Everyone thinks. It is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed, or downright prejudiced. Yet, the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated.
When I took the PHIL105: Critical Thinking course as an elective at the University of Auckland, I almost couldn’t stand how boring it was. To me, much of the issues being discussed seemed to be nitpicky and inconsequential. But there was something that kept me going to those classes, boring as they were, and before long I began to see the virtue of the things being discussed.
We humans are imperfect. Our brains especially, a marvel as it is, is imperfect. Without realising or acknowledging the imperfections in our thinking, we stand almost no chance in defending ourselves against those imperfections. And that, I realised, was what kept me going to all those classes. I was intrigued to learn about these imperfections, especially since they are so central to the core of our very being. Their consequences are very real and far-reaching, yet subtle, which is what makes them so difficult to combat.
Much has been studied in the field of critical thinking, and as far as academic fields go, it has quite matured. To learn about all those imperfections and how to systematically cultivate excellence in thought go far beyond what this post can provide. I would instead briefly describe two of arguably the most widespread imperfections in our thinking: the ad-hominem fallacy and confirmation bias.