As a fond reader of history and at least an occasional student of matters of legal reasoning, I have often noted the similarities in casemaking tendencies between history and the law, as well as much of the theological sort of argumentation of which I am also particularly fond . There are several ways that can be taken to make a case, but only a few very limited options. One can start with one’s premises and reason deductively from them, in the manner of mathematics proofs, which make the links of one’s logic unassailable except if there be flaws in the premises. One can, alternatively, in abductive reasoning, move from a series of observations to a theory that explains them and provides a coherence for isolated instances that would otherwise be incoherent and inexplicable, often seeking to use Occam’s Razor or cui bono or some other principle to determine the most likely theory to explain the given . Furthermore, one could engage in inductive reasoning and reason from premises to a likely but not certain conclusion. In none of these occasions is our sense of reason infallible, but as we are compelled to make sense of our world, they are the only materials we have to work with, even if they are not without error.
We ought, therefore, to be conscious of the reasoning that we use and the potential areas of error so that we are best equipped to maintain a sense of humility in our reasoning, even if our minds are capable of constructing vast and complicated edifices based on likelihood or probability. In tension with our need to build upon previous knowledge is the concurrent need for us to critique and analyze our existing base of knowledge to determine its solidity, how much weight it will bear, and how high of a structure one can confidently build on top of it. As it happens, this is the intellectual equivalent of one of the most important tasks of structural engineers or architects, to know from the conditions of the ground or of financial affairs how much of a building the soil or market will bear, lest the building suffer collapse or be partially built without being able to complete. To give an example of this, as a teen and during a few years as a young adult I lived in the city of Tampa, a city where there are no particularly tall buildings because the sandy soil and absence of a firm bedrock makes it impossible to build skyscrapers on the scale of other cities of its size and importance. Coincidentally enough, during my time as a resident there a businessman named Donald Trump attempted to build a tall tower of luxury condominiums that was never completed because the collapse of construction in 2008 and the drastic miscalculation of how many people could afford condos at the price of $700,000 or more in the Tampa area. Like Herod Antipas before him,  he started to build a tower and did not have the funds to complete it, and became an object of ridicule for ambitions that his resources and the market he was building for could not bear. This is a fate even more common to the builders of elaborate arguments than those who attempt to build skyscrapers, though such incomplete edifices can be found among cities like Tampa or Bangkok or other places where optimism and a casual attitude towards reality trumps concern with good results.
In their 2006 album “For Me, It’s You,” Train released a song that I remember fondly from their tour in support of this album which I went to when it stopped just outside of Tampa that year. The song, “Skyscraper,” comments on the way in which such buildings, literally or metaphorically, define the skyline: “Skyscraper, you define the skyline, opposite the grapevine where crows and rumors fly.” It is our task, for those of us who have committed ourselves to living an honorable life and also exercising self-discipline in our words and deeds, to build wisely on the foundation of our lives. Yet all too many of us are made painfully aware of the fact that the isolated instances of our lives can be constructed in all kinds of unfriendly and hostile ways, and that what other people consider to be likely or natural explanations of our behavior brings us into great disrepute where the benefit of the doubt is not extended to us by others. At times, even fairly ordinary friendliness can be misconstrued in a malicious way, and where this is done often enough, the record of wide degrees of friendliness can be seen as a pattern of misbehavior and therefore as evidence of possessing a wicked character, even where the deeds of wickedness themselves are absent.
How does this happen? In large part, it is because our reasoning goes awry. We take as likely that which is merely possible, not understanding how to correctly judge probabilities because we lack an understanding or interest in the subjective probability of behavior based on the emotional or mental terrain of the people we are dealing with. If we have incorrect premises of where people are coming from, we will misjudge their actions and misconstrue their behavior in ways that are persistently malicious and inaccurate. Our casemaking will be flawed because we do not begin from the correct premises, and are not building on the right foundation, for even where our thoughts may be generally accurate based on the probabilities of a given population, we may fail to understand when we are dealing with an exceptional and particularly unusual case that does not conform to the usual pattern. If our mental processes are too rigid to recognize such outliers, we will consistently misjudge those people who are the most unusual because we only understand the commonplace and ordinary examples that we see in the world around us. As is so often the case in life, we build most soundly when we have a firm understanding of the specific and particular context we are dealing with as well as maintaining a conservative attitude that seeks to ensure we have the right resources and a good understanding of the circumstances of our efforts. We may be flawed anyway, but at least if we err, let us err on the side of generosity of spirit and mildness of behavior rather than on the side of greed, arrogance, and hostility. If we are wrong in points of fact, let us not be wrong in attitude and spirit, for as human beings we all have the tendency to err often enough as it is, without adding to our difficulties.
 See, for example:
 See Luke 14:28-29, which reads: “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him.”