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I have again a word usage problem. I wonder if a non-living sentence subject can reason. According to Wikipedia:

Reason is a term that refers to the capacity human beings have to make sense of things, to establish and verify facts, and to change or justify practices, institutions, and beliefs.

And from the conjugator, I found that I can us it in this context:

You have not reasoned about that

I have used that verb in a precise context in an old text and I wonder if it was correct. The truth is that I believe the sentence come from my native language (French). So here is a shortened version of that sentence:

Spatial reasoning uses concrete numbers to reason.

I also have to say that WhiteSmoke corrector do not find any problem with that.

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2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

Let me generalize your question somewhat: Can an inanimate object agree with a verb that alludes to an animated action? The answer is yes – language is frequently stretched in that manner. Consider:

These dark brown walls swallow the light in the den.
The plain, sparse table begs for adornment.
The defendant's controversial acquittal screams injustice.
The folk singer's soothing music breathed peacefulness into the cafe.

Generally speaking, walls don't swallow, tables don't beg, acquittals don't scream, and music doesn't breathe, but all of those sentences work just fine.

So, can the verb reason be used with an inanimate object? Yes, it can, provided that either (a) the subject can be personified, or (b) the verb can be reasonably adapted for use with the non-living subject, without introducing excessive awkwardness.

In your example, that certainly appears to be the case. Spatial reasoning is the ability to make certain decisions or judgments based on a physical layout (e.g., "Will all this stuff fit into one suitcase?"). So, what you're essentially asking is, "Can a cognitive ability use numbers to form a conclusion?" Seems reasonable to me.

WhiteSmoke didn't flag it; neither would I.

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Thank you, that is an extensive answer but yet very convincing and understandable. It was what I was looking for. –  Zonata May 24 '12 at 1:41
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If I use a book to learn, that doesn't mean the book learns. It means I learn, using the book.

However, we sometimes do speak about inanimate or non-human object "reasoning", but this is an anthropomorphic use. It's similar to saying, "the search engine wants to give you the best results it can".

For example:

The system reasons by checking the 'IF' part of each rule. If the conditions described in the 'IF' part are matched, the system activates the 'THEN' part of the rules.

And:

The machine reasons over and about first-order beliefs in a normatively correct fashion using a variety of machine reasoning techniques.

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