This paper was produced as teaching notes for higher level degree students in the fields of organisational
development and executive and life coaching. It is not intended to be a comprehensive account of the field of
reason and critical reasoning but rather an aide-mémoire.

Reasoning is considered a higher intellectual faculty where the person demonstrates ability to generate conclusions from assumptions and propositions. Reasoning overlaps a great deal with logic and many say rationality. I disagree with this line of thought on two accounts: Logic offers a formula for a certain type of reasoning and not all reasoning needs to be about what is considered rational, which is often understood as factual or related to the empirical world (the world of the senses). I will offer my definition of reasoning as a way of putting my stand out for debate and challenge.

Reasoning is the proper function of the higher intelligence. It includes receiving as much information, impressions, emotional and intuitive impulses about the particular issue or event, both from the external environment and from internal responses to relevant stimuli and information. It includes apperception, either or both transcendental and empirical1 , perception and conception; creating order of such impressions and other representational forms of knowledge so to differentiate and discriminate between the concepts and sense impressions for the purpose of producing an explanation or justification or conclusion that is internally coherent. This created order should be recognisable from but different to the information and sense impressions and should best capture and elevate the sense-making to a new synthesis with evaluative properties.

Explanatory reasoning One form of reason looks for causes of events; looks for reasons for why things happen. This is often described as explanatory reasoning and has its place in descriptive thinking. It is similar to motivational reasoning. So one could say that the reason why a house is warm is because the heaters have been turned on, (descriptive) or that children go to school because they want to learn, or because they will get into trouble if they don’t (motivational). This form of thinking also expands into the psychological field, as theoretical reasoning, often without much thinking through of all the variables. And the accepted phrase from statistics applies here – and not just to statistics: In statistics, the phrase “correlation does not imply causation” refers to the inability to legitimately deduce a cause-and-effect relationship between two variables solely on the basis of an observed association or correlation between them. For example, explanatory reasoning often given as to why a person is happy as an adult is because he/she had all his/ her emotional needs met as a child (theory of emotional needs).

Reasoning is not confined to logical deductivism, although it can include this mode of thinking. In Hume’s i causation theory, inductive inference comes from the observation of the behaviour of objects and people in the present to their behaviour outside the observation period into the future or even into the past. According to Hume once we go beyond the `present testimony of the senses, and the (accurate) records of our memory’ we cannot take for granted the stability or regularity of the behaviour (or attitudes or beliefs) of those observed. The notion of causation is linked to inductive reasoning where inductive reasoning goes looking for associations between conjoining events/behaviours. The mental act of association is the basis of the concept of causation. Further information about this can be found by reading about logical positivism, and sceptical realism.

Normative reasoning

Normative reasoning means considerations which count in favour of…some state of affairs. Within this category there is normative practical reasoning and normative epistemic reasoning. Normative practical reasoning is where practical reasons are considerations which count in favour of some action or the `having’ of some attitude, or wanting to bring some actions or attitudes about.

Normative epistemic reasoning means theoretical reasoning. Epistemic reasons are considerations which count in favour of believing some propositions to be true (or reasonably true). It is this latter type of reasoning that this paper addresses. There are indications of this theoretical reasoning in the previous passage about the theory of emotional needs, e.g. Maslow’s Hierarchy of needsii, and Bowlby’s attachment theory to name just two. For Bowlby’s theory iii in particular the conclusion from the observation of some children’s behaviour in childhood (between the 1940s – 50s) gave rise to inductive inferences, and predictions of future behaviour (outside the observation period) not only for the observed children but to all children at that time and to all children in all cultures. The content of the attachment theory is not so important for this paper. It is being used to illustrate that many psychological theories, as with other theories about human beings as social beings are based on causation theory or logical positivism. Critical reasoning would hold such conclusions (of attachment theory for example) with caution. Caution for a number of reasons: (1) It does not take account of more recent experiments and theories of emotional and cognitive development, (2) it does not take account of recent understanding of child development relative to environmental factors, (3) it does not take account of cultural and family constellations and (4) and most importantly it does not take account of adult learning theories, including neural plasticity. iv v More recent accounts of children’s consciousness structures (Gebser 1986) raise serious questions about the validity or invalidity of adults interpreting children’s internal mental and psychic states from the consciousness structure of the adult, which is in a completely different consciousness. (Hillman. J. 1992) vi

The message in this paper is to hold all theories lightly, particularly theories about the human condition, seeing them as `made up’; as socially constructed, to help make sense of an event, the context and frame of reference of the theorists of the time. Such theories can then be useful rather than harmful.

To summarize this section with the help of Wikipedia:

Reasoning is the process of taking normative reasons into account —considering them, weighing them up, or fitting them together in order to determine which beliefs or actions or attitudes they most favour. Theoretical reasoning is the process of taking theoretical (i.e., epistemic) reasons into account so as to determine what to believe or accept. Practical reasoning is the process of taking practical reasons into account so as to determine what to do or what attitudes to have. ( Essential to this summary is that theoretical reasons are not the same as `in my experience’ reasons. While experience can inform, sometimes quite heavily, (and sometimes wrongly) it is the interpretation of the experience that forms the theoretical reasons, where these interpretations are epistemic.

I favour a meeting of praxis with phronesis, where praxis is informed action or knowledge- based action and phronesis is the moral disposition to act truly and justly. vii As Carr and Kemmis state, this way of thinking is dialectical, where propositions and their counter- argument or contradictions are oppositional and in dynamic tension waiting to be resolved into a new synthesis through the faculty of critical thinking. To quote them: “As contradictions are revealed, new constructive thinking and new constructive action are required to transcend the contradictory state of affairs. The contradictory elements are mutually constitutive, not separate and distinct”, (page 34) and can therefore form a new synthesis by critical reflection.

Critical Thinking – things for consideration

Knowledge – what is it and how do we know that we know?

The human experience of knowing involves access to the “why”; the reason and the primary sense of logos being answerable; giving an account.

Procedural knowledge – knowing how.
Theoretical knowledge – knowing what interpretation you are placing on experience
Factual knowledge – knowing that (to be the fact, or to be the case)
Intuitive knowledge – sensing that, sensing what, gnosis
Critical reasoning is always epistemic (theoretical).

John Heron’s viii four modes of knowing:

Experiential knowing: the knowledge arising as we encounter the world around us

Presentational knowing: the knowledge expressed in the process of giving form to experiential knowing, for example, through language, images, music, painting, etc.

Propositional knowing: the knowledge which distills our experiential and presentational knowing into theories, statements and propositions.

Practical knowing: the knowledge that brings the other three forms of knowing to full fruition by doing things skillfully and competently. (Heron 1992)

“Practical knowledge, knowing how, is the consummation, the fulfilment; of the knowledge quest… it affirms what is intrinsically worthwhile, human flourishing, by manifesting it in action.” (John Heron 1992: 173)

Critical Thinking: To help define what we mean by critical reflection, consider the following levels:

Experience: current awareness of experience: somatic, cognitive, emotional,
behavioural and spiritual.

Description: describing events or experience; ‘what happened', or‘what is happening’ in relatively objective, non-interpretative and non-evaluative terms – Descriptive reflection or narration.

Reflection: interpreting through models and theories, your own or others, identifying
meaning, evaluating experience and what has been learnt – interpretive reflection

Critical reflection or reasoning: evaluating the models and theories, and their values and assumptions, and questioning your own assumptions and behaviour, with the help of evidence from practice: meta-reflection, being critically reflective about your interpretations.

Taking a position

For all academic work there is usually either an overt or implicit theoretical / philosophical position that the researcher / writer takes to present his/her arguments or propositions. Taking a position usually means taking an epistemological position.

That is, holding to a (hopefully) coherent interpretive framework to give meaning to experiences. Positions can be at the level of ontology, epistemology, and axiology and so on. The position will include having an emic perspective (subjective) and an etic (outsider) perspective. There are also nomothetic (making generalisable laws as in the natural science) and idiographic lens (understanding subjective phenomenon from the point of view of the individual subject) we will use depending on our over-riding position. Blooms taxonomy of cognitive functioning is used in academic assessment to gauge higher level theoretical and critical thinking. Taxonomies reflect hierarchical levels of ability regarding knowledge acquisition from experiences and behaviour.

Advanced theoretical level work must demonstrate ability to work at the three higher levels of cognitive thinking, that is analysis, synthesis ad evaluation.

Epistemology: The study of knowledge: How an inquirer may know valid human knowledge.

There are two broad classes in epistemology: Subjectivism and Objectivism.

Subjectivism: Metaphysical subjectivism is the theory that reality is what we perceive to be real. There is no underlying true reality that exists independent of perception. In subjective idealism it is consciousness rather than perception that is reality. So reality is dependent on the nature of consciousness perceiving it. This allows for degrees or states of consciousness of individuals to determine their degrees of reality. A contrary view is offered by metaphysical objectivism which believes that reality exists independent of the individual mind. It is the nature of that reality (how it is experienced) which is subjectively understood dependent on individual consciousness.

Subjectivism is demonstrated through interpretive methodologies such as Constructionism and some other approaches informed by Pragmatism (as a philosophy) as in experiential inquiry, Subjective Idealism and Phenomenology also belong to this broad school where ideas come from the subjective mind. Pragmatism ix belongs here because it values the experiences of individuals, and existentialism also belongs because it believes that reality is self-defined, that is, defined subjectively.

Objectivism x : This is an alternate name for philosophical realism and was developed to refute Kantian rationalism which was seen as not sufficiently robust as it allowed for the metaphysical. Kant was a Christian and needed to make room for transcendental influence. Objectivists hold the view that there is a reality or ontological realm of objects and facts which exist independent of the mind. Intentionality as a means of creating reality has no place in this approach as that faculty of intentionality is located in the mind. Equally the concept of `truth’ outside the truth of an object’s existence and its characteristics has no place in objectivism, so to say that an object is true or false is not accepted. Only propositions can have truth claims. Objectivism as an epistemological theory differs from the term objectivity, implying a commitment to the objectivity (mind independency) of objects. It is important to say that Plato’s Ideas is a form of Objective Idealism in that he believed Ideas are mind independent. Without taking this discussion too far into the realms of the metaphysical, Plato’s Ideas are known as fixed and eternal in the incorporeal realm (pure consciousness) and revealed to consciousness as the person’s faculty of consciousness permits. There is a difference between what is known by the human mind (subjectivism) and what is to be known, which is a metaphysical question.

Burrell and Morgan mapped social science research, and education and technology within four main ontological / epistemological positions: Humanism, Radical Humanism, Functionalism and Radical Functionalism.

Humanism is a subjective approach informed by the German Idealist School and Pragmatism, with Radical Humanism bent on bringing about social change from this perspective. Functionalism is informed by Realism with Radical Functionalism focused on bringing about social change from this perspective. Many if not all of the social and human science methodologies are contained within one of these fours `maps’. For further information visit:

This paper is an original paper by Josie Gregory PhD. It may be used and distributed for educational purposes without restriction on numbers provided the author is credited. Correct reference: Gregory, J. (2012) Reason and Critical Reflection. Found in


i Hume, D. (1748) An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Published privately in London. 

iiMaslow, A.H. (1943) A Theory of Human Motivation. Originally Published in Psychological Review, 50, 370-396. 

iii Bowlby, J. (1953) Child Care and the Growth of Love. London: Penguin Books. 

iv Begley, S. (2009) The Plastic Mind. London, Constable. v Doidge, N. (2007) The Brain That Changes Itself. London, The Penguin Group. vi Hillman. J. (1992) Abandoning the Child. Woodstock, CT. : Spring Audio, ©1992. An excellent lecture on this subject can be found on YouTube. 

vii Carr, W. & Kemmis, S. (1986) Becoming Critical: Education, Knowledge and Action Research. Lewes, The Falmer Press. (page 33) viii Heron, J. (1992) Feelings and Personhood: Psychology in Another Key. London, Sage ix Peirce, C. S.; James, William; Baldwin, James Mark; and Seth, James (1902), “Pragmatic (1) and (2) Pragmatism” in Dictionary of Philosophy and Psychology, v. 2, James Mark Baldwin, ed., MacMillan, New York and London, pp. 321–323. x