Fourfold Path to Good Thinking. 4 Positive Attitudes that are More Conducive to Good Thinking.
How do we turn critical thinking into a natural habit? Here is a simple and practical method for you to try out. We call it the fourfold path to good thinking. To follow the method, we make it a habit to ask these four basic questions about the ideas we come across:
|Question||Issues to think about|
|What does it mean?||Are the keywords and the main concepts clear?
Can the ideas be made more precise?
How is it related to other things?
Any examples to illustrate what is meant?
|How many supporting reasons and objections?||List the reasons for and against the claim.
Count and evaluate these reasons.
Think about both sides of an issue.
Any counterexamples to the claim?
|Why is this important or relevant?||What are the major consequences?
How does it affect people? Is it useful?
Is it surprising?
Have I learned something new and interesting?
|Which are the other possibilities to consider?||What other information might be relevant?
Any similar cases to think about?
These questions look simple, but they are actually quite powerful because they introduce a good structure to organize our analysis. As an example, suppose we are discussing whether it is wrong to eat (nonhuman) animals. Here is how we might apply the fourfold path:
1. The first question—what does it mean?—is about clarifying the key concepts so that we can understand more clearly the claim under discussion.
o What do we mean by animals? Dogs and chickens are obviously animals. But what about fish, oysters, insects, bacteria? Is it also wrong to eat them? Where do we draw the line?
o If eating animals is wrong, how wrong is it? As bad as killing people?
2. To carry out the second step of the fourfold path, we list all the reasons for and against the claim under consideration.
o Arguments against eating meat might include: animals have rights, animal farming create a lot of suffering, and it is more efficient to use land to grow vegetables than to raise animals.
o Arguments on the opposite side might include: farm animals exist because of us and so we can do what want with them, and humans are more intelligent than animals.
o It is always a good idea to be able to count the number of arguments. For example, three arguments in support and two against.
o Think about both sides of an issue. Even if you think eating meat is fine, you should try your best to come up with opposing arguments. You will gain a deeper understanding of your own position and be able to defend it better.
o Evaluate the arguments on both sides. What seems to be a good argument might turn out not to be the case on further reflection—for example, why can we eat animals just because we are smarter? Does it also mean adults can eat babies and intelligent aliens can eat human beings?
3. The third step of the fourfold path is to consider whether the issue is important. Does it really matter what the correct answer is? What are the theoretical, social, personal, or political implications?
o How would the world be different if more people give up meat?
o How important is this question compared with other issues such as poverty and starvation?
4. The last step is to explore alternative possibilities and further issues.
o Does the level of intelligence of the animal make a difference?
o How about eating animals raised in a happy environment and killed in a painless manner? Is this also wrong?
o What about eating animals that die naturally? What if we can grow meat from stem cells and eat meat without killing animals?
As you can see, although the fourfold path consists of four very simple questions, they help us examine an issue in depth from different perspectives. To improve your thinking, use this method often in your daily life, when you read magazines, surf the web, watch TV, or chat with others. You will become a more sophisticated, systematic, and creative thinker.
There are positive attitudes that are more conducive to good thinking:
• Independence of thought: Good thinking is hard. Some people just want to know the answers rather than work it out themselves. Others have no patience for abstract or complicated ideas. A good thinker is able to think independently and go against conventional wisdom if need be.
• Open-mindedness: A good thinker looks at the evidence objectively, and is willing to suspend judgment or change her opinion depending on the evidence. This is not a sign of weakness. An open-minded thinker is not dogmatic. She is willing to admit mistakes, think about new possibilities, and will not reject new ideas without good reasons.
• Cool-headedness and impartiality: Good thinking does not require giving up emotions. But we should avoid letting our feelings overwhelm our reasoning. For example, it is difficult to think straight if you get angry easily when other people disagree with you. Fair and objective evaluations help us make better decisions.
• An analytical and reflective attitude: Do not jump to conclusions. A good thinker is one who spends time to analyze an issue systematically and carefully and to actively search for arguments and evidence on both sides. She is interested in learning more about her own strengths and weaknesses to improve her performance.