Collective Reasoning and Coalescing Reasoning

Collective Reasoning and Coalescing Reasoning

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1818-3.ch002
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In this chapter, we consider in some detail the nature of collective reasoning and the existing approaches to supporting the collective reasoning that reasoning communities undertake. In approaching the development of technologies to support the functioning of reasoning communities, it is important to be clear on the nature of the tasks involved in collective reasoning. In Chapter 1, we have outlined the main tasks of collective reasoning as: individual reasoning, reasoning communication, and the coalescing of reasoning. However, it is important to identify the ways in which collective reasoning is indeed cognitive cooperation and to what extent there is a case that it is mutually beneficial cooperation as well as being beneficial in its outcomes.
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People who are not prepared to allow fairness to bend, soften, or demote their moral concerns command our respect. We often call them, with approval, “principled.” But people who are prepared to relax their principles to some extent in order to achieve cooperation on a basis all can accept also command our respect. We call them, with approval, “reasonable.”

Christopher McMahon


Collective Reasoning

Collective reasoning is one way in which we might expect a reasoning community to operate. It is not the only way, because different communities operate in different ways and the product of their operation can be different in form. For example, the Australian Refugee Review Tribunal (RRT) determinations are decisions made by individuals but yet the decision makers collectively form a reasoning community.

What is meant by collective reasoning? Does an ordinary meeting in most organizations where decisions are made involve what we might think collective reasoning to be? Does the democratic election of a political party to office involve collective reasoning? Does the decision of a jury in a criminal trial involve collective reasoning? Does the decision of a group of physicians considering treatment of a patient involve collective reasoning?

These questions provoke the realization that there are many different contexts for collective decision-making and the possibility of collective reasoning. It is well understood that if commitment to a decision by the group is important - so that there can be agreeable and supportive participation in the actions, then participation in the decision-making and acceptance of the decision is a key element (O’Brien, 2002). If the parties can deliberate to a consensus on a course of action, they would be able to understand the outcome as guided by reason and the group cooperation as a whole to be guided by reason. This process of community or group deliberation is worthy of some consideration. Firstly, the group nature implies a shared nature in the deliberation. So what are people or agents doing when they deliberate together? McMahon (2001) calls “cooperation to achieve epistemic goals,” cognitive cooperation. One aspect of this cooperation is the gathering of facts or fact finding. This fact finding is an important stage that works to provide evidence relevant to the issue being considered. The other aspect that we might more clearly identify as collective reasoning is the cooperative construction and understanding of the rational force behind a decision. This process aspect of the activity would entail the development of the reasoning to decisions in some mutual way as well as a mutual understanding of the strength of this reasoning. Therefore, the process would involve the identification of evidence, grounds and facts as well as the reasoning that connects these to the conclusion and provides the force of the justification for a decision based on the facts and reasons. However, this still does not seem to make clear what collective reasoning is. We need to ask what the product of collective reasoning would be. That is, what it is that those engaged in collective reasoning produce and how is it of benefit?

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