To think for oneself can be a difficult process, especially if you harbor self-doubt, as many people do. Self-doubt causes us to conform to the opinions of other people. When you are unsure about yourself and your own reasoning, you naturally flock to the group consensus. Such actions are even stronger when the group consensus is what is considered being the norm or “common sense”. The sheer number of people supporting one argument is enough for you to doubt anything contrary.
However, if one is to have an “independence of mind” as Alain De Botton puts it, we cannot take what we are told without critically examining it. It is the reason behind a statement that is supreme and not the number of voices speaking. It is reason that allows us to oppose socially sanctioned practices and ideas.
Many people adopt the beliefs and opinions of others without reason.
Other people may be wrong, even when they are in important positions, even when they are espousing beliefs held for centuries by vast majorities. The reason for this simple: they have not examined their beliefs logically.
How does one examine beliefs logically?
The answer lies in the life of Socrates. He was an individual who used his love for wisdom, for philosophy, as his guide. Such love put reason at the center and not traditions, norms, opinions, popularity, etc. His process was simple, but it required a disciplined individual to practice it daily, hence why so many people rather divert such responsibility and adopt other people’s beliefs. But in order to be an individual, one must examine life for him/herself and see what they believe to be right and what is true to them.
The following method is known as the Socratic method of thinking and it can help one to examine the commonly held beliefs, not just of their own but those of the society they are living in as well.
- Locate a statement confidently described as common sense.
- Imagine for a moment that statement is false. Search for situations or contexts where that statement would not be true.
- If a situation is found, the definition must be false or imprecise.
- The initial statement must be nuanced to take the exception into account.
- Repeat the process if new statement also has an exception.
(The Consolations of Philosophy)
Often times the truth is discovered by finding out what something isn’t. What statements are not true, what beliefs have exceptions, what opinions are based on falsity, and so on. Through such critical thinking, you begin to formulate your own thoughts and understandings and, hence, think for yourself.
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