A goal of reasoning

HypothesisMature reasoning is both a firm commitment to some principle and the recognition of the force of its opposite.

But this seems impossible: How can we be persuaded to firmly stand in one place while also recognizing the persuasive power not to? It seems like mature reasoning demands us to have the contraries of certitude and doubt about one and the same thing.

Still, we have to have some sort of certitude-doubt mentality, as is clear from watching popular politics. Certitude without doubt is ideology; doubt without firm principle is a disgust at politics altogether.* Ideology insists that its opposite is unscientific, stupid, blinded by ideology; disgust at politics attempts to get above the fray, though this is either a rejection of our communal nature or a claim to have utterly transcended it, both of which are impossible. Our reasoning is to a large extent political, and to think we can get past this is a foolproof way to play the sucker. The perversions of ideology and disgust – giving us the pundit and the wonk in politics – have analogues in all other sorts of discourse.

But neither is mature reasoning a muddle or a halfway-house position. It is not a mix of zealotry and skepticism but a transcendence of them.

The Disputed Question format of the Scholastic philosophers is structured to cultivate mature reasoning by containing a dialectical element that increases in proportion to the difficulty of the question. Contrary voices are more than things to be refuted – they are insights to be clarified, qualifications to be kept in mind, and even truths that condition and modify our response to the thesis. Writing in its format (in spirit and not necessarily in letter) might be the fastest track to clear reasoning. Still, there’s no royal road. Most go through an ideology phase in youth, a skeptical phase later on, and a mature phrase after both of them.

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*FWIW, I incline most to the second option. I figure no one can avoid politics so I intentionally read contrary news sources in a horror and disgust at ideology. But this an immature and ill-formed sort of political reasoning, even if I think it edges out ideology. This is not always so, however. Heisenberg hated politics, but he found to his disgrace that it is not possible to extricate oneself from it.

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