Using Questions to Think
eBook - ePub

Using Questions to Think

How to Develop Skills in Critical Understanding and Reasoning

Nathan Eric Dickman

  1. 288 pagine
  2. English
  3. ePUB (disponibile sull'app)
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eBook - ePub

Using Questions to Think

How to Develop Skills in Critical Understanding and Reasoning

Nathan Eric Dickman

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Our ability to think, argue and reason is determined by our ability to question. Questions are a vital component of critical thinking, yet we underestimate the role they play. Using Questions to Think puts questioning back in the spotlight. Naming the parts of questions at the same time as we name parts of thought, this one-of-a-kind introduction allows us to see how questions relate to the definitions of propositions, premises, conclusions, and the validity of arguments. Why is this important? Making the role of questions visible in thinking reasoning and dialogue, allows us to: - Ask better questions
- Improve our capability to understand an argument
- Exercise vigilance in the act of questioning
- Make explicit what you already know implicitly
- Engage with ideas that contradict our own
- See ideas in broader context Breathing new life into our current approach to critical thinking, this practical, much-needed textbook moves us away from the traditional focus on formal argument and fallacy identification, combines the Kantian critique of reason with Hans-Georg Gadamer's hermeneutics and reminds us why thinking can only be understood as an answer to a question.

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Informazioni

Anno
2021
ISBN
9781350177703
Edizione
1
Argomento
Philosophy
Part I
Make Questions Explicit for Thinking
Part Outline
Part I: Make Questions Explicit for Thinking
Chapter 1: Thinking Only Happens in Complete Thoughts
Sentential Subjects Pick Out Particular Things
Predicates Situate Sentential Subjects
The Copula Is More Than the Sum of its Parts
An Intersection of Language and Thought
Orientations for Critical Thinking
Chapter 2: What Do Questions Do to Complete Thoughts?
Closed and Open Questions Can Be Neutral or Loaded
Genuine Questions Are Not Epistemic Imperatives
A Phenomenology of Genuine Questions
Chapter 3: A Different Logic of Question and Answer
How to Question Complete Thoughts from at Least Four Directions
Presuppositions Provide Constraints in Questions
Prejudices Are Historically Transmitted Presuppositions
Dogmatic Thought Lacks Genuine Questions
Part I: Make Questions Explicit for Thinking
Let’s work through two topics in this first part: thinking and questioning. What even is thinking? How might questioning relate to thinking? You have probably considered questions like these before. Many people have given me advice like, “Don’t overthink it.” Is “overthinking” possible? Other people have told me to “think before you speak.” Is it possible to speak without thinking, or think without speaking—at least in an inner voice (see Dolcos and Albarracin 2014, and Alderson-Day and Fernyhough 2015)? I heard someone say recently, “I finally relaxed and stopped thinking.” In whose interest is it to get us to believe that relaxing involves putting a pause on thought?
Our primary topics for Part I are no small task to explain, of course. Yet we do not have to start from scratch because numerous writers, researchers, and—if I may—thinkers have already formulated theories of thinking. Consider the following philosophers from across global history. The ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, developed thinking as identifying what particular substances are included in distinctive categories, categories that highlight what is shared across multiple particular things. The medieval Buddhist philosophers, Dignaga and Dharmakirti, alternatively, developed thinking as the exclusion of all other phenomena from that which someone is attempting to indicate with a name or concept. The European enlightenment philosopher, Immanuel Kant, developed thinking as the combination or synthesis of possible particular sensations with general concepts and categories. The late continental feminist philosopher, Pamela Sue Anderson, developed thinking as, in part, a process of conceptually explaining and interpreting metaphorical and mythic images.
There are many more theories of thinking, from many more angles than just philosophy. We can, for example, identify differences between the ways neuroscientists and meditation specialists approach and define thinking. For neuroscientists, thinking is an electrochemical process of synaptic networks. Buddhist meditation specialists, however, approach thinking as one among our many temptations to cling to things, where we increase our own suffering by not being able to let go of them.
Let us take the time to dwell with thinking and what calls for it. In this part, I will look closely at fundamental elements of complete thoughts: subjects and predicates. I will then turn to examine ways questioning facilitates the separation and combination of subjects and predicates in complete thoughts, emphasizing in particular what it feels like to question. I will also formulate a schema for at least four orientations of questioning in relation to complete thoughts. I will close this part by reflecting on what happens to “thinking” when we repress or forget its intrinsic interplay with questioning.
1
Thinking Only Happens in Complete Thoughts
Chapter Outline
Sentential Subjects Pick Out Particular Things
Predicates Situate Sentential Subjects
The Copula Is More Than the Sum of its Parts
An Intersection of Language and Thought
Orientations for Critical Thinking
Because words often are used in many ways, it is helpful to stipulate a definition to focus our attention on a shared topic. The approach to thinking I want us to take throughout this book will be based on what a “complete thought” consists of. Let’s reflect back all the way to our grammar textbooks in elementary schools. You might recall that a complete thought consists of both a subject and a predicate, or a noun and a verb. These are the fundamental particles of thinking. A sentential subject isolates that about which we have something to say; a predicate is what we say about that subject. The famous Schoolhouse Rock song puts it this way: “Mr. Morton is the subject of our sentence, and what the predicate says, he does.” Inasmuch as complete thoughts are combinations of subjects and predicates, then—on this elementary level—thinking is the activity of combining (or separating, as the case may be) subjects and predicates. Let’s break this down in more detail.
In this chapter, I will examine both subjects and predicates, and then turn my attention to the processes of combining and separating subjects and predicates. I will end the chapter with some discussion of the agency of thinking (i.e., the thinker), as well as what we can mean by “critical” thinking in this framework. Upon completing this preliminary discussion of thinking itself, we will be positioned well to turn our attention to relations between thinking and questioning.
Sentential Subjects Pick Out Particular Things
What is a sentential subject? Examples of subjects are things like proper names, pronouns, definite descriptions, indexicals, and more. On the whole, subjects pick some singular thing out as the topic about which one has something to say. They answer the question, “What is being talked about?” I visualize it this way: in the midst of fluctuating sensations, we lift up some sliver of experience to do something with it. Because we have particular experiences that stand out to us, we have something to say about them. This is something we’re all familiar with: sometimes an experience strikes us in such a way that “it” stands out from a background, or what we can call a horizon of experience. Once it stands out, it is available to us as something about which we can speak. We objectify—or make into an object—this element of our experience, so that we can use a name or pronoun to point to it and speak about it.
This process takes on a special, and negative, significance when it is applied inappropriately to persons—that is, when a person is “objectified.” Our propensity to do this to other people is unfortunately very common, even though most of us know it should not happen. It is wrong to objectify people into mere things, because people are not things or tools to use and discard. Nevertheless, to be able to speak about people, we must “subjectify” them in this sense of isolating a topic—not just as agents of their actions, but also as sentential subjects standing out from broader horizons of our experience. Because of our tendency to objectify others, though, we should be careful about our ways of subjectifying others, perhaps by being careful about what it really is to “subjectify” as such. We know, for instance, that when we talk about “love”—such as in the complete thought “Love is blind”—that love really is not a mere object or thing even though we have to treat it that way to talk about it. The process of treating something abstract like love as a concrete or specific object is called “reification.” Reification happens all the time, and it is okay, unless we forget about it or we misrecognize we are doing it (see Bell 2009). When we forget or misrecognize we are doing it, we are likely to take our heuristic as if it were how things really are, we take our way of representing things as how things must be.
My approach to sentential subjects matters because it inverts some traditions of linguistic philosophy that lead into what has been called “the problem of reference” (see Nye 1998). The problem of reference comes up because we ordinarily believe there is a rigid division between, on the one hand, lived experience of reality or even some reality outside our minds, and, on the other hand, thought about our experience or statements about reality. In frameworks that assume this division, a worry emerges: How can we be sure our words—words that often appear to be mere arbitrary conventions or social constructs—cross that chasm between our minds and reality out there as such? We can diagnose such approaches to language as being centered on names and sentential subjects. Names seem to be used to refer to particular individuals. Are words just names, though, like nametags or Post-It note labels, placed on objects out there in the real world? Such approaches to language and reality start from an assumption that thought and language are merely in our minds or merely in our social conventions, and then move to ask (surely accompanied by a puzzled look!) about how we reach from here (inside the mind, or within our system of symbols) to things in themselves as they “truly” are independent of our distorted languages. One might ask, “Do our mental representations accurately correspond to things ‘out there’?” For us here, though, it is not that we need to figure out how our thoughts and language correspond to reality. We are not assuming this representational model of language as the central feature for how language works. Instead, experiences, especially those worthy of the name, stand out and compel us to speak up about them.
Note that an interesting limitation to complete thoughts emerges in this development of sentential subjects. There are some things that can never really be subjects of sentences or topics. That is, even if we can place them in the subject position in a complete thought, it does not mean we are actually thinking that which we are saying. Even if we try to reify these things, as we do with abstract notions like love, we will be unsuccessful. Take, for example, the sentence: “Everything just increased by ten times its size.” This seems to be a complete thought with a subject (“everything”) and a predicate (“just increased by ten times its size”). However, can “everything” really work as a sentential subject? Recall that, by our definition, subjects pick out some single thing from the midst of everything else or our broader horizon of experience. So, since “everything” is not one single thing but the totality including all broader horizons, it cannot work as a sentential subject successfully. There needs to be a contrast between what is set off by the sentential subject for predication, a contrast between this and something else. However, a sentence with two subjects still can work: “Mandy and Xavier just increased by ten times their size.” Unlike the names of particular individuals, the word “everything” has no contrast. This example sentence might strike us as a “deep thought,” something we might see on a shower thoughts blog. It might even lead some philosophers into metaphysical investigations, where they attempt to clarify the nature of reality to solve how everything cannot indeed increase by ten times its size all of a sudden. For us, though, this apparently deep puzzle can be dissolved by pointing out the surface grammatical issue that “everything” cannot be a subject of a complete thought. Notice that this complete thought (“‘everything’ cannot be a sentential subject”) is about sentential subjects, where we are saying something about a concept (“everything”) and not saying something about some one thing out there or reality as a whole. We could surely come up with other examples similar to this. How about “nothing”? Could that work as a subject of a complete thought? Why not? What about “being itself”? What about “the universe”? Pointing out such a grammatical restriction for these sorts of terms does not mean we should never try to think about these things. In fact, trying to think about them has proven to be excellent exercises for improving thinking (see, for example, Nagarjuna 1995). We also might have other interests in using them to expose limitations of thought, or—as the ancient Buddhist philosopher, Nagarjuna, uses them—to facilitate someone’s realization of nirvana.
Predicates Situate Sentential Subjects
Let’s turn our attention to predicates now. What is a predicate? Predicates are what we say about a subject. Thought and language—we will return to ways these are related later—really get started with predication. Predicates are the distinctive trait of complete thoughts. We might think language starts with individual signs or labels like names. Individual signs are elements of language. While we find signs or single words with definitions in dictionaries, these lexical entries are only virtual or potential instances of language. It is in the predicative use of words, in predications we actually make about subjects in specific moments, that language gets traction between us in dialogue; it is in the predicative use of words that language has actuality. I want us to approach it all this way: there are no “words” in dictionaries, but merely abstract signs. Words transform—or decompose, really—into signs when they are placed in dictionaries. As hermeneutic philosopher Paul Ricoeur puts this:
Are not words lying quietly in our dictionaries? Certainly not. There are not yet (or there are no longer) words in our dictionaries; there are only available signs delimited by other signs within the same system by the common code. These signs become words charged with expression and meaning when they come to fruition in a sentence, when they are used and take on a use value. Of course they come from, and after usage fall back into, the lexicon; but they have real meaning only in that passing instance of discourse we call a sentence. (Ricoeur 1998, 34–5)
Signs only transform into real or actual words through their usage in complete thoughts. This distinction between signs and words is pretty apparent when we try to learn other languages. As long as we have to take terms from the new language and translate them into our more familiar language, we are not yet to a point of using that new language’s words as words. You may have heard some people say that you do not really have fluency in a new language until you have a complete dream in that language. When we have fluency, we are capable of predicating of subjects without term by term, or sign by sign, translation.
Predicates answer the question, “What is being said about the subject being talked about?” On a primal level, something strikes us so vibrantly that we just cannot help but have something to say about it. Whereas sentential subjects tempt us to picture the world as piles of discrete things or objects, predicates show us relations and processes. Put another way, predicates place subjects in a predicament. Subjects are predicable. Subjects are that of which one is able to predicate. Predicates are relevant predicaments of subjects as predicables (see Kant 2007, 106).
Consider this example: “Your keys are on the kitchen counter.” Being on the kitchen counter is the predicament your keys are in. Of course, the fact that they are on the counter may not be the most relevant aspect of the situation. Perhaps what’s missing from the complete thought is an emphasis on “kitchen,” where your keys are still inside the house on the other side of the locked door. Sometimes thoughts dawn on us that show us we locked ourselves out of our house. Predicates situate subjects in an articulate and intelligible context. And insofar as they succeed at this, they also show us something about our own situation. I will return to this when I speak about the agency of thinking and subjectivity.
We need to be careful in defining predicates so that they do not come off as just bigger or more general names. We should not co...

Indice dei contenuti

  1. Cover
  2. Half-Title
  3. Series
  4. Title
  5. Contents
  6. Preface
  7. Acknowledgments
  8. Introduction: An Age of Answers
  9. Part I Make Questions Explicit for Thinking
  10. Part II Make Questions Explicit for Reasoning
  11. Part III Make Questions Explicit in Dialogue
  12. Appendix for Instructors
  13. Glossary
  14. Bibliography
  15. Index
  16. Copyright