Friday, 17 June 2011

What is reasonable?

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Reasonable (persons) have always the tendency to believe that humanity is just like them, in which point they are not reasonable, life itself undertakes to disillusion them (Andre Maurois). This paper will use a few diverse views and situations in an attempt to define core elements of this statement that may help in explaining its concepts and possibly help to identify any “truths” in them.

The word “reasonable” is defined as an apparent property of a proposition that without further evidence seems to be logical and possibly true and correct (The Dictionary of Psychology). Pragmatism, a philosophical tradition, emphasizes the conventional character of the concepts and beliefs with which we seek to understand the world. Pragmatic ethics suggest that thought is essentially goal-directed in a way that makes the refinement of the control we exercise over how we act integral to achieving any cognitive goal such as that of truth. The pragmatic maxim is a theory of meaning, which identifies the content of a proposition with the experienceable difference between its being true and its being false. The “reasonable” property of a proposition is one that seems to be logical and possibly true. The pragmatic theory of truth is that which is ultimately satisfying to believe, either because the expectations a true belief excites are actually fulfilled or, because they contribute to the satisfactoryness of, and effectiveness in, the conduct of life (The Norton Dictionary of Modern Thought). In “Pragmatism” (107) William James wrote “The true”…is only the expedient in our way of thinking’, meaning “the true” is only the “advantageous, rather than right or wrong” (expedient), in our way of thinking (Oxford Dictionary). The philosophical tradition of pragmatism will be applied to a well-known story of a man who must decide whether or not to steal a drug that may possibly save his wife’s life.

The husband is faced with making a decision because he cannot raise enough money to pay the very high price to the druggist who discovered the drug. The question is now raised, what is a reasonable decision for one faced with committing a theft to save another’s life? When viewed from a pragmatic view of truth, the man saving his wife’s life could contribute to his satisfaction of the conduct of his life and be ultimately satisfying for him to believe. Pragmatism would say the man’s thoughts are goal directed to saving his wife’s life because he views the belief to be true. “The true” (saving his wife’s life) is only the expedient (advantageous rather than right or wrong) in his way of thinking. If reasonable is defined as an apparent property of a proposition that without further evidence, seems to be logical and possibly true and correct (Oxford Dictionary); then, according to pragmatism, it would seem reasonable for a man to steal in order to save another’s life.

A renowned scholar named George Bernard Shaw stated that “the reasonable man adapts himself to the world.” The Oxford Dictionary defines “adapt” as “alter or modify, make or become suitable for new use or conditions.” It also defines “world” as “the earth, all that concerns or all who belong to a specified class, time, or sphere of activity, all that exist.” If stealing defies the laws of one’s world (society), according to Shaw’s statement, one must disassociate himself from any proposals of stealing to adapt one’s decision to suit the conditions set by that world (society). For the husband to be a “reasonable man,” that might assist him in making a “reasonable” decision, he must not steal the drugs to save the life of his wife.

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To adapt oneself to the world, one must understand worldviews. To understand worldviews, one must formulate one’s own worldviews. The Encyclopedia of Human Intelligence says that moral and conventional concepts, along with personal choices considered legitimate, are all part of the thinking that goes into people’s decisions. This includes decisions made when formulating and understanding worldviews.

Psychologist Lawrence Kohlberg found in one study that the initial moral judgements of children (fewer than 10 years) are determined by sanctions, material consequences, and achieving individual’s needs and desires. During late childhood and early adolescence, there is a shift to thinking about morality in terms of social expectations (fulfilling one’s roles in society and gaining approval for being a good person) and strictly maintaining the social order by upholding laws, respecting authority, and fulfilling duties. In late adolescence there is another shift to understanding moral concepts that underlie society’s system of laws, authority, and norms. Kohlberg suggests that moral reasoning, which affects the formulation of any views, changes or shifts with a person’s development (Encyclopedia of Human Intelligence).

Peter Berger discusses social expectations in his book, Invitation to Sociology. He says that in modern society identity is uncertain and one does not know what is expected of one (socially). He proposes that one require various experts to tell one what is expected of them by society. He gives one example of a psychoanalyst being needed to tell one who they are, and an interior designer telling one what taste they ought to have. Berger uses these examples to reinforce his belief that “The individual, then, derives his world view socially in very much the same way that he derives his roles and his identity.

Berger also says that a certain “maturity” is required by one before one can understand what one’s life has been about. He defines the word “maturity” as “the state of mind that has settled down, come to terms with the status quo, given up the wilder dreams of adventure and fulfillment.” A young person may view this definition as a rationalization for one having lowered their sights or as one applied to people who have given up their grand goals in life out of desperation or feelings of defeat. As one interacts with and encounters changes in society typically one continues to develop along with it. One’s moral reasoning may then change or shift with the development, which then affects one’s understanding and possibly new formulation of world views (kohlberg). Thus, showing that individuals derive at their world views socially (Berger).

What is “reasonable” is also affected by informational assumptions entailing beliefs regarding reality (Encyclopedia of Human Intelligence). A man named Wainryb conducted a study, in 11, which examined how people make decisions regarding whether it is right or wrong to inflict harm. The people were presented two different circumstances, both in which a parent hit a child. Under the first circumstance the father spanked the child solely out of fatigue and frustration. All the Participants in the study judged the act as wrong because of the pain it caused. In the second situation the father spanked his son after the child misbehaved. In this case the participant’s evaluations were divided. Those who judged the spanking as wrong said that the children did not learn that way. Most who judged the spanking acceptable held the point of view (an informational assumption) that children learn through spanking. One’s assumption about the psychological reality of how punishment affects learning contributes to one’s decisions of spanking being right or wrong (Wainryb).

Here is a scenario of “Anger in Courts of Law” as discussed in The Encyclopedia of Human Behavior. Murder is a homicide committed with “malice aforethought” (deliberately and with the intent of gain), punishable by a life sentence or even the death penalty. Manslaughter is a lesser crime than murder and carries a much lighter sentence, which typically entails only a few years in prison and often probation. Manslaughter is divided into two categories, Voluntary and Involuntary. Involuntary manslaughter is a homicide committed accidentally, for example, due to negligence. Voluntary manslaughter means “crime of passion” (a homicide committed during emotion, typically anger). It is “voluntary” because the person wants to attack the victim. Anger serves to mitigate (make seem less serious or severe) a charge of homicide from murder to voluntary manslaughter. The Law stipulates four criteria for deciding whether a person was truly angry at the time of the killing. The first is the “heat of passion,” the behavior of the individual at the time of the homicide; and the second is the “causal connection,” the aggression must be a direct response to the provocation. The other two criteria, the “adequacy of provocation” and “insufficient cooling time,” are judged by the so-called “reasonable-man test.” This test decides if the provocation is sufficient enough to arouse an “ordinary member of the community” to anger so intense that it might lead to homicide and if there is insufficient time for the anger to dissipate before the homicide is committed. The test compares the feelings and reactions of the defendant against the norms and standards of the community. If the feelings and reactions of the defendant match the community’s norms and standards, the defendant may be considered to have been in an “angry state.” If there is no match, the defendant is not judged to have been angry, regardless of his or her feelings at the time. Anger does not refer simply to the state of mind of the defendant but, according to the reasonable-man test, is an objectively existing state of affairs to which the individual may or may not have attained. At first the victim is put on trial, as an instigator, along with the defendant to determine if they were guilty of committing a provocation remarkable enough to be judged “adequate.” If so, the victim must share the blame. Then, since anger is classified as a passion, the defendant cannot be held fully responsible for behavior that was presumably beyond his or her control. This would delegate the defendant as a reasonable person, according to the norms and standard of the community.

“Unreasonable” is defined as “not reasonable, illogical” (Oxford Dictionary). When applied to the definition of “reasonable” in The Dictionary of Psychology, the word “unreasonable” would become An apparent property of a proposition that, without further evidence, seems to be illogical and possibly untrue and incorrect. Review the story of man who must decide whether to steal a drug in order to possibly save his wife’s life from society’s point of view. Society’s pragmatic view of truth, might be that a man who chooses not to steal, in any case, would contribute to the satisfaction of the conduct of life and be ultimately satisfying for society to believe. The “goal directed” thoughts of society might be to keep all its citizens “law abiding,” regardless of the circumstances. Society may view a belief of “citizens should be law abiding” to be “true.” “The true” (citizens should be law abiding) is only the expedient (advantageous rather than right or wrong) in society’s way of thinking. According to pragmatism, society would judge a man “unreasonable” for stealing in order to save another’s life.

The scholar George Bernard Shaw continues his statement of “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world,” with “the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.” The word “persist” means “to continue firmly or obstinately, continue to exist” (Oxford Dictionary). Suppose that committing a theft would appoint one as trying to adapt the world to one. What if a man, who is attempting to save life of his wife, makes the decision to steal only in this one instance and also decides to never steal again? The man has tried only once to adapt the conditions set by the world (society) to his decision. Should one be judged “unreasonable” if one is not “persistent” in trying to adapt the world to one’s self? If not, then how many times must one attempt to adapt the world to one’s self to be judged “unreasonable?”

Reasonable (persons) have always the tendency to believe that humanity is just like them, in which point they are not reasonable, life itself undertakes to disillusion them (Andre Maurois). Humanity is described as “human nature or qualities, human race” (Oxford Dictionary) and “belief” is “an attitude of acceptance about the validity of a doctrine that may or may not be correct.” While using these definitions of humanity and belief it is not uncommon for a reasonable person to arrive, possibly everyday, at a belief that humanity is just like them. For example, a person driving a vehicle approaches an intersection and sees a red light. The driver brings the vehicle to a stop. When the light turns green the driver proceeds to drive across the intersection. What defines the driver as “reasonable” is his attempt to adapt to the world by obeying the driving laws of the society he lives in. The reasonable driver finds that obeying the driving laws seems to be logical and possibly true and correct. Continuing the story, at the same time the reasonable driver attempts to cross the intersection there is a second driver approaching the same intersection perpendicular to him. The second driver sees a red light, which indicates to him that he must stop. The second driver is late for work and decides that since his light has only been red for a few seconds it would be safe to cross so long as he increased the speed of his vehicle. While increasing his speed the second driver passes the red light and slams into the vehicle of the first driver. The first driver had always believed that one should “check both ways” before crossing an intersection regardless if the light indicated to “go.” Over a period of time the first driver had witnessed other drivers consistently obey the driving laws, which included bringing their vehicles to a stop when their light turned red. The first driver’s views of other drivers (humanity) began to change due to his informational assumption that every driver wanted to obey the driving laws just as he did. The driver began to believe that humanity was just like himself at which point he was unconsciously attempting to adapt the world to himself. This made the diver, who was shown to be a “reasonable” driver, unreasonable. His informational assumption was reinforced every time he would safely cross an intersection. The constant reinforcement of his informational assumption allowed the driver to “persistently” attempt to adapt the world to himself.

“Life itself undertakes (agrees, promises) to disillusion them.” “Life” is a state of being alive which is also described as one’s “lifetime” or a period during which life lasts (Oxford Dictionary). One’s life (lifetime) offers many situations in which one may learn lessons from. The different lessons learned from these situations may cause one’s world-views and beliefs to develop and perhaps change many times. In the case of the reasonable driver, his life (lifetime) presented him with a situation that possibly changed his belief that all drivers attempt to obey the driving laws as he does. The Oxford Dictionary describes “disillusion” as “free from pleasant but mistaken beliefs.” One may find that the “reasonable” driver’s belief that all drivers attempt to obey the driving laws as he does is possibly a “pleasant but mistaken belief.” If so, then one may agree that “life” (lifetime) does in fact undertake (agree, promise) to “disillusion” one, or “free” one “from pleasant but mistaken beliefs.”

The story of the reasonable driver is only one of many different scenarios that could support or denounce Andre Maurois’s “reasonable (person)” statement. The term “reasonable” is the key element to interpreting the statement “reasonable (persons) have always the tendency to believe that humanity is just like them, in which point they are not reasonable, life itself undertakes to disillusion them (Andre Maurois). Who or what is to be considered “reasonable” is subject to many factors such as, but not limited to

What seems to be logical and possibly true and correct?

How is “truth” perceived?

Does one attempt to adapt one’s self to the world?

What type of society are one’s world-views derived from?

What type of moral reasoning does one Possess?

Moral reasoning is subject to changes and shifts with new developments.

What informational assumptions are being held?

In a murder trial, the “reasonable-man test” decides what is reasonable, according to the norms and standards of the community. A man who is debating whether or not to steal a drug that could possibly save the life of his wife must decide what decision is “reasonable” for him to make. The decision of whom or what is to be considered “reasonable” ultimately depends on who or what is making the decision.

Works Cited Page

Berger, Peter L. Invitation To Sociology. New York Doubleday, 16.

Bullock, Alan, ed. The Norton Dictionary of Modern Thought. New York Worldview Pictures Ltd and Gunnvor Stallybrass, 1. 678-67.

Corsini, Raymond J., The Dictionary Of Psychology. Ann Arbor, MI Taylor & Francis, 1.

Hawker, Sara, ed. The Oxford Minireference Dictionary & Thesaurus. New York Oxford University Press, 17.

Ramachandran, V.S., ed. Encyclopedia of Human Behavior. San Diego Academic Press Limited, 14.14-15.

Sternberg, Robert J., ed. Encyclopedia of Human Intelligence. New York Macmillan Publishing Company, 14. 8-44

Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. New York Routledge, 000. 704-705.

Sociology 100

Yazdi M. Rustomji


Rik Fernandez


1. Intro.

. Reasonable? According to …

A. Dictionary

B. Pragmatism- (Man stealing drug) story

C. George Bernard Shaw -“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world.”

(Man stealing drug) story continued.

. Formulating and understanding worldviews.

A. Moral and conventional concepts.

B. Kohlberg- initial moral judgements of children, late adolescence,

C. Kohlberg -moral reasoning, formulation of views, changes/shifts in development (Encyclopedia of Human Intelligence).

D. Berger- Maturity.

4. “The individual, then, derives his world view socially in very much the same way that he derives his roles and his identity. (Peter Berger)

A. Social expectations

B. Require experts to tell what is expected of them by society. (Examples to reinforce).

5. Informational Assumptions.

A. Wainryb study- Spanking. Right or wrong?

6. “Reasonable-man test.” Encyclopedia of Human Behavior.

A. Reasonable?

B. Unreasonable?

C. According to whom? Community/Personal Morals

7. Unreasonable.

A. Dictionary.

B. Shaw � “The unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself.”

C. Revamp given scenarios (reasonable) and compare to (unreasonable).

8. “Tendency to believe that humanity is just like them, in which point they are not reasonable, life itself undertakes to disillusion them.” (Andre Maurois).

A. Define all parts. Use dictionary and encyclopedias.

B. Apply to new scenarios/ try to connect with old scenarios.

. Closing.

A. Reasonable subject to…

B. Give factors that affect reasonable.

C. Who is making the reasonable statement/decision?

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