Thinking clearly

Really nice piece from Aeon’s Psyche magazine on thinking clearly. I’ve quoted a few bits, but read the whole thing:

In philosophy, what’s known as standard form is often used to set out the essentials of a line of thought as clearly as possible. Expressing your thinking in standard form means writing out a numbered list of statements followed by a conclusion. If you’ve done it properly, the numbered statements should present a line of reasoning that justifies your final conclusion…

You might have seen examples of this approach before, or used it in your own work. You might also have encountered a great deal of discussion around logical forms, reasonable and unreasonable justifications, and so on. What I find most useful about standard form, however, is not so much its promise of logical rigour as its insistence that I break down my thinking into individual steps, and then ask two questions of each one:

Why should a reasonable person accept this particular claim?

What follows from this claim, once it’s been accepted?

When it comes to clarifying my thoughts and feelings, the power of such an approach is that anything relevant can potentially be integrated into its accounting – but only if I’m able to make this relevance explicit…

Upon what basis can I justify any claims? Some will rely on external evidence; some on personal preferences and experiences; some on a combination of these factors. But all of them will at some point invoke certain assumptions that I’m prepared to accept as fundamental. And it’s in unearthing and analysing these assumptions that the most important clarifications await…

This, I’d suggest, is the most precious thing about clearly presenting the thinking behind any point of view: not that it proves your rightness or righteousness, but that it volunteers your willingness to participate in a reasoned exchange of ideas. At least in principle, it suggests that you’re prepared to:

Justify your position via evidence and reasoned analysis.

Listen to, and learn from, perspectives other than your own.

Accept that, in the face of sufficiently compelling arguments or evidence, it might be reasonable to change your mind.

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