[Foundation-l] Proposal for new Wikimedia project (Chains of Reason)

Derrick Farnell derrick.farnell at gmail.com
Sat Oct 27 08:06:51 UTC 2007

Hello all

I've just posted a proposal for a new Wikimedia project, Chains of Reason,
at: http://meta.wikimedia.org/wiki/Chains_of_Reason

Any feedback, and perhaps even support, would be greatly appreciated -
please either reply to this message, or post on the above proposal's talk

There is a demo site at http://www.chainsofreason.org

The following text is from the proposal page:

==What is this wiki for?==

In a nutshell, Chains of Reason aims to be for reasoning what Wikipedia is
for knowledge. Of course, Wikimedia projects are about spreading and
promoting knowledge, but Chains of Reason is compatible with this goal
because the site 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.

I'm aware that a wiki for presenting reasoning has already been proposed
here (Wikireason, in 2005). However, 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? Also, I explain below why I think the
concept of a wiki for reasoning is worth a second chance despite the failure
of the original proposal.

==Why should Wikimedia host this wiki?==

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, violence, 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.

==How does it work?==

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 http://www.chainsofreason.org.

==Why this format?==

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

- Clarity

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

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

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

- Further, unexpected, advantages of this format?

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==

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==

In addition to being a reference, Chains of Reason is a place where people
work together to objectively try to 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
in order to try to convince others that their beliefs are right, and that
contrary beliefs are wrong.

==How you can help==

- Contribute to the discussion on this proposal's talk page:
- Add your username to the proposal summary if you are interested in being
- Direct others who you think might be interested in this project to the
proposal 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:
http://groups.google.com/group/chainsofreason/topicsChains of Reason
group at Google Groups
- Contribute to Chains of Reason!

With best wishes


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