The 4 main types of reasoning (and their characteristics)

Reason or the ability to reason is one of the most valued cognitive skills throughout history, having been seen in ancient times as one of the characteristics that separate us from other animals and often being confronted with emotion (so much so that emotion and reason are in fact deeply interdependent).

But although the concept of reason is often considered universal and unique, it must be borne in mind that there is no single way or mechanism to succeed in reasoning, to be able to find different types of reasoning depending on how information is obtained and processed. It is some of these different types of existing reasoning that we will talk about throughout this article.

    What is the reasoning?

    We understand as reasoning the product of a set of complex cognitive skills through which we are able to relate and link different information in a structured way, a link that allows to establish different strategies, arguments and conclusions based on this structuring of the ‘information.

    Reasoning allows us to develop new information and ideas based on a set of rules, which allows us to establish and form things like thoughts, beliefs, theories, abstract ideas, techniques or strategies . It also allows us to find the resolution of problems or situations that we encounter and the search for the most optimal methods.

    Likewise, reasoning would not be possible without the existence of different mental faculties such as the capacity for association, attention, sensory perception, memory or the ability to plan or inhibit our responses to both the cognitive and behavioral level. So, although it is and is considered a cognitive ability, it would not be possible without the existence of many others upon which it is based. We are not dealing with a basic ability but with one of the higher or higher level cognitive abilities.

    Main types of reasoning

    While the concept of reasoning may seem simple, the truth is that, as with intelligence, clearly defining and delineating (without mixing it up with other concepts) is very complex. The truth is, reasoning itself is difficult to study as a whole, often breaking up into different processes that give rise to different types of reasoning. These include the following; the first three are the most recognized and the most fundamental.

    1. Deductive reasoning

    One of the main types of reasoning is so-called deductive reasoning, which, as the name suggests, is the type of cognitive process we use to arrive at a deduction.

    This type of thinking is based on the belief in a premise or a universal statement to reach a conclusion for each particular case. Thus, it goes from the general to the particular, being able to draw conclusions for a specific case based on the hypothesis or the deduction. from what we consider to be broadly true.

    He often uses logic for this, it is common for chained syllogisms, inferences and propositions to be used to reach a concrete conclusion. Deductive thinking can be categorical (from two premises considered valid a conclusion is drawn), proportional (one acts from two premises, one of which is necessary for the other to be given) or disjunctive ( two opposite premises are confronted to draw a conclusion which eliminates one).

    It is often the type of reasoning that follows stereotypes, which leads us to think that in order to be part of a group or profession to which certain characteristics have been attributed, a person will have a specific behavior (whether good or bad).

    It is common for a simple deduction to trigger judgments, arguments and beliefs that do not correspond to reality. For example, we might think that water hydrates, so since the sea is made of water, seawater hydrates us (when in fact it dehydrates us).

    2. Inductive reasoning

    Inductive reasoning is that thought process in which we start from a particular piece of information to arrive at a general conclusion. This would be the reverse process to that of deduction: we observe one particular case after another so that experience allows us to determine a more generalized conclusion. It is less logical and more probabilistic reasoning than the previous one.

    Inductive reasoning can be incomplete (that is, only a few specific cases are included and not others to draw conclusions) or complete (including all observed special cases).

    This is generally a much more used method than it seems when it comes to making day-to-day decisions, generally being what we use to predict future consequences of our actions or what can happen.

    It is also often linked to the attribution of causes to the phenomena that we perceive. However, as with deduction, it is easy to draw wrong conclusions, focusing only on what we have seen or experienced. For example, the fact that every time we see a swan it is white may make us think that all swans are white, although there are also black ones.

    3. Hypothetical-deductive reasoning

    This type of reasoning or thinking is the basis of scientific knowledge, being one of the most adherent to reality and to the verification of places which are established on the basis of observation.

    It starts from observing the reality of a series of particular cases to generate a hypothesis, from which in turn the consequences or possible interpretations of what you observe must be deduced. These, in turn, they must be falsifiable and empirically contrasted to verify their veracity.

    This type of reasoning is considered one of the most complex and adult (Piaget, for example, associates it with the late stage of development and generally considers him as an adult, although many adults do not have it).

    This does not necessarily mean that they always arrive at valid results, being a type of reasoning that is also susceptible to bias. An example of this type of reasoning can be found, for example, in the discovery of penicillin and its transformation into an antibiotic.

      4. Transductive reasoning

      This type of reasoning is based on that of combine different information separated from each other to establish an argument, belief, theory or conclusion. In reality, they tend to relate specific or particular information without generating any kind of principle or theory and without even seeking verification.

      It is considered typical of infancy, When we are still unable to establish a reasoning which links causes and effects and we can manage to associate elements which have nothing to do.

      An example of this type of reasoning can be found in the type of thinking kids usually do, who may even think it’s snowing because today went well.

      Other types of reasoning

      These are some of the most important types of reasoning, but there are other types depending on how they are classified. For example, we can find logical or non-logical reasoning (depending on whether or not it is used so that the conclusions are consistent and extractable from the premises), valid or invalid reasoning (depending on whether the conclusion is correct or not ) or the reasoning related to certain professions or fields of knowledge, such as the doctor or the clinician.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Higueras, B. and Muñoz, JJ (2012). Basic psychology. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 08. CEDE: Madrid.
      • Peirce, CS (1988). Man, a sign (Peirce’s pragmatism). Critic, Barcelona: 123-141.
      • Polya, G. (1953). Mathematics and plausible reasoning. Ed. Tecnos. Madrid.

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