Thinking requires … thought.

Many of us have views regarding very complex issues. But, I ask: what does it take to think about a complex issue? As you consider issues and topics which become more multidimensional (like a myriad of economic issues, for example), achieving a fair understanding of such topics requires a greater degree of thought. The more complex the issue, the more thought is likely necessary to grasp it.

This much I think we get (for the most part). Most issues are much more complex than it may seem at first glance, and cannot be narrowed down to a soundbite or simple motto. If you have a strong feeling about a stance on the economy – say, that you are a strong supporter of decreasing income inequality in the United States – chances are you have thought about the evidence (philosophical, empirical, or both) for your point of view. But, even if your thoughts are internally consistent, how do you know if they are right?

Chances are, if you are someone who thinks about things, you consider yourself to be somewhat intelligent. And yet, we have all, at one time or another, thought something was true which actually turned out to be false. When I was a kid, I figured out that Santa Claus was very likely to be fictional when I realized that he didn’t have the same handwriting on the gift tags at my house that he did at my friend’s house – and that his handwriting seemed to resemble that of my, and my friend’s parents, respectively.

Thought is not about clinging to something you’ve decided is true, and on which you have closed the forum for questioning. Actually, it’s the exact opposite. Any stance worth thinking about should be welcome for reasonable challenge – for in such a challenge, a thinker is forced to re-evaluate his position, and determine if it is maintained despite scrutiny. Thought is giving fair consideration to reasonable alternatives, and examining them in the search, not for re-affirmation of what you think you already know, but for as close to the truth as we can get. If your stance survives, then despite the challenge of a different perspective, you maintain that your original stance provides the best explanation. If your stance does not survive such sincere intellectual questioning, then it was not meant to survive. And, in fact, the way in which your new stance evolves as a result is for the best, as it has been strengthened by the examination of honest thought.

A stance is a sword to be used in intellectual and logical battle, and as such must be tempered from time to time with objective thought. Should, under the heat and pressure of the process, the sword shatter, then it was never as sharp as it had seemed in the first place.

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2 comments

  1. I consider this post to be an homage to those intellectuals/bloggers who refuse to cave to some ideology, and instead, are able to focus on issues. One, Andrew Sullivan of The Daily Beast, has a great recent write-up about how his support of conservatism altered his party allegiance as he continually questioned and cemented his stance on the subject. Another, Paul Krugman, refuses to blindly support one candidate or another. While his personal stance is generously liberal, this does not prevent him from remaining critical of many Democratic initiatives – demonstrating his honest evaluation of an issue above all else.

    (Link to Sullivan piece here: http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/10/extreme-inequality-threatens-americas-portfolio.html )

  2. A second Sullivan post, aka “actually reading what someone said and assessing it fairly”: http://andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2012/10/the-decline-and-fall-of-tucker-carlson.html

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