Intro to Logic: How to Think Better

by Luke Muehlhauser on April 10, 2009 in Intro to Logic

Last time, I wrote about the importance of good thinking. Good thinking can spare us from confusion, pain, and bad decisions. It can protect us from being scammed and deluded. It can help us focus on things that really matter, and find solutions that really work.

If you want to become a better thinker, this is the course for you. But you won’t get better just by reading. You have to actually (1) decide you want to get better at thinking.

Some people never learn to think because they can’t admit they’re no good at it. It’s like the young man who has no idea how to approach women, flirt with them, and create chemistry. He pretends he is a “player” and is happy with his sex life, but really he is frustrated that he can’t be with the kind of woman he wants.

Of course, he could learn all these skills if he spent the time to learn and practice them! But he never does, because first he’d have to admit that he’s inept at something so basic to humanity as building attraction in the opposite sex.

When I first decided to learn how to think better, I had to admit that I was bad at thinking. Huh? Bad at thinking? I was embarrassed that I was bad at something so fundamental. It felt like admitting that I was bad at walking. But it’s true! The difference is that we spend years of daily practice to become experts at walking. Not so with thinking. We go to school and fill our heads with knowledge, but most of us do not spend much time learning how to think better.

So, you have to decide that your thinking is something you want to improve.

Then, of course, you must (2) learn how to think better. Thinking is a set of skills you have study and learn just like any other skillset. There are specific things you can do to recognize bad thinking, overcome your biases, etc. So you can learn what makes for good thinking, and how to do it.

You must also (3) practice good thinking every day.

Yup, thinking takes practice! Just as with any other skill – like basketball or piano or engineering or salesmanship – you can’t just read about it. You have to use good thinking to develop those skills.

Eventually, good thinking will be second-nature to you. You will recognize logical fallacies – by name! – without even having to try. After each practice session, good thinking will be a little bit easier. But you have to practice.

Later, we’ll see why logic is such a useful form of good thinking. But first, we’ll start with an easier precursor to logic  called critical thinking.

(Also see the post index to this Intro to Logic series.)

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Alden April 10, 2009 at 6:52 pm

On this, I will agree with you.  Too few people know how to think critically.  How you get from critical thinking to atheism, however, is another matter… ;-)

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Aaron April 10, 2009 at 10:22 pm

Alden: On this, I will agree with you.  Too few people know how to think critically.  How you get from critical thinking to atheism, however, is another matter…

Because as we all know, only the blind acceptance of a 2,000 year old book constitutes “critical thinking”…

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Anselm April 11, 2009 at 9:17 am

Aaron: Because as we all know, only the blind acceptance of a 2,000 year old book constitutes “critical thinking”…

The assertion that theists necessarily practice “blind acceptance” is a good example of “sloppy thinking”

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Walter April 11, 2009 at 11:47 am

Anselm: The assertion that theists necessarily practice “blind acceptance” is a good example of “sloppy thinking”

You accept that a human authored book is the Word of God. The evidence backing up that assertion is slim indeed. How many theists accept the premise that their sacred book(s) are revelations from God, Allah, Brahma, etc.  simply because authority figures told them that, and they never questioned their religious authorities?

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creoque April 11, 2009 at 2:53 pm

Excuse me if I am missing something but….but are the remaining articles going to be about different methods or ways how to improve your logical thinking?

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lukeprog April 11, 2009 at 4:25 pm

creoque,

Yup! Pardon the introductory posts. I’ll explain the specific skills in the rest of the posts.

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Reginald Selkirk April 11, 2009 at 5:26 pm

Will there be a chapter on how to use the appearance of logic to bolster a pre-drawn conclusion?

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lukeprog April 11, 2009 at 6:05 pm

I don’t know anybody, theist or atheist, that needs help with that. Oh, wait. Kirk Cameron does.

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Anselm April 11, 2009 at 6:37 pm

lukeprog: I don’t know anybody, theist or atheist, that needs help with that. Oh, wait. Kirk Cameron does.

Bill Maher and Keith Olbermann could also use help in that area.

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lukeprog April 11, 2009 at 9:39 pm

You’ll get no disagreement from me!

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anti-supernaturalist April 12, 2009 at 9:32 am

Those not with us are against us. – Luke 11:23 NIV

*Skeptics cannot undermine beliefs which require spiritual insight to believe!* 

Delicious. Pause to savor.

Behold the classic logical failure of an “immunizing strategy.” Only a believer can understand another believer’s beliefs. It is a form of begging the question — presupposing without proof the very point at issue.

But, one pays dearly when immunizing a belief from criticism. It cuts off rational communication.

It amounts to deflecting away every request for reasoning outside the charmed circle of language which only a believer could use.

You cannot respond *rationally* to critics by saying that only those who are with me can understand what I have to say. There must be some starting point in a discourse common to believer and to critic. Otherwise, there’s nothing that can be talked about.

Now you know why the xian “conversion” process has always begun with “paradoxical” claims to induce belief. And to a rational Greek nothing was more absurd than a “god on the cross.”

anti-supernaturalist

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creoque April 12, 2009 at 2:56 pm

lukeprog: creoque,Yup! Pardon the introductory posts. I’ll explain the specific skills in the rest of the posts.

Ok that would helpfull. Looking forward to that. Btw have you ever heard of this software: http://rationale.austhink.com/  ?

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lukeprog April 12, 2009 at 3:45 pm

creoque,

As it happens, I’m a huge fan of Austhink, and have a massive upcoming post series on argument mapping. :)

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Bas April 12, 2009 at 4:18 pm

lukeprog: creoque,As it happens, I’m a huge fan of Austhink, and have a massive upcoming post series on argument mapping.

Lukeprog,
That also sounds good. I’m thinking of buying the software, but will do a little bit of more research about it though. lets see what you have to write about them

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