Some examples of aspects of good thinking
Returning to the description I brought up earlier, thinking broadly consists of two essential processes: searching and reflecting. Good thinking requires that we do enough searching and reflection about what we have found in order to guide our actions towards what is good for us. Good thinking also requires that we do not think so much that we don’t act enough.
There are various ways in which we try to prioritise the searches we make and ways in which we choose to reflect or infer from those searches. How we prioritise these searches is of critical importance in determining whether the thinking is good or not.
In the Qur’an we find a very important verse through which we can draw the parallels firstly between the search element of thinking and ‘listening’ and secondly between reflecting or inferring and ‘using our reason’:
Surah 67 Verse 10.
As I mentioned earlier, good thinking cannot be defined in terms of being successful at achieving goals that are in contradiction with reality. So we can start our description of good thinking by saying that one of the most important elements of good thinking is that it results in best knowledge of reality. Another way this could be put is that the overriding priority in the way we choose to search ought to be to seek the truth.
Related to this is intellectual honesty.
[Jonathan Baron, Thinking and Deciding, pp131]
To say that you do not like the conclusions you reach reflects that you would have liked to reach a different conclusion – that is, your goals were at some level to reach a different conclusion. This dislike reflects a preference for previous beliefs about what would be concluded. This bias for previous beliefs is a very important issue in judging good or bad thinking and will be discussed in more detail later. To hold such biases is easier than having to remember new conclusions - it is a more lazy approach to thinking. To attempt to eliminate such biases is a more active approach to thinking. Lazy thinking is bad thinking so we must attempt to be active in considering new possibilities with an open mind.
Rejecting old beliefs can also have social costs, which I might call a political investment such as when someone makes a claim so that writing off the claim has a political cost. Someone could be overly concerned about what others think about them so that they may be tempted to be thought of as not making mistakes rather than someone who makes mistakes (though they learn from them). This is often a serious block to intellectual honesty. It is much easier to exist in an environment with like -minded people (i.e. people with the same beliefs) than to stand out for the conclusions you reach and attempt to convince others of them. To stand out in such a way requires strong intellectual honesty.
Before I go on to discuss Baron’s formulation of this aspect of good thinking, I should like to mention a common attitude with regard to intellectual honesty that may result in atheism . Instead of realising that not liking the conclusions one reaches is from a healthy albeit wrong set of previous goals, they conclude that to have any goals in your thinking leads to intellectual dishonesty. This attitude gives us the equation of true intellectual honesty with the complete absence of goals. This is not true. Goals are always present in thinking and have driven the most brilliant thinking that human beings have ever achieved, it is only when those goals are wrong that they hinder good thinking. Some examples of this are inconsistencies and lack of symmetry in existing theories of physics which led physicists to seek a more symmetric and beautiful theory. The study of chemistry began by trying to find the various properties of materials so as to bring benefit to people. Indeed much research in science has been and is directed at the possible benefits new knowledge may bring.
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