Thinking about thinking Reasoning is something we already do: all of us have learnt, in one way or another, to think and to reason, to make connections and see relationships between various events and attitudes in our world. So, being a smart thinker is not about becoming a different sort of person, but about improving skills that you already have. The way to achieve this goal (and the main emphasis within this book) is to become explicitly aware of the analytical processes involved in reasoning.
If you do, then you will be able to analyse complex issues more deeply, understand and process information more effectively, and communicate your ideas convincingly. In succeeding chapters, then, we will learn a way of talking and thinking about reasoning that allows us to understand and use reasoning better. In particular, we will learn about the ‘analytical structure’ of ideas, which is, essentially, the clearest expression of reasoning. However, we usually encounter such structures ’embedded’ in the words we read and hear, or in so-called ‘natural language’.
We must learn to distinguish more effectively between the structures and the natural language through which it comes to us. We will also encounter the idea of ‘analytical questions’, which can guide the way we think about and develop the relationships that comprise our analytical structures. Remember, smart thinking always has a social dimension: we humans are doing the reasoning. As a result, one of the key ingredients of successful thinking and analysis, and of the effective use of reasoning, is our own attitude. For most (if not all) of us, our knowledge will usually consist of both the basic information or ‘facts’ we know, as well as a framework or structure of broader ideas with which we interpret these facts.
Many of us are quite capable of assimilating and ‘knowing’ the facts, but smart thinkers constantly assess their structures and frameworks. In the process, they develop a much deeper and more effective appreciation of situations and events.
Smart thinkers can be confident in their reasoning, precisely because they do not rely on too many unexamined or unquestioned assumptions. First of all, we should always be willing to reflect on our own views and positions—to scrutinise the way we think about the world. We might ask ourselves, from time to time: