Toward Critical Thinking

Always central, now more than ever.

Posted Jun 09, 2020

WallpaperFlare, Public Domain
Source: WallpaperFlare, Public Domain

In our ever more complex workplace, employers lament many employees' inability to think critically. Of course, that’s true not just in the workplace but in our personal life.

Before coming to a conclusion about something significant, it’s wise to:

1. Ask yourself whether emotion is clouding your rationality. It’s axiomatic to not act while emotional. At minimum, taking deep breaths and if it’s important, taking a day or two to calm down, can be core to making the most of your intelligence. Sure, there are times that emotion can be motivating, but emotion without sufficient rationality is likely to lead to behaviors or positions you'll later regret.

2. Determine the logical or empirical evidence supporting the position. Ask yourself, “Are the presented facts or assertions dispositive, that is, not subject to being overruled by other facts or logical argument?" For example, a talking head in the media may assert with great certitude that some policy is correct. How solid is the logic and evidence s/he provides? Might there be additional information or argument than merits consideration before you take a stand?

Or sometimes, it’s wise to say, “I’m not in a position to evaluate the evidence and reasoning on this issue, so for now, I’ll remain agnostic. For example, I know too little about the right sequence of approaches to refractory depression. So I might wisely just shut up, ask questions of people more knowledgeable than me, or as I often do, Google-search to learn.

3. Step outside your echo chamber. The most well-derived solutions and positions derive from the marketplace of ideas. If your input tends to come from one type of source, tiptoe to the other side. Perhaps some wisdom resides there.  For example, if most of the input you're getting on a business idea comes from techies, speak with or read what liberal arts types have to say.

4. Take the other side. When there are two or three competing positions, it can help us think in full-dimension by arguing the other side(s.) That may help us appreciate that the issue may not be as clear-cut as we reflexively thought.

The takeaway

Such counsel is far easier to assert than to practice, but it's crucial. As Harvard’s Stephen Pinker argued in his book, Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, the world’s transformation from the Dark Ages into the Enlightenment was fueled by a replacement of religious irrationality with a veneration of rational thought. For us as individuals and as a society, continuing forward to a better tomorrow may require a recommitment to critical thinking.

I read this aloud on YouTube.