- Critical thinking takes place in a mental environment consisting of our experiences, thoughts, and feelings. Some elements in this inner environment can sabotage our efforts to think critically or at least make critical thinking more difficult. Fortunately, we can exert some control over these elements. With practice, we can detect errors in our thinking, restrain attitudes and feelings that can disrupt our reasoning, and achieve enough objectivity to make critical thinking possible.
- The most common of these hindrances to critical thinking fall into two main categories: (1) Those obstacles that crop up because of how we think and (2) those that occur because of what we think. The first category is comprised of psychological factors such as our fears, attitudes, motivations, and desires. The second category is made up of certain philosophical beliefs.
- None of us is immune to the psychological obstacles. Among them are the products of egocentric thinking. We may accept a claim solely because it advances our interests or just because it helps us save face. To overcome these pressures, we must (1) be aware of strong emotions that can warp our thinking, (2) be alert to ways that critical thinking can be undermined, and (3) ensure that we take into account all relevant factors when we evaluate a claim.
- The first category of hindrances also includes those that arise because of group pressure. These obstacles include conformist pressures from groups that we belong to and ethnocentric urges to think that our group is superior to others. The best defense against group pressure is to proportion our beliefs according to the strength of reasons.
- We may also have certain core beliefs that can undermine critical thinking (the second category of hindrances). Subjective relativism is the view that truth depends solely on what someone believesâa notion that may make critical thinking look superfluous. But subjective relativism leads to some strange consequences. For example, if the doctrine were true, each of us would be infallible. Also, subjective relativism has a logical problemâit’s self-defeating. Its truth implies its falsity. There are no good reasons to accept this form of relativism.
- Social relativism is the view that truth is relative to societiesâa claim that would also seem to make critical thinking unnecessary. But this notion is undermined by the same kinds of problems that plague subjective relativism.
- Philosophical skepticism is the doctrine that we know much less than we think we do. One form of philosophical skepticism says that we cannot know anything unless the belief is beyond all possible doubt. But this is not a plausible criterion for knowledge. To be knowledge, claims need not be beyond all possible doubt, but beyond all reasonable doubt.
0:30Skip to 0 minutes and 30 secondsOur aim in the course has been to give you the skills to identify true beliefs, and distinguish them from false beliefs. Many of the most important beliefs we try and adopt or reject are moral ones. Beliefs about whether a situation is good or bad, or right or wrong. We saw earlier in the course that logic and critical thinking runs up against some common obstacles. A tendency to prefer evidence which confirms a preexisting view, to be influenced by the way an issue or question is framed-- those sorts of things. Do those same problems get in the way of good moral thinking? Today we put that question to my colleague and ethicist Dr. Glen Pettigrove.
1:09Skip to 1 minute and 9 secondsSo Glen, is moral thinking influenced by those same obstacles to good logical and critical thinking. The research suggests that it is. For instance, the framing effect. If we take a driver who's had one too many of these and put them behind a wheel, and they drive off, fall asleep at the wheel, and run into a tree, or fall asleep at the wheel and run into a child-- and we take those two cases and present them to readers and ask them to judge how blameworthy the driver is in the two cases, their judgement about that blame is stronger, depending on the order in which the two cases are presented to them.
1:50Skip to 1 minute and 50 secondsPeople who are asked to judge the case where they've read about the person hitting the tree first judge that driver more harshly than they do if they read about hitting the tree after they've read about hitting the child. Right, so that's framing because their judgement of the tree case is influenced by whether they've been set up by seeing the child case first. Correct. We also get something that looks like confirmation bias in moral cases. So people tend to go looking for arguments that support their view more readily than they go looking for arguments against their view.
2:24Skip to 2 minutes and 24 secondsAnd the nearer those arguments are to a belief that they care about deeply, or a belief that's connected up with their identity as a member of a group like a political party, the worse they are at evaluating the argument. When asked to evaluate the strength of arguments independently of whether it's going to change their mind or not, they tend to be more impressed with weak arguments that support their position than they are with strong arguments against their position. So what is that? Is that framing, or is that something broader? It may be that they can't imagine abandoning a particular belief. It may also be that they're convinced that this is right.
3:04Skip to 3 minutes and 4 secondsAnd so, they don't need arguments on the other side. They've already sorted those through. So thats framing and confirmation bias. Are there any other influences that have been identified. Well, framing and confirmation bias are both versions of rational influence. They're heuristics that enable people to make shortcuts when they're dealing with complicated data. And they often help us make quite accurate judgments about cases. But they're also non-rational influences on our moral judgments. So things like smells can have an influence. Take a room, spray a nasty smell in it, and then ask people to read through cases where they make judgments about rightness or wrongness of the actions.
3:42Skip to 3 minutes and 42 secondsAnd people tend to be harsher judges than they are when the room smells pleasant or clean. So what's going on there? The smell puts them in a good mood or bad mood, and they reason from that perspective? It may be. Or there may be a deeper connection going on regarding how safe the environment is, or unsafe the environment is. Good smells also have an influence. Take a group of individuals in an American shopping mall. Approach them and ask for change for a dollar. And if they're approached in front of a clothing store, then 22% of men and 17% of women are ready to make change.
4:17Skip to 4 minutes and 17 secondsIf however, you locate those individuals in a different spot in the mall, in front of a bakery, with the smell of cinnamon buns wafting past their nostrils, then 45% of men and 61% of women are prepared to make change for a dollar. So the pleasant smell influences their readiness to be helpful to another individual. Is there any reason to think they're reasoning at all? They may be reasoning insofar as they're thinking this is a context where help is called for, and it's worth giving this kind of help in this situation. All right, so we've got all these problems. Is there anything we can do about it?
4:54Skip to 4 minutes and 54 secondsWell, there are limits on how much we can affect the influences of the situation, or of framing effect or confirmation bias, on our reasoning. Knowing about them helps. Just being aware that they exist can enable us to notice that that's going on in the case, and then to step back and reevaluate the situation. But with many of these cases, we tend to do best if we can put together a group of individuals who have diverse perspectives, and we all reason it through together. Because those different perspectives then can weigh against the influences of framing, or confirmation, or some of these more deep seated psychological contexts. Thanks very much Glen.
5:35Skip to 5 minutes and 35 secondsNow, is there any chance of getting a beer or a proper drink. Hear, hear.
Our aim in the course has been to give you the skills to identify true beliefs, and distinguish them from false beliefs. Many of the most important beliefs we try and adopt or reject are moral ones. Beliefs about whether a situation is good or bad, or right or wrong. We saw earlier in the course that logical and critical thinking runs up against some common obstacles. A tendency to prefer evidence which confirms a pre-existing view, to be influenced by the way an issue or question is framed– those sorts of things. Do those same problems get in the way of good moral thinking? Tim Dare puts that question to his colleague, ethicist Dr. Glen Pettigrove.
For more on the studies Glen discusses see:
Eric Schwitzgebel and Fiery Cushman, ‘Expertise in Moral Reasoning? Order Effects on Moral Judgment in Professional Philosophers and Non-Philosophers,’ Mind and Language 27 (2012): 135-153. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1468-0017.2012.01438.x/abstract
Simone Schnall, Jonathan Haidt, Gerald Clore, Alexander Jordan, ‘Disgust as Embodied Moral Judgment,’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 34 (2008): 1096-1109. http://psp.sagepub.com/content/34/8/1096.short
Robert Baron, ‘The Sweet Smell of … Helping: Effects of Pleasant Ambient Fragrance on Prosocial Behavior in Shopping Malls,’ Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin 23 (1997): 498-503. http://psp.sagepub.com/content/23/5/498.abstract
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