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A Degree in Reasoning [Education
Posted on December 9, 2016 @ 09:59:00 AM by Paul Meagher

I forget where I heard or read it, but someone off-handedly mentioned a "degree in reasoning" and the idea has since resonated with me. As far as I can tell there is only one university, the University of Kent, that offers a post-graduate degree in reasoning. It does not appear to be offered as an undergraduate degree anywhere.

What interests me about the "degree in reasoning" idea is whether it would be a practical degree to have, who might employ such a person, how adaptable and relevant it might be, what the curriculum might consist of, and so on. I have studied reasoning in its various forms for many years starting in my undergraduate years where I took courses in logic, marked argument evaluation assignments in basic logic, studied cognitive science, probability theory, and learned how to program. More recently I am studying Probabilistic Graphical Models, Bayesian Networks, and Causal Inference as newer approaches to reasoning. The problem is that all this learning is happening across different disciplines and departments with no overarching focus. Perhaps if there was a Degree in Reasoning I would have been able to claim a focus and could be judged according to how knowledgeable I was in that discipline. How cool would it be to be take a masters degree in reasoning so you could call yourself a Master of Reasoning :-)

Perhaps I should have taken some tests of reasoning ability in my undergraduate years and then continued to take them through the years to determine if I have become better at reasoning. One would expect that a degree in reasoning would yield improvements in tests of reasoning. One approach to figuring out what a degree in reasoning should consist of would be to consider what types of tests we might use to measure it and design a curriculum that would foster improvement in those test scores.

Reasoning can be viewed as a type of meta-cognitive skill that improves your rate of learning new skills and helps you to correctly figure out consequences of actions before engaging in those actions. Someone who is good at reasoning, for example, should be able to pick up new programming languages more quickly than someone who is not as good. They might also be able to design a program in more detail before engaging in coding than someone with less reasoning skill. They might avoid making as many mistakes because they figure things out in their heads before deciding to act. A good reasoner might be aware of the many biases and fallacies human reasoning is potentially subject to and use that awareness to avoid some of its short-comings. Finally, I don't think reasoning should be confined to the type of thinking that takes place in an ivory tower or in front of computer. There is alot of excellent reasoning that takes place when building a home, fixing a car, planting a garden, or making a sale and we need to make sure these practical forms of reasoning are appreciated and incorporated into the curriculum (e.g., diagnose an automotive problem, build some stairs, etc..).

These are just a few preliminary thoughts on what a degree in reasoning might consist of. As to why we need it, I would argue that because it is so difficult to predict the future and what skills it might require, we might be better off not studying a specific discipline but rather studying how to reason in and across disciplines, be it law, computer science, medicine, politics, business, or the trades.

It is possible that probability theory provides a unifying framework for a large part of what we call "reasoning" so graduates might be expected to have a good grasp of probability theory and be able to solve a variety of probability problems better than those without a reasoning degree. The curriculum also needs to be driven by industry who might spell out what they expect from a degree in reasoning should they decide to hire someone with a degree in reasoning. It might, for example, be the ability to adapt to new job descriptions over time, to learn new things quickly, to make well-argued decisions, etc...

The popularity of books on reasoning such as Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast and Slow (2011) speaks to the desire of many people to improve their reasoning ability. I think, however, that there needs to be more than just some books dedicated to reasoning, some institution needs to step forward and put together a degree in reasoning and see if that is the type of degree needed to address the uncertainty that undergraduates face when trying to decide what to study, and that employers face when trying to decide what type of employee they are looking for. It might also be the case that a degree in reasoning would be excellent preparation for a career as an entrepreneur or investor.




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