Reasoning, Rationalisation and Truth

When you quiz anyone explicitly about whether they think reasoning and rationalization are two different processes, most would answer that there was some difference, though not many would be able to point it out.

I came to appreciate the vast difference in the meaning of both these terms quite recently. It is so subtle that we don't really appreciate the huge difference it makes to the quality of our thinking and the validity of our convictions. Reasoning is to look at facts to try to reach a conclusion, whereas rationalization involves starting with a conclusion and marshaling facts to work backwards to justify it.

It is essential to be aware of which of these thinking processes one is engaging in. Quite often I see perfectly intelligent people engage in vigorous rationalization of their viewpoint under the false impression that they are reasoning out the issue.

Since this realization, I am trying to make it a point to distinguish people who engage in one or the other. I prefer to avoid wasting energy arguing with or trying to convince the rationalizers on any issue. Of course, that is not to say that rationalization is always wrong. Quite the contrary, effective rationalization is essential when you are convinced of your position and want to get your point across. The only form of rationalization thats actually dangerous is when its disguised as reasoning. Thats when one pretends to have an open-mind and give the other a fair hearing, all the while plotting how he can attack the other's arguments to bolster his own point of view.

Personally, I'm more a reason-er than a rationalize-r. That probably explains why I've changed my opinions on various issues over time. In the past, I've argued passionately on one side of the issue, then later switched sides to vehemently argue against my earlier position. While some would see this as a sign of weakness, I prefer to look at it as a strength. It is only when you have an open, unprejudiced mind that you are able to critically examine your ideas and beliefs and if required, modify, reject or reinforce them. In a way, this represents the scientific method of inquiry. You have a certain set of beliefs, opinions or theories, but in the face of new facts, reasons or ideas, you are willing to refine or reject them.

The above thoughts are just my opinions, and as you can guess, I reserve the right to change them!


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