WHAT IS THINKING?
Thinking about actions, beliefs, and personal goals asserts that thinking
consists of search and inference. We search for certain objects and then
we make inferences from and about them.
Let us take a simple example of a decision. Suppose you are a college
student trying to decide which courses you will take next term. Most of
the courses you have scheduled are required for your major, but you
have room for one elective. The question that starts your thinking is
simply this: Which course should I take?
You begin by saying to a friend, .I have a free course. Any ideas?.
She says that she enjoyed Professor Smith.s course in Soviet-American
relations. You think that the subject sounds interesting, and you want
to know more about modern history. You ask her about the work, and
she says that there is a lot of reading and a twenty-page paper. You
think about all the computer-science assignments you are going to have
this term, and, realizing that you were hoping for an easy course, you
resolve to look for something else. After thinking about it yourself, you
recall hearing about a course in American history since World War II.
That has the same advantages as the first course . it sounds interesting
and it is about modern history . but you think the work might not be
so hard. You try to find someone who has taken the course.
Clearly, we could go on with this imaginary example, but it already
shows that main characteristics of thinking. It begins with doubt. It
involves a search directed at removing the doubt. Thinking is, in a way,
like exploration. In the course of the search, you have discovered two
possible courses, some good features of both courses, some bad feature
of one course, and some goals you are trying to achieve. You have also
made an inference: You rejected the first course because the work was
We search for three kinds of objects: possibilities, evidence, and
Possibilities are possible answers to the original question, possible
resolutions of the original doubt. (In the example just given, they are
two possible courses.) Notice that possibilities can come from inside
yourself or from outside. (This is also true of evidence and goals.) The
first possibility in this example came from outside: It was suggested by
someone else. The second came from inside: It came from your
Goals are the criteria by which you evaluate the possibilities. Three
goals have been mentioned in our example: your desire for an interesting
course; your feeling that you ought to know something about recent
history; and your desire to keep your work load manageable. Some
goals are usually present at the time when thinking begins. In this case,
only the goal of finding a course is present, and it is an insufficient
goal, because it does not help you to distinguish among the possibilities,
the various courses you could take. Additional goals must be sought.
Evidence consists of any belief or potential belief that helps you
determine the extent to which a possibility achieves some goal. Such a
search for evidence might initiate a whole other episode of thinking,
the goal of which would be to determine where that evidence can be
In addition to these search processes, there is a process of inference,
or use of evidence, in which each possibility is strengthened or weakened
as a choice on the basis of the evidence, in the light of the goals.
The process of thinking the search for possibilities, evidence, and goals and the use of the evidence to evaluate possibilities do not occur in any fixed order.
Thinking is, in its most general sense, a
method of finding and choosing among the potential possibilities, that is,
possible actions, beliefs, or personal goals.
Date: 2015-01-29; view: 297