Popper’s “Conjectures and Refutations” was published in 1963. There is much instruction in the title. After contemplating David Miller’s “Do We Reason When We Think We Reason, or Do We Think?” one might playfully muse with another subtitle for the 1963 work, “Creative Thinking and Reason”, instructive in that it picks up on Miller’s point that intelligent thinking is not necessarily logical thinking.
That the source of our ideas is intuition, conjecture, guessing is one of Popper’s core themes. Our guesses may be true but we cannot prove them to be such. Reason is the test of logic, as in an example of the modus tollens :
If the hypothesis is true, such and such will eventuate
Such and such does not eventuate
Therefore the hypothesis is not true
On Page 52 of “Critical Rationalism a Restatement and Defence” (1994), Miller states: “There are no such things as good reasons; that is, sufficient or even partly sufficient favourable (or positive) reasons for accepting a hypothesis rather than rejecting it, or for rejecting it rather than accepting it, or for implementing a policy, or for not doing so”.
Lest one be dashed that there are no good reasons (but only the act of reason), it can be looked at as a liberation. We are creative, life is creative, our ideas are like mutations that surprise us and have surprising outcomes. The role of reason is not to invent but rather to put a brake on uncritical acceptance of the products of our creativity, thence we might create anew, and by reason perhaps be saved from potential pitfalls. One says “perhaps”, because despite the mythology that has been invented around Popper as a naive falsificationist, he was not thus. Even the falsification of a hypothesis is a decision.
Our thinking, even if it uses heuristics, is conjectural, we may believe our guesses are fine guesses but reason lies in criticism. In common parlance, and often in academic parlance, the word “reasoning” is used interchangeably with “thinking”. This overlooks imagination as the source of fresh ideas, which can subsequently be subjected to the blowtorch of reason. Through reason we may prefer one theory over another but there are no criteria (good reasons) for claiming that we have grasped unchallengeable or even probable truth.
David Miller’s paper, “Do We Reason When We Think We Reason, or Do We Think?” (2005), ends with the following: “The misconceptions about argumentation that I have criticized arise from a single source; from the thought that intelligent thinking means logical thinking. This is false. Most of the time, problem solvers that we are, we think creatively or speculatively or, if you like, intuitively. Although the exercise of reason is inevitably postponed in this way, it is not cancelled. Glaser (quoted above), and Dewey before him, though too sanguine about the power of evidence and positive argument, rightly insisted that the rational thinker should be ready to submit all guesses to remorseless criticism, and to reject the failures. It cannot be denied that a complex sequence of interlocked blind guesses and cruel rejections may look much like directed thought, just as Darwinian evolution simulates orthogenesis or design. But we must not be hoodwinked into thinking that it is reasoning, or anything else that we know, that drives us forward to what is unknown. What reasoning does is pull us back. Our guesses are not random, of course, but informed; which means only that they are guesses informed by earlier guesses. We who have noses follow our noses (and other organisms follow homologous organs), but we do not see beyond our noses. However richly our guesses are informed by what is known, they know not (are blind to) what is not known. Campbell (1974, p. 422) puts it well: ‘ In going beyond what is already known, one cannot but go blindly. If one can go wisely, this indicates already achieved wisdom of some general sort.’”
David Miller’s list of publications can be viewed and a number, including the above paper, can be downloaded from