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Role of Analogical Reasoning: Analytical Essay

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“The role of analogy is to aid understanding rather than to provide justification.” To what extent do you agree with this statement?

Human beings share a strong intuition that analogical justification forces us to better understand and interpret the situations that we face in our everyday lives. These analogies are widely recognized as playing an important role as a mental shortcut that allows people to solve problems and make judgments quickly and efficiently. Analogies provide insight and formulate possible solutions to problems. According to a pioneer in chemistry and electricity, Joseph Priestley said that analogy is our best guide in philosophical investigations (Bartha). Due to their heuristic role, analogies and analogical reasoning have been a massive focus in artificial intelligence and other various research (Helman). In order to examine the question proposed, it is important first to establish the meaning of a few keywords. An analogy is a comparison between two objects, or system of objects, that highlights respects in which they are thought to be similar (Bartha). Furthermore, an analogical argument is an explicit representation of a form of analogical reasoning that cites accepted and justified similarities between two systems to support the conclusion (Bartha). This essay will argue that analogies serve as justifications rather than simply a way to better understand concepts. The knowledge question formulated here, therefore, is “what justification can be given for a claim that analogical arguments deliver a plausible conclusion?” In order to explore this question, examples will be examined through the two areas of knowledge, Natural Sciences, and Human Sciences.

Analogies become fundamental elements in the process of learning, based on concepts, relations, and images that are accessible to students, as they allow students to use what is familiar to them in order to understand what is not so familiar (Koszowski). The use of analogies has been shown to be especially relevant in the case of learning sciences that involve abstract concepts, in this case chemistry, which is often difficult from the students’ point of view. For this reason, literature extensively defends the teaching of chemistry and other sciences (such as physics, biology, and geography) through the use and drawing of analogies aimed at facilitating students’ understanding, acquisition of new knowledge, and modification of alternative conceptions (Rosaria). The core of analogies is called mapping and has been the main focus of analogy research. At a first level, the mapping process consists of finding how two situations are similar and then bringing across further inferences from the better-known situation (the base, or source ) to the less familiar one (the target) (Canale and Tuzet). What distinguishes analogy from other kinds of similarity is that for two situations to be analogical, they must be similar in their relational structure. Analogy research has largely agreed on a set of principles laid out by Dedre Gentner in 1983, in a theory called structure mapping. According to structure mapping theory, analogical mapping requires aligning the two situations based on their commonalities – particularly their common relational structure – and projecting inferences from the base to the target, according to this alignment. Thus, if two similar objects are compared to one another through mapping, then the concept can be justified through analogical reasoning (Lo).

Many teachers use analogies to aid students for a better understanding and give justification to a concept being discussed. An analogy can allow new material to be more easily absorbed with the student’s prior knowledge. This enables the students who do not readily think in abstract terms to develop a clear understanding of the concepts (Rosaria). A popular analogy that I came across when I was studying chemistry was that Lego bricks are often used to represent atoms. Atoms are the basic building blocks for all matter around us. By combining atoms in different ways new materials are formed, just as new structures can be created from combining Lego bricks (RSC). The mapping process in this example is a complex concept, atoms, are brought across a more familiar situation, the Lego bricks. This example does provide justification and delivers a plausible conclusion that if Lego blocks do makeup everything, so does atoms. Thus, justification of analogical reasoning is validated to deliver a plausible conclusion.

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However, in some cases analogical reasoning does not provide justification in a concept being discussed. For instance, in physics, a ‘solider’ analogy is used by many teachers to explain how light refracts. The soldiers are marching on a normal ground to a mud which slows them down. The soldiers that reach the mud first are slowed down first and the row bends. This explanation of the line of the marching soldiers bending is closely correlated to how a light refracts through different mediums (The Dangers of Analogies). However, anyone who has been in a marching band will find that this argument is rather unconvincing. Marching bands are usually trained to maintain a constant stride in order to be symmetrical. Does this analogy give any correct insight about the underlying mechanism of light refraction? If the marching band crossed a curved interface, would the ranks focus to a point, or diverge in many directions? Does the analogy work for reflection? (Simanek) Many questions are created by the analogy if it is taken to the literally. The explanation expects the reader to assume that the necessary adjustments will be made to maintain perpendicularity between ranks and files. Therefore, this analogy does not provide justification to deliver plausible conclusions of how light refracts. If the analogical reasoning is not taken to this level of analysis, then this analogy could provide meaning and justification to the student.

On the contrary, analogical arguments in human sciences, more specifically legal cases, provide justification to a problematic topic being discussed and delivers plausible conclusions. Analogies in law are used to argue that one disputed situation is indistinguishable from another situation where the merits are relatively clear (Lamond). In other words, attorneys use analogies, that are similar to the case, to justify an argument in order to convince the judge. Moreover, the judge also uses analogical reasoning in legal cases. For instance, a well-known description of analogical reasoning in legal cases is from Edward Levi. Levi says that a judge reasoning by analogy studies the facts and outcomes of a case she deems similar to the case before her. The judge then formulates the rule “inherent” in the prior case and uses it to decide her case. This practice of reasoning by analogy is on the basis of its epistemic and institutional advantages (Sherwin). These advantages are that the analogical arguments produce a plethora of data for decision-making. For instance, an advantage that analogical arguments produce is that they demonstrate the collaborative effort of the judges over time and also correct any biases that might guide judges to discount for their prior decisions (Ashley). Furthermore, it exerts a conservative force in law, holding the development of law to a gradual pace. Eminently, these points of interest do not reply upon the rational power of analogical reasoning, rather, author contends that, as open-ended reasoning and analogical reasoning alike may sometimes result in incorrect decisions, these qualities of analogical reasoning make it a desirable method of deciding legal disputes (Sherwin). When a judge is defied with an agitated inquiry, the judge overviews past decisions, recognizes manners by which these choices are similar and different, and develops a principle that captures the similarities and differences the judge thinks is important. This principle in return gives premise to the judge’s very own decision (Ashley).

However, there is also limitations to the argument that analogies do provide justification in legal cases. The most notable criticism comes from Larry Alexander. Alexander says that analogical reasoning originates with the prior decisions of others rather than the subject’s own perceptions and instincts. Since judges are fallible, a portion of judges made prior that are potentially wrong (Sherwin). Thus, the data is flawed and decision-making by analogy will simply entrench the errors of the past. A judge’s ethical reasoning may be flawed. However, if the judge feels obliged to seek analogies, they have incentive to sift more carefully through reported opinions. The practice of analogical reasoning from past decisions has procedural benefits that go beyond the rational force it carries in any case (Sherwin). Thus, the analogical reasoning in legal situations are justified, and also give plausible conclusions.

In conclusion, analogical reasoning does give justification and deliver plausible conclusions to a complex concept or topic being studied. In the area of natural sciences, we see that analogies in both chemistry and physics are used to aid understanding and give justification and the complex topics. Analogies provide insight and formulate possible solutions to problems that otherwise would have been difficult to interpret and solve by one individual. The analogies are a fundamental process of learning as they allow students to use that which is familiar to them in order to understand that which is not familiar. Furthermore, in legal cases, analogical arguments are used to argue that one disputed situation is indistinguishable from another situation where the merits are relatively clear, giving justification. Thus, analogies are a useful tool in understanding abstract concepts in a more tangible form. As exemplified with natural sciences and human sciences, the more tangible analogies such as Lego blocks in understanding chemistry as well as the marching band to understand refraction theory displays that these concepts are not only easily understood they are justified through the explication. Finally, in the case of law, judges often use analogies to justify their reasoning. Therefore, analogies are used as justifications.


  1. Ashley, Kevin D. “Arguing by Analogy in Law: A Case-Based Model.” Analogical Reasoning: Perspectives of Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science, and Philosophy, edited by David H. Helman, Springer Netherlands, 1988, pp. 205–24. Springer Link, doi:10.1007/978-94-015-7811-0_10.
  2. Bartha, Paul. “Analogy and Analogical Reasoning.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Spring 2019, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2019,
  3. Canale, Damiano, and Giovanni Tuzet. “Analogical Reasoning and Extensive Interpretation.” Analogy and Exemplary Reasoning in Legal Discourse, edited by Hendrik Kaptein and Bastiaan van der Velden, Amsterdam University Press, 2018, pp. 65–86. JSTOR, JSTOR,
  4. Helman, D. H., editor. Analogical Reasoning: Perspectives of Artificial Intelligence, Cognitive Science, and Philosophy. Springer Netherlands, 1988., doi:10.1007/978-94-015-7811-0.
  5. KOSZOWSKI, MACIEJ. “Multiple Functions of Analogical Reasoning in Science and Everyday Life.” Polish Sociological Review, no. 197, 2017, pp. 3–19.
  6. Lamond, Grant. “Precedent and Analogy in Legal Reasoning.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta, Spring 2016, Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2016. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,
  7. Lo, Norva. [U08] Analogical Arguments. Accessed 4 Jan. 2020.
  8. Rosaria, Justi. Science Teachers’ Analogical Reasoning. Accessed 5 Jan. 2020.
  9. rsc. Developing and Using Models – Analogies in Chemistry – Core Idea – Further Examples of Commonly Used Analogies. Accessed 5 Jan. 2020.
  10. Sherwin, Emily. “A Defense of Analogical Reasoning in Law.” The University of Chicago Law Review, vol. 66, no. 4, 1999, pp. 1179–97. JSTOR, JSTOR, doi:10.2307/1600365.
  11. Simanek, Donald. The Dangers of Analogies. Accessed 5 Jan. 2020.

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