Thursday, March 23, 2006

Reasoning Without Assuming The Truth of Your Position

I think this is a very important skill, but sadly a fairly rare one:

Being able to reason about an issue without the implicit assumption that your position on it is true.

Otherwise, you tend to end up with a kind of circular argument in situations where you try to justify your own view or criticise others. You might present independent reasons for these claims, but in actuality, the only reason you think these reasons are true is your implicit assumption that you belief was true in the first place.

The same goes for your evaluation of other's criticism of your view.

What this comes down to is an assumption that your view is correct, and thus an empty reinforcement of that view and a blindness to anything that might contradict it.

Avoiding this requires the following. You need to be step down a level from your specific position, and see the different ways that the situation could be interpreted, and to be able to interpret different views without contamination from beliefs coming from other views. (Of course, you do need to be able to, at the appropriate times, interpret views in light of differing degrees of evidence you have at hand).

This means being able to handle greater abstraction and indirection, greater skills in being able to construct and 'passively view' and then reason about mental structures.

This is a skill they should teach in schools. It would make a big difference if everyone had it.

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