A man at a desk reading

The 4 Steps of Critical Thinking

I finished my notes for A Discourse on the Method by René Descartes and found a 4-step method to thinking critically, a skill I’d like to improve (17). Let’s see how it works:

(1) Never blindly accept something as true – How does this rule apply to what I learn on social media? What about from my parents, church, or state? Just because a message is shared with conviction, that doesn’t validate it.

(2) Break ideas into their individual parts for better analysis – Instead of looking for the “hack” to learn something quickly, consider learning it well. Take time to break the concept into its individual parts and analyze each one. When I do, I’ll discover the areas of my understanding that need work.

(3) Start with the simple and progress to the complex – My impatience to learn prevents me from learning. If I can start with the fundamentals of an idea (and be content mastering them), I can build a foundation for the harder stuff later on. My problem is that I want to get to the complex and interesting right now. Descartes would argue that the fundamentals of an idea are sexy.

(4) Take a survey of the idea from every angle – This one is the hardest because me ego prevents me from learning. I attack an idea from one angle only – the angle that benefits me the most. To understand something well, I need to consider and value the counter arguments.

These skills could prevent a lot of damage in a world where people assume the worst and then tweet about it without ever having applied these ideas. This post won’t fix the world of internet trolls, political hate, or inoculation, but perhaps it will inspire someone to hit pause and think before speaking.

If you’d like to learn more about Descartes, check out my book notes for A Discourse on the Method Here.

Until tomorrow, read slowly – take notes – apply the ideas.

Works Cited:
Descartes, René, and Ian Maclean. A Discourse on the Method of Correctly Conducting One’s Reason and Seeking Truth in the Sciences. Oxford University Press, 2008.

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