Reasoning and Culture in a Historical Perspective

in Journal of Cognition and Culture
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Summary

After a preliminary discussion of some of the problems of the nature of reason and argument and the difficulties of investigating them, this paper uses the rich evidence from ancient civilisations, Greece and China especially, to explore the relationship between reasoning and culture. While argument and persuasion are evidently widespread in all human populations, the modalities they take may differ depending on the differing pragmatic circumstances in which they are conducted – the audiences and interlocutors in question and the aims of persuasion. Those circumstances may give rise to different modes of argument and styles of reasoning. While Chinese persuaders typically target rulers or those in authority, some Greek ones had to try to persuade a general public who, in some situations, decided the issue by taking a vote. That, it is argued, may help to explain the main way in which Greek arguments were distinctive when compared with those we find in other ancient civilisations. The suggestion is that the axiomatic-deductive mode of argument that was developed by some Greek philosophers and mathematicians was a reaction against what were perceived as the merely persuasive modes cultivated by orators, sophists and politicians in the context of public debate.

Reasoning and Culture in a Historical Perspective

in Journal of Cognition and Culture

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