Modes of Reasoning


Strategies used to derive or validate insights based on established insights

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of possible interpretation
  • Knowing is … considered thought and action
  • Learner is … a thinker (individual)
  • Learning is … reasoning
  • Teaching is … challenging (to think)


Ancient (entrenched in the language)


Modes of Reasoning refers to a range of conscious processes used to derive or validate assertions based on established understandings. It is most commonly associated with logical deduction, but humans actually use a range of strategies to generate their truths, including the following:
  • Abductive Reasoning (Abduction, Abductive Inference, Retroduction) is explanation oriented, and it is concerned with plausibility rather than certainty. It starts with observations and its process might be described in terms of seeking simple and likely explanations.
  • Analogical Reasoning (Analogy) is an interpretation strategy that involves drawing (figurative) associations between a familiar phenomenon (the analog, source, or source domain) and a new phenomenon (the target or target domain). Specific types of Analogical Reasoning include analogies, metaphors, similes, allegories, parables, and exemplification. (See Conceptual Metaphor Theory.)
  • Bounded Rationality, associated with Pragmatism, is about making good-enough (vs. optimal) decisions, taking into account such constraints as time pressures, problem complexity, resource availability, and cognitive limitations.
  • Commonsense Reasoning – highlighted by research into Artificial Intelligence, Commonsense Reasoning spans the fluid, flexible, but hard-to-mimic abilities to derive meaning, infer intention, and anticipate possibilities within complex situations, based on lifetimes of experiences using cultural tools to make sense of the physical world with others
  • Conditional Reasoning (If–Then Reasoning; Inferential Reasoning) – a mode of reasoning that moves from explicit premise to sensible inference (e.g., If my pen stops working, then it must be out of ink.)
  • Deductive Reasoning (Deductive Logic, Logical Deduction, Top-Down Logic) is a formal process of moving from premises to a logically certain conclusion. Specific rules apply.
  • Fuzzy Logic (Lotfi Zadeh, 1970s) – a version of logic in which membership in a set isn’t a matter of yes/no (i.e., 1 or 0), but of degrees – that is, a phenomenon can both belong to a set to some degree and not belong to some degree. While Fuzzy Logic departs from classic logic, it is in many ways a better model of human thinking — by, for example, allowing for more exemplary instances (e.g., robins are more bird-like than ostriches) and partial membership (e.g., bats are somewhat bird-like)
  • Inductive Reasoning (Bottom-Up Logic) is about making generalizations on the basis of specific examples. It occurs when, based on a pattern of events or premises, one anticipates future events or implications. Inductive Reasoning has to do more with expectation than certainty.
  • Moral Reasoning – any process by which one attempts to determine proper courses or action and/or to distinguish been “right” and “wrong,” typically by using some manner of Conditional Reasoning, Inductive Reasoning, or Analogical Reasoning.
  • Pragmatic Reasoning Schema Theory (Patricia Cheng, Keith Holyak, 1980s) – a model of Conditional Reasoning (see above) that spells out implicit and situation-specific rules of inference that are rooted in experience – whereby situations triggers rules, which becomes bases for reasoning
Probabilistic Thinking is a based on an assumption that the universe obeys the laws of probability. It is thus a model of reasoning and decision-making that, as the name suggests, involves calculating (or reasonably estimating) the likelihoods of identified outcomes to specific actions. Ironically, proponents of Probabilistic Thinking generally concede that, even among the small portion of people capable of calculating (or reasonably estimating) probabilities, just a tiny subset is able to act on those results. Scientific Reasoning – a mode of reasoning that includes clearly specifying a problem, developing hypotheses, and conducting replicable tests of those hypotheses There is broad debate over the relative importance of each of type of reasoning. Over the last century, among the most significant realizations about human thinking is that Analogical Reasoning is more than creative flourish. Rather, it is ubiquitous – and, in fact, infuses and enables the other modes. The social and cultural dimensions of Modes of Reasoning have also been acknowledged: Polylogism (Ludwig von Mises, 1990s) – a recognition that preferred or privileged Modes of Reasoning may vary from one sociocultural group to another – depending on, for example, era, rates of literacy, levels of education, and prominence of religion


The biggest issue with Modes of Reasoning is that they are notoriously difficult to study – since, to do so, they need to be applied to themselves. A simple fact that should give pause is it has only been recently that humanity has realized that what most defines our thinking capacities is not Deductive Reasoning (which is trivial with computers), but Analogical Reasoning (which is notoriously difficult to simulate). That development might be taken as an indication that there is still much to learn about how humans think.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences


Status as a Theory of Learning

Modes of Reasoning are properly understood as theories of learning. Each is a mode of generating and/or confirming new understandings – which is an interpretation of “learning” that fits across most discourses.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Modes of Reasoning do not constitute a theory of teaching.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Modes of Reasoning are associated with extensive philosophical and empirical research.


  • Abductive Reasoning
  • Analogical Reasoning
  • Bounded Rationality
  • Commonsense Reasoning
  • Conditional Reasoning (If–Then Reasoning; Inferential Reasoning)
  • Deductive Reasoning
  • Fuzzy Logic
  • Inductive Reasoning
  • Moral Reasoning
  • Polylogism
  • Pragmatic Reasoning Schema Theory
  • Probabilistic Thinking

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Modes of Reasoning” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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