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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

too hard.

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: 540

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