his home to be taken over by numerous hungry dwarves and feeding them all. Throughout the story, you see Bilbo wrestle with the idea of being a hero while often doing heroic deeds. You see other characters discuss their fears about Bilbo's abilities, only to later witness him save their own hides!

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Additional Activities

Practicing the Skill of Reasoning

Practice Activities:

1. In the lesson, you read about our everyday use of reasoning in making decisions. Make a list of decisions you've been faced with recently, like deciding whether to go to a party or deciding what to wear to an important event. See if you can pinpoint the steps in making these decisions. Do you recognize the train of thought as it was presented in the lesson?

2. Like you did in the lesson, think of two or three characters from a story or film that you know well. Go through the process of forming a reasoned opinion of those characters as illustrated in the lesson. Are any of these opinions different from how you thought of the character before you read this lesson?

3. This lesson also applied the concept of reasoning to the act of composition. Let's say you have an essay to write for a psychology class, and the topic can be any mental health disorder that you find interesting. You are required to cover diagnostic criteria, symptoms, and treatment. Use the process of reasoning to decide on a topic for this essay. Examine your own thinking process regarding the steps of reasoning. If you want to take this activity further, plan the organization of this essay after doing a bit of research. Then examine the reasoning process again.

Note to Parents and Teachers:

The important element of all three activities is to help the student practice the steps in the reasoning process so that they can apply this process to future tasks in a more conscious way. Refer back to the lesson as needed.

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