Philosophy is for Everyone

What Does It mean to Think Well, and Why Is It Hard Sometimes?

What does it mean to think well?

Most of us probably would like think well and make good arguments. But we might not be sure exactly how to do this.

At a basic level, thinking well means that you have strong, relevant, accurate, and clear evidence to support our conclusions. And it also  means that we avoid common argument pitfalls.

This sounds easy enough, but thinking well is really hard sometimes.

Why is this? Good thinking requires humility, consistent effort, and some amount of discomfort.  That’s because thinking well requires us to recognize that some of our believes, even our cherished beliefs, could be wrong. And recognizing this can cause us some discomfort.

So frequently, people avoid thinking well because they don’t want to face this discomfort. But it’s important to realize that all of us, no matter how smart or moral we are, believe some things that are wrong or incomplete. That’s what it means to be a human being.

“The Death of Socrates” by Jacques Louis David, picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Being smart doesn’t mean you know everything. In fact, the smartest people in the world realize how much they don’t know. (You can read more about this in this post about the surprising way Socrates became the smartest person in Classical Greece: How to Be the Smartest Person in the World.)

Unfortunately, not knowing things often makes us feel nervous because we feel less in control of our lives.

So we try to figure out the truth of things that are important to us like politics, religion, and relationships. And there’s certainly nothing wrong with trying to figure out the truth of matters like this.

The problem is that sometimes we build our beliefs on wrong, weak, or insufficient evidence, and we don’t realize we are doing this. So then we base our identity, our habits, and our relationships on these beliefs. And as you can imagine, if we build our entire our life on certain beliefs, it becomes very hard for us to change them.

After all, changing beliefs upon which we have built our life makes us feel like the rug is being pulled out from under us.

And this brings us to a very reasonable question: If thinking well can make us feel so uncomfortable sometimes, is thinking well worth it?

Here is the next post in the series:
Why Thinking Well is Worth It


On a related note, you might also like these posts: Idols of the Mind: Common Thinking Errors; Are You in Plato’s Cave?

For further reading, you might be interested in these three books I have written (or co-written) to help people develop good thinking habits.

My books are The Argument Builder, The Discovery of Deduction (co-author), and Everyday Debate.

You can find these books at Classical Academic Press here.

And you can also order them from Amazon:

Everyday Debate (I recommend starting with this one.)

The Argument Builder

The Discovery of Deduction


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