Essay Writing - Using Reasoning to Support the Thesis

Essay Writing - Using Reasoning to Support the Thesis
Reasoning satisfies the human need for justification and a sense of 'rightness' that all intelligent communication needs, especially in an essay.
What is "reasoning," anyway? When talking about the meaning of reasoning, we can get into confusing philosophical issues much too quickly. So let's start with a down-to-earth definition of reasoning as a process---

Reasoning involves a conscious attempt to discover what is true and what is best. Reasoning thought follows a chain of cause and effect, and the word reason can be a synonym for cause.

By this definition, reasoning involves cause-and-effect relationships, whether it be a single cause-and-effect relationship or a chain of cause- and-effect relationships. But what is a cause-and-effect relationship?

Cause and effect is a relationship in which one thing, called the cause, makes something else happen, and that "something else," that result, is called the effect. For example, a boy hits a ball with a bat and the ball goes through a window, breaking it. In this instance, the cause is the boy hitting the ball, and the effect is breaking the window.

Cause-and-effect reasoning is something we all use every day, whether we're particularly conscious of it or not. So I'm sure you'll recognize these common, informal rules of cause and effect:

1. Sequence--- The cause comes first, and the effect follows after.

2. Present--- When the cause is present, the effect is always present.

3. Absent--- When the cause is absent, the effect is always absent.

Now, here's a true, commonly accepted, yet typically loose, example of those rules being applied to an historical situation---

For centuries in Europe, only white swans were ever seen. All sightings, records, and information on swans in Europe showed that they were always white. So it was okay to assert as a truth that, "All swans are white." (Another way to put it: "If it's a swan, it's white.")

The cause in this instance is this: Ever since Europeans had kept and tracked records---anecdotes, diaries, family hand-me-down stories, histories, journals, legends (local, regional, cultural), memoirs, myths, oral history storytelling---they had known swans as only white. No other color of swan had ever been known in Europe, and no world traveler had ever brought word from their travels to Europe that there was ever a swan of any other color than white.

Because of all that experience and evidence, the effect was that Europeans believed that all swans everywhere in the world were white. It was good reasoning, based on centuries of accumulated evidence throughout an extensive geographical region and across varied cultures.

But guess what? A Dutch explorer, Willem de Vlamingh, discovered a black swan in Australia in 1697, undoing centuries of European observation, experience, and thought involving the color of swans.

One lesson from the black swan incident is that reasoning does work most of the time, but not always, because we cannot actually examine all the world on any particular question or fact (at least, not yet; but the world's sciences and technologies do keep advancing, however... ). And that's what it takes to authoritatively say, "always present" or "always absent." Of course, in the absence of having all knowledge, all of us will continue using reasoning to help fill in our gaps of knowledge, and that's why it's so important to understand the proper use of reasoning in essays.

Let's look at three popular essays to see how they use cause-and-effect reasoning rules to support their original ideas, or new view thesis statements. Let's start with the simplest essay, George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" (you can bring up free Internet copies of each of these essays by putting quotes around their titles in Google).

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