Yesterday I wondered what a second rule of critical thinking might be. The first one was to identify the nature of the issue before you. Lee, a commenter, proposes one worth repeating:
>I propose for the second rule:
>“How does it fit with what I already know, or my presumptions?”
>But I do think that it is important to include a little introspection about “why do I care?” or “Why am I thinking about this” because sometimes how one answers that question reveals a motive or bias that would influence ones thinking. It might be cause to “think twice”. For example, in a discussion, podcast, article, if one reads something that sparks a reaction, is it a reaction that comes from (say) emotion, disagreement, or confusion? Politics and religion are two areas that I can think of off the top of my head that would fit the type of subject I’m talking about. My reaction could be (say) anger, support, competition or completely self serving. Answering the question of “why do I care” might start one off on the right foot.
Well. He proposes more than one. I’ve put the one I’m drawn to in bold. So in addition I think to some basic identification of the issue before you, you also ought to have the self-awareness to discover your own orientation toward it. I think that makes a good deal of sense. Anyone have any examples of this he or she’d like to share?
6 thoughts on “Where am I?”
Without being critical of one’s own tendencies toward a subject, you can easily fall into the trap psychologists refer to as confirmation bias. Take for example the results of this past November election. Wheras, exit polls released all over the country indicated that the most important issue on the minds of the greatest number of voters was our continued presence in Iraq. Yet, in a special election blog over at the New York Times, columnist David Brooks concluded that Americans had chosen a moderate-conservative direction for the country, as evidenced by the victory of Joseph Lieberman. As David Brooks states in his profile interview for TimesSelect, he believes that America has been predominatley for the past twenty years “a moderately “Guiliani” conservative” nation. That, coincidentally, is the sort of description that Brooks gave of himself later in the same interview. He arrived at the conclusion in his column by observing that of the newly elected Democrats into Congress, the vast majority were conservative “anti-war” democrats”. The voteres had simultaneously rejected the more liberal (Ned Lamont) democrat. More than in just about any arena of research, it is almost imposible to construct good P-Inductive arguments (an inductive argument which makes the conclusion probable) about the America’s political climate. Thus, most often the problem with “confirmation bias” is that people see a good C-Inductive arguent (one that increases the probablilty of the conclusion), and blind themselves to the other C-Inductive arguments which weaken the conclusion. Brooks so often, argues from a single observation or poll, that could be explained by a different proposition without acknowleding those. In this case he rightly looked at the more socially conserative positions of the newly elected Democrats (especially in the West), as the best fit for the results of the election. Yet, by the several angry comments of his readership (including mine), he failed to acknoledge other plausible explainations. In essence we ignore, or fail to consider, alternate explainations for our observations. This second instruction more accuratley describes the problem with politcal pundrity in America than any other I’ve encountered.
Critical Thinking must be a mindset, not something to turn off and on when specific occasions present themselves. I would make that the last rule and the second simply something like, “accept that you have biases and attempt to work around or confront them.”
A book that covers this topic well is “How We Know What Isn’t So by Thomas Gilovich “.
Good example, Steven.
And on Nevyns point, I agree, about the mindset. Part of critical thinking must be to evaluate the context and how you want to approach it. When my friends send me ‘informational’ material in email quoting statistics and arguments that support this or that, I have to understand confirmation bias to recognize it when I see it, I have to know how statistics can be manipulated to recognize it when I see it, I have to have an understanding of patterns of reasoning (or to use another phrase I like, argumentation schemes) to understand them when I see them to help me come up with a strategy to ‘test’ the claim or ‘validate’ the claims truth or plausibility. In the job I do, part customer service, part network troubleshooting, counsel to decision makers, advocate for best practices versus convenience I have to size up the issue and approach each in a different way, and I have to be objective or at least appear to be objective to maintain my credibility.
Answering the question “Why do I care?” is a separate consideration from answering “Why ought I care?” (and one worth distinguishing). That one cares or is motivated by a particular issue does not seem essentially relevant to matters of critical thinking, but rather appears to be an empirical claim about what sorts of issues certain people happen to care about at any particular moment. The exploration of one’s particular bias with respect to any particular controversial (or any other kind of) issue seems helpful if one wishes to validate one’s own marginally “impartial” analysis of any given issue; however, all one is actually doing is affirming the potential for epistemological objectivity with respect to an issue by implicitly accepting the belief that one’s biases differ from the “truth” of the matter.
In order for this type of analysis to be successful, one must already have a notion of what an impartial judgment would look like, and it would have to be able to rule out the possibility of any sort of motivating bias (otherwise it would not be impartial). I will return to this last statement later.
But for now, an example!: if I wish to get to the truth of the matter about global warming, it seems mildly heuristic to ask, first, why I give a shit about global warming. Perhaps I’m a damn, dirty hippy and have been brainwashed by Scientologists who, after hoovering my bank account dry, have convinced me that life on earth matters (as flesh receptacles for the souls of alien overlords). As a result of these convictions, I have devoted my life to becoming the preeminent global climatologist in the known local starcluster, acquiring the proper knowledge that would allow me to affirm or deny the proposition, “global warming is a serious threat to life on earth, and the ecosystems that these sweet, sweet, material lifeforms inhabit.”
Basically, my point is, who cares why I care? (1) Is the argument valid (or cogent)? (2) Are the premises true? (3) Then the conclusion necessarily (or very probably) follows. And so, returning to the analysis of the statement I postponed earlier, I ask a question: “what ‘objective’ criteria could there possibly be in the world that could help me sort through my muddled, biased motivations?”
I’m so very drunk. Horrible sunlight approaches.
Oh yeah, and don’t misuse statistics.
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