- Written by Super User
- Category: Foundations
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It occurs to me that these days very little intentional thinking is taking place. Many people have opinions. Many people have ideas that they, in most cases, have been taught by someone else. Many people have opinions based on these ideas. I don't think that many have come by their opinions properly - by doing the work of thinking and developing an intentional ideology. This lack of intentional, purposeful thinking makes argument nearly impossible. Real argument, that is.
An "argument" is not simply people who disagree with each other shouting and making disparaging comments. As highly acclaimed English philosopher J. Marwood Cleese once famously observed, "An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition." So what's the point? It is this. There are three objectives in purposeful, critical thinking. Let's examine them in turn.
According to the font of all modern human understanding, google, the definition of an opinion is:
a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge.
If an opinion is not necessarily based on fact or knowledge, then we should not value all opinions equally. Important decisions should be based on opinions which are indeed based on fact. Notice that knowledge is not included here. The reason should be fairly obvious. knowledge is a sum of information gained. That information may be empirically and scientifically obtained through carefully measured and tested means. It could also be an interpretation of an incomplete observation or an interpretation based on a flawed assumption. It could be information passed on from an unreliable source. Before we trust an opinion to be used as a basis for decision making, we must first decide if it is founded sufficiently on actual and true fact. We can do this through argument. If someone expects you to value their opinion, they should be prepared to explain its foundation. They should be able to work backward or forward through the chain of ideas that connect their conclusion to a set of core principles and empirically demonstrable facts. And each of us should be able to do the same. The examination of the opinions of others to determine the veracity of their foundation and to explain the foundations of our own is one of the key objectives of proper critical thinking.
Second, we must use intentional, critical thinking as a filter. Ok.... You've got me. This could really be a continuation of the first point. In my opinion, though, the details are sufficiently different that it deserves its own discussion. Each of us is bombarded with messages all day, every day. These messages generally take the forms of advertising, popular culture, and the news of the day. There are myriad sources and they are not all equal. Some work diligently to be unbiased. Some do not. Some are pushing an agenda, some are reacting to one. It's safe enough to say all are ideologically aligned. If the ideology in question doesn't align with your own, that does not mean that you should avoid that source. It simply means you need to be aware of them so that you can identify bias.
Bias is everywhere. There are many kinds of bias. There is bias of unequal treatment. One subject may be treated as a hostile and another as an ally. This can manifest in dramatically different types of questions being asked and answered. It can cause one subject to be cross examined thoroughly and another to be presented at face value as a trusted source of truth. It can cause information about one subject to be more likely to be framed in a negative context and information about a different subject to be more likely to be framed in a positive context. These are the easy biases to spot and yet many people do not take the time to try to identify them. Then there is the bias of omission. It is a well known truth that a news source can have just as much impact by spiking a story as it can by publishing one. Both of these forms of bias are present in almost every information source. It is up to the consumer of that information to consider it critically and identify the bias in order to properly contextualize the information. There are more, as well, and each of them can influence opinions drawn from the information presented if they are not identified and considered at all times.
There are other kinds of bias that can be more difficult to identify. We each have our own biases based on our ideologies, our agendas and our basic human nature. We may have an association bias, for example. If we find that we tend to agree with the information from one source more than another, we will tend to consume that source which aligns with our world view. This creates the "echo chamber" effect whereby ideas are not properly challenged. "Confirmation bias" is the tendency to interpret new information as confirming a previously held opinion rather than genuinely questioning the information or questioning the conclusion based on the new information. The Dunning-Kruger Effect is when we think that a subject must be simple because we don't know enough about it to appreciate its complexity. This limits curiosity and creates a self-sustaining tendency toward ignorance. There are many types of personal cognitive bias that we must identify in ourselves. It takes a focussed effort to think about your own thinking in this way.
The third major purpose of intentional thinking is the development of a personal ideology. A person can study religious thought, philosophy and history and by doing so can learn of the many, varied, and sometimes conflicting ideas that have entered the collective human consciousness. There have been many great thinkers who have developed very impressive lines of reasoning. Which of these should form the foundation of an individual's personal ideology? Which should be discarded? An ideology is a framework for evaluating that which cannot be proven. It fills in gaps. It informs decision making when evidence is absent or insufficient. Many people are at best only tacitly aware of their own ideology. At worst, they don't actually have one and are simply molded by the opinions and information they receive in near real time. Discovery of an explicit personal ideology, the systematic, intentional revelation of its underpinning thoughts, and the connection of those thoughts, one to the next to the next in order to form lucid, cogent, contemporary arguments is the most important purpose in thinking.
The world in which we find ourselves today is large and complex. There are daily changes in science, culture, politics, economics, and other human endeavors. There is a flood of information. Some of it is presented in good faith. Some of it is not. All of it is affected by bias, and none of it can be properly captured in a ten second soundbite or a one minute reading of a news headline. We are asked to make important decisions either on our own or by way of electing representatives. If we have not taught ourselves to think purposefully about the information we receive, the arguments being made, and how it all fits into our own ideology, we cannot possibly be expected to make wise decisions.
My purpose in creating this site is not to convince anyone that my thoughts are superior to their own. I will explore and document my own journey of purposeful thinking and the conclusions it reveals. I will explain how these conclusions fit into an ideology that I, personally, hold. I will share how I have processed and interpreted the news of the day, But mostly, I will try to explain why these are exercises that should be undertaken by each of us in order to make us better participants in our society.