Context analysing the external dimensions of reasoning

Throughout this book, we have seen how context is all-important in determining many of our judgments about effective reasoning. When planning and creating (and then presenting) an argument or explanation, the particular context in which this reasoning occurs must be actively considered. The nature of context—a mass of implied or assumed knowledge and expectations—makes it impossible for us to develop precise guidelines for its consideration. Instead, we must explore the three-way relationship between the person or people creating reasoning (the author), the people receiving this reasoning (the audience), and the knowledge that this reasoning uses and develops.

Reasoning is about the use, expression, and formation of knowledge, and involves innumerable judgments about the 'truth' of claims and the 'truth' of the way they link to one another in various reasoned ways. Knowledge does not exist objectively in the world (literally in the 'objects' that claims represent). Rather it is created intersubjectively, that is, between people such as authors and their audiences (known, technically, as 'subjects').1 Knowledge (consisting of claims and their relationships) does have an objective element, since it represents, in another form, the actual reality of objects. However, the medium of that representation—the form in which knowledge is expressed—is language, which (unfortunately, perhaps) is not a perfectly representational medium. Whenever we write or talk about things (objects'), we add to or subtract from their essential nature through the particular choice of words we use. Hence claims, and all knowledge built from those claims, are always something more or less than what 'really' happens.

All humans share a common reality and appear, through the words they use (when properly translated), to have a common language to discuss and think about it. But remember that language consists not only of the descriptive or denotative characteristic of words but also of their connotative function (the way in which they carry implied meanings). These connotations ensure that we cannot assume that knowledge always and perfectly matches up to reality. Knowledge will always be constrained by and, in part, created from the words in which it is expressed. Moreover, the implied values and assumed knowledge that make words meaningful exist through the interactions of people—the authors and audiences of reasoning. That is why knowledge is intersubjective. Moreover, it is not simply a question of thinking about individuals: who 'we' are as subjects depends very much on the culture and society in which we grow up and, indeed, the knowledge that we already possess. Hence, whenever we think about ourselves as authors of reasoning or about our potential audiences, we are thinking about cultural and social assumptions and expectations about knowledge and reasoning.

The aim here is not to gain a detailed understanding of the philosophical arguments for or against objective or intersubjective knowledge; it is to understand

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