This is a continuation of my series on Critical Thinking. My last post contained a checklist of reasoning principals. This post will address the first item on that checklist: “All reasoning has a purpose.” Though it may seem obvious, it’s sometimes not clear why you are trying to reason something through, and it is very often true that the reasons for someone else’s reasoning are obscure as well. Here are some things you can do to clarify your purposes and those of others:
- State your purpose as clearly as possible at the very beginning. Often just forcing yourself to do this will make you clarify your intentions. When you are trying to understand the reasoning of others, see if he or she has been clear in terms of purpose.
- Distinguish your purpose or that of others from related purposes. This will really help you to clarify your intentions and how well you’ve defined them. Again, having to show to yourself and others how your current purpose is different from other possible “purposes” will help to “crystalize” your thinking and to sharpen your focus.
- As you construct as reasoned argument or explanation, check back as often as necessary with your purpose to make sure you haven’t strayed or that you haven’t been guilty of “mission creep.” Likewise, if you detect a wondering in the reasoning of others, you’ll be in a better position to evaluated their claims and assertions.
- Make sure your purposes are both important and realistic. Don’t waste you time or scarce mental energy (yes, it is limited) with trifles. Remember what Eugene O’Neill wrote: “We fought so hard against the small things that we became small ourselves.” At the same time, don’t waste you time with the stupendously unreal. This doesn’t mean you can’t create or even “dream,” but it does mean that if your head is in the clouds, your feet ought to be on the ground.
See the next post in this series to learn read about the second item on the reasoning checklist.
Stay well, do good work, enjoy yourself.