Doesn’t “Spirited” Contradict “Reasoner”?

That’s a good question, especially since we are using the word “spirited” in the sense of passionate, as in a spirited steed.  To ask the same question in other words, we might wonder whether the introduction of passion to the reasoning process would have the effect of biasing or skewing our conclusions.  My response would be “Wait a second!  Not so fast!”

Excessive passion can indeed cause an objective reasoner to veer away from the search of truth.  But the absence of passion can lead to an even worse result, that being a perfectly reasoned argument that leads the reasoner perfectly to a dangerous destination.  Since I tend to clarify my reasoning through the use of analogies, let’s consider the following illustration , which makes use of a syllogism.

Suppose I develop the following plan of action:  “If the weather is sunny, I will take a walk in the park.  But if the weather is rainy, I will go to the museum.”  Now I look outside and announce my conclusion:  “The weather is sunny.  Therefore, I will take a walk in the park.”  We can all agree that I have used my reasoning powers through the exercise of pure logic, and I have therefore arrived at a conclusion that is correct and helpful.

But what if, unbeknownst to me, authorities have announced that a dangerous political demonstration–two sides of a political issue facing off–has been forming in the park this very day?  My perfect exercise of logic would not lead me to my intended goal of a pleasant walk, filled with nothing more than the enjoyment of nature.  Instead, my perfect exercise of logic would lead me to a place where I might find myself exposed to physical violence.  My point here is that “reasoning” is not enough.  We must begin with sufficient information.  And sometimes even sufficient information will not do the trick.

Note, in the above example, that my use of passion, or spirit, was already built into my choices.  Apparently, I would prefer not to walk in the rain. And apparently, it would not be my first choice to visit the museum if the weather is sunny.  These preferences must have come from a place inside of me that is deeper than logic or reason.  Another reasoner could just as correctly have stated that she would prefer to walk in the rain unless the weather were sunny, in which case she would prefer to go to a museum.  (Perhaps she has noticed that the museum makes use of skylights that enhance the appearance of certain works of art, but only when the weather is sunny.)  What exactly is it, inside each of us, that determines whether we prefer one choice over another?  Why does one person prefer chocolate ice cream while another prefers vanilla?

My argument is that reason without passion–i. e., without some deeper, extra-logical preference–is reason without a thoughtful goal.  And, I would argue, the quality of my intellectual goal is as important as the quality of my reasoning.

The Spirited Reasoner should expect to be accused, quite rightly, of some circularity at this point.  How do we know our passion is of high quality?  We use reason, of course!  And how do we know our reasoning is useful?  Because it fits our passion, of course!

Anyone who has attempted to change someone else’s religion or politics knows that these preferences are often based on extra-logical foundations, like one’s preference for chocolate or vanilla. What makes the Spirited Reasoner’s approach the most honest one, I believe, is the consistent use of both spirit and reason in the examination of life’s most fundamental questions.  The Spirited Reasoner is constantly asking two questions:  “Is this an argument that furthers a passion I, after an appropriate review of relevant information, consider to be important?”  and “Does this argument follow all relevant rules of logic?”  While a “yes” answer to both questions does not guarantee the rightness of a particular argument vis-a-vis all possible alternative arguments, a “no” answer to either question provides sufficient justification for the Spirited Reasoner to step away from that argument.  My belief is that if we were all willing to follow these simple rules, the world community would prefer less violent answers to our most vexing problems.