Chains of Reason

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This proposal was created by user Derrick.
Proposal summary on Proposals for new projects.
Discussion on the foundation-l mailing list.
Discussion on the wikipedia-l mailing list.
Demo site: www.chainsofreason.org

I'm aware that a wiki for presenting reasoning has already been proposed here (Wikireason, in 2005). However, Chains of Reason uses a different format for presenting reasoning. Also, most of what I want to say in this proposal is different from what is on that original, and long inactive, proposal page, and I didn't think it would be appropriate to just replace everything there with what I want to say, so I've created this separate proposal (which also has a different demo site). Perhaps it would be a good idea to close that original proposal? I explain below why I think the concept of a wiki for reasoning is worth a second look despite the failure of the original proposal. - Derrick 07:37, 27 October 2007 (UTC)

What is this wiki for?[edit]

In a nutshell, Chains of Reason aims to be for reasoning what Wikipedia is for knowledge. Of course, Wikimedia projects are solely about spreading and promoting knowledge, but Chains of Reason is compatible with this goal because it aims to be an encyclopedia of reasoning. That is, it aims to be a reference for people who simply want to learn about the reasoning behind particular beliefs - moral, political, scientific, religious, or whatever. As explained below, Chains of Reason is not a forum for debating particular beliefs.

Why should Wikimedia host this wiki?[edit]

Jimmy Wales once famously said about Wikipedia: 'Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge. That's what we're doing.' In an interview earlier this year he was pressed on why this was desirable, and he replied that a major cause of most war and poverty was ignorance. Of course, another major cause is another 'i': irrationality. It will ultimately only be through a combination of knowledge and the application of sound reasoning that we will be able to significantly reduce, if not cure, the world's ills, including poverty, disease, illiteracy, injustice, conflict, and environmental damage. While Wikipedia aims to spread knowledge, Chains of Reason aims to spread sound reasoning. I therefore believe that Chains of Reason would make a natural sister project to Wikipedia.

It is true that a wiki for presenting reasoning has been tried before (see the proposal for Wikireason), and failed to take off. However, from discussions I've had with the creator of that wiki, I think this was simply due to him not having enough free time available to establish a community. I suspect that, because of the unfamiliarity of the concept of a wiki for presenting reasoning, compared with that of a wiki for presenting knowledge (which has as a reference the familiar concept of the traditional encyclopedia), such a wiki will require a much larger community of dedicated users than Wikipedia did in order to reach the critical mass required for the site to take off. And I think being a Wikimedia project would quickly provide Chains of Reason with that critical mass of users. Also, Chains of Reason uses a different format for presenting reasoning than Wikireason.

How does it work?[edit]

Users present the reasoning behind particular beliefs as a chain of very simple arguments, with the conclusion of each such link in the chain becoming a premise of the next, and with the conclusion of the final link being the belief which the whole chain attempts to justify. Users then work together to ensure that the chain of reasoning is as clear as possible, with people left to decide for themselves whether they think the chain is sound. See the demo at www.chainsofreason.org.

Why this format?[edit]

The Chains of Reason format was chosen over the current, traditional format of writing in paragraphs for two main reasons:

Clarity[edit]

A founding belief of Chains of Reason is that anyone is capable of understanding any reasoning - however 'advanced', 'sophisticated', 'difficult', etc. - as long as that reasoning is presented with sufficient clarity. One of the main aims of Chains of Reason is to provide a place for people to present reasoning on any topic in a format which helps maximise clarity. The format used on Chains of Reason does this by requiring users to break-down reasoning into a sequence of baby steps, with each argument in the chain always consisting of only two single-sentence premises followed by a single-sentence conclusion.

Universal understandability of reasoning is perhaps most obviously important with respect to the reasoning used to justify beliefs expressed in current political and moral debates. But it is ultimately just as important with respect to scientific, philosophical and religious reasoning in general, given that such reasoning underlies various beliefs about the world and how to live one's life in it. However, the current main arena for reasoning on such subjects is of course academia, and the often inaccessible nature of academic writings on these areas, from the point of view of the general public, often creates the false impression amongst the general public that the reasoning set-out in such writings must itself be inaccessible to them, that it must simply be beyond their intellectual reach. And because such reasoning is therefore not part of their everyday lives, this in turn creates the false impression that it is not relevant to their everyday lives.

Of course, universal understandability of reasoning is desirable not just because it enables people to enter into debates which they currently feel are inaccessible to them, but also because that wider participation can only lead to an increase in the quality of reasoning itself.

Brevity[edit]

Another advantage of the format used on Chains of Reason is that it forces the authors of chains to 'cut to the chase'. The format ensures that only the bare bones of the reasoning is presented, which means that people can learn about the reasoning behind particular beliefs in as efficient a way as possible.

Further, unexpected, advantages of this format?[edit]

Given that the format used on Chains of Reason is so different from the current, traditional format of writing in paragraphs, and has not been widely used before, it is possible that there may be other, unexpected advantages to presenting reasoning in this way.

Chains of Reason is not a forum for debating particular beliefs[edit]

Chains of Reason is not a wiki version of the web forums, and electronic mailing lists, where people debate particular beliefs - moral, political, scientific, religious, etc. Contributing to Chains of Reason is not about defending one's beliefs and challenging contrary beliefs of other users. It is not even about working with other users to objectively try to determine whether the reasoning behind particular beliefs is sound or unsound, and therefore whether those beliefs are right or wrong.

Chains of Reason is a new form of intellectual discourse[edit]

In addition to being a reference, Chains of Reason is a place where people work together to objectively try to simply determine how best to present the reasoning behind particular beliefs, with the aim of enabling anyone who studies the reasoning presented here to make for themselves as informed an assessment as possible of the soundness of that reasoning. This is in contrast to the current, traditional form of intellectual discourse, where different individuals or camps compete, rather than collaborate, and do so claiming that their beliefs are right, and that contrary beliefs are wrong.

How you can help[edit]

  • Contribute to the discussion on this proposal's talk page.
  • Add your username to the Proposals for new projects page if you are interested in being involved.
  • Direct others who you think might be interested in this project to this page.
  • Subscribe to the Chains of Reason mailing list to receive updates on the progress of this proposal. The list is located at the Chains of Reason group at Google Groups.
  • Contribute to Chains of Reason!