A written judicial opinion might be “well-reasoned” or not, but either way an implicit reference is being made to logic, which provides a lot of rules for what is called reasoning.
Ironically, reason cannot provide its own justification, which is to say that everyone understands certain basic rules of reasoning and lives by them, for the most part unconsciously; either way, though, at the end of the day no one knows why these rules of logic and reason should be the rules.*
But all that aside we employ basic reasoning all the time. Day to day life would be chaotic and unintelligible if we didn’t, and even the extreme skeptics who deny there’s any such thing as rational thought processes are forced to admit that much.
This comes to mind because I have been recently having an exchange with a police officer turned author named Martin Preib who has managed to effectively (if unintentionally) display much of what is wrong, logically, with the usual cop group-think. First and foremost, cop group-think becomes a big problem when it ignores basic rules of reasoning.
Here’s one revealing exchange. Martin says:
The prosecutor and detectives in that case [i.e., the Central Park Five case – ed.] have been put through hell,
I say in response:
Nothing compared to what their victims, or indeed any victim of any wrongful conviction have been put through.
This addresses Martin’s claim that cops and prosecutors have suffered over the Central Park Five case by pointing out that the wrongfully convicted suffered more.
Martin’s response to this is to first misquote and then totally misconstrue my response, deliberately or not:
Nothing compares to what the victim of a wrongful conviction went through? Tell that to the woman who was raped in Central Park or the families of the victims in the Porter case…
Making an argument so obviously invalid – basically changing the subject – should fully discredit the interlocutor. If it was done intentionally he’s not honest. If it was done unintentionally he reasons too poorly to contribute meaningfully to an argument.
And this was after I had pointed out to Martin that one of his arguments was a non-sequitur and another was an ad hominem. And notice further that after this last one, Martin proceeds to make an appeal to emotion by aligning himself with the rape and murder victims.
Arguments like this should always fail in the courts. But they frequently don’t, as long as they are made by favored litigants (government, bank, insurance company). They will, of course, always fail if made by a disfavored litigant – like a criminal defendant – going up against a favored one.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this – the double standard exposed so plainly by the most elementary rules of logic – is the primary cause of the system’s many failures. More than faulty eyewitness testimony, more than police or prosecutor misconduct even, because the double standard breeds the police and prosecutor misconduct in the first place by rewarding it with success.
Martin is offended and combative – rather than chastened – when I point out his poor reasoning skills. And why not? The system has taught him and other police and prosecutors to behave precisely this way.
* There are big epistemological questions lurking here, but they are beyond the scope of this little post. I might deal with them some other time.