marks2_Tom Werner_university lecture Tom Werner

Becoming Reasonable

Colleges and universities should focus on shaping people who honor reason. But what campuses now lack, for the most part, is a standard of praise and blame according to which it is shameful to close one’s ears to challenging arguments and disorienting questions.

COLLEGEVILLE, PENNSYLVANIA – We expect spokespeople and other hired guns to do their best with losing arguments if no winning ones are available. But it is dismaying when we, too, behave like a cornered politician’s press secretary, scoring points however we can and ignoring what we can’t refute.

We find ourselves in that position not because we don’t understand basic logic, but because we are straying from good sense – something we normally regard as demeaning. If a friend exclaims, “Be reasonable!” they don’t mean, “Mind your syllogisms!” A question lurks behind their exclamation: “Aren’t you ashamed?”

But to be reasonable is not merely to use “critical thinking” tools. Consider a man trained in what John Locke called “the art and formality of disputing.” He is ashamed, above all, of being shown to be unable “to maintain whatever he has once affirmed.”

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