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How We Think John Dewey



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How We Think by John Dewey

Then, third, the meaning is further limited to beliefs that rest upon some kind of evidence or testimony. Of this third type, two kinds—or, rather, two degrees—must be discriminated. In some cases, a belief is accepted with slight or almost no attempt to state the grounds that support it. In other cases, the ground or basis for a belief is deliberately sought and its adequacy to support the belief examined. This process is called reflective thought; it alone is truly educative in value, and it forms, accordingly, the principal subject of this volume.

We shall now briefly describe each of the four senses. In its loosest sense, thinking signifies everything that, as we say, is "in our heads" or that "goes through our minds. In calling the objects of his demand thoughts, he does not intend to ascribe to them dignity, consecutiveness, or truth. Any idle fancy, trivial recollection, or flitting impression will satisfy his demand. Daydreaming, building of castles in the air, that loose flux of casual and disconnected material that floats through.

Moral Principles In Education. Letters From China And Japan. When connected, they simulate reflective thought; indeed, they usually occur in minds of logical capacity. These imaginative enterprises often precede thinking of the close-knit type and prepare the way for it. But they do not aim at knowledge, at belief about facts or in truths ; and thereby they are marked off from reflective thought even when they most resemble it. Those who express such thoughts do not expect credence, but rather credit for a well-constructed plot or a well-arranged climax. Such thoughts are an efflorescence of feeling; the enhancement of a mood or sentiment is their aim; congruity of emotion, their binding tie. In its next sense, thought denotes belief resting upon some basis, that is, real or supposed knowledge going beyond what is directly present.

It is marked by acceptance or rejection of something as reasonably probable or improbable. This phase of thought, however, includes two such distinct types of belief that, even though their difference is strictly one of degree, not of kind, it becomes practically important to consider them separately. Some beliefs are accepted when their grounds have not themselves been considered, others are accepted because their grounds have been examined.

When we say, " Men used to think the world was flat," or, I thought you went by the house," we express belief something is accepted, held to, acquiesced in, or affirmed. But such thoughts may mean a supposition accepted without reference to its real grounds. These may be adequate, they may not; but their value with reference to the support they afford the belief has not been considered.

Such thoughts grow up unconsciously and without reference to the attainment of correct belief. From obscure sources and by unnoticed channels they insinuate themselves into acceptance and become unconsciously a part of our mental furniture. Such thoughts are prejudices, that is, prejudgments, not. Thoughts that result in belief have an importance I attached to them which leads to reflective thought to conscious inquiry into the nature, conditions, and bearings of the belief.

To think of whales and camels in the clouds is to entertain ourselves with fancies, terminable at our pleasure, which do not lead to any belief in particular. But to think of the world as flat is to ascribe a quality to a real thing as its real property. This conclusion denotes a connection among things and hence is not, like imaginative thought, plastic to our mood. Belief in the world's flatness commits him who holds it to thinking in certain specific ways of other objects, such as the heavenly bodies, antipodes, the possibility of navigation. It prescribes to him actions in accordance with his conception of these objects.

The consequences of a belief upon other beliefs and upon behavior may be so important, then, that men are forced to consider the grounds or reasons of their belief and its logical consequences. This means reflective thought -thought in its eulogistic and emphatic sense. Men thought the world was flat until Columbus thought it to be round. The earlier thought was a belief held because men had not the energy or the courage to question what those about them accepted and taught, especially as it was suggested and seemingly confirmed by obvious sensible facts. The thought of Columbus was a reasoned conclusion.

It marked the close of study into facts, of scrutiny and revision of evidence, of working out the implications of various hypotheses, and of. Because Columbus did not accept unhesitatingly the current traditional theory, because he doubted and inquired, he arrived at his thought. Skeptical of what, from long habit, seemed most certain, and credulous of what seemed impossible, he went on thinking until he could produce evidence for both his confidence and his disbelief. Even if his conclusion had finally turned out wrong, it would have been a different sort of belief from those it antagonized, because it was reached by a different method. Active, persistent, and careful consideration of any belief or supposed form of knowledge in the light of the grounds that support it, and the further conclusions to which it tends, constitutes reflective thought.

Any one of the first three kinds of thought may elicit this type; but once begun, it is a conscious and voluntary effort to establish belief upon a firm basis of reasons. There are, however, no sharp lines of demarcation between the various operations just outlined. The problem of attaining correct habits of reflection would be much easier than it is, did not the different modes of thinking blend insensibly into one another. So far, we have considered rather extreme instances of each kind in order to get the field clearly before us. Let us now reverse this operation; let us consider a rudimentary case of thinking, lying between careful examination of evidence and a mere irresponsible stream of fancies.

A man is walking on a warm day. The sky was clear the last time he observed it; but presently be notes, while occupied primarily with other things, that the air is cooler. It occurs to him that it is probably going to. What, if anything, in such a situation can be called thought? Neither the act of walking nor the noting of the cold is a thought. Walking is one direction of activity; looking and noting are other modes of activity.

The likelihood that it will rain is, however, something suggested. The pedestrian feels the cold ; he thinks of clouds and a coming shower. So far there is the same sort of situation as when one looking at a cloud is reminded of a human figure and face. Thinking in both of these cases the cases of belief and of fancy involves a noted or perceived fact, followed by something else which is not observed but which is brought to mind, suggested by the thing seen.

One reminds us, as we say, of the other. Side by side, however, with this factor of agreement in the two cases of suggestion is a factor of marked disagreement. We do not believe in the face suggested by the cloud; we do not consider at all the probability of its being a fact. There is no reflective thought. The danger of rain, on the contrary, presents itself to us as a genuine possibility -as a possible fact of the same nature as the observed coolness. Put differently, we do not regard the cloud as meaning or indicating a face, but merely as suggesting it, while we do consider that the coolness may mean rain.

In the first case, seeing an object, we just happen, as we say, to think of something else; in the second, we consider the possibility and nature of the connection between the object seen and the object suggested. The seen thing is regarded as in some way the ground or basis of belief in the suggested thing; it possesses the quality of evidence. By calling up various situations to which such terms as signifies and indicates apply, the student will best realize for himself the actual facts denoted by the words reflective thought. Synonyms for these terms are: points to, tells of, betokens, prognosticates, represents, stands for, implies. Reflection thus implies that something is believed in or disbelieved in , not on its own direct account, but through something else which stands as witness, evidence, proof, voucher, warrant; that is, as ground of belief.

At one time, rain is actually felt or directly experienced; at another time, we infer that it has rained from the looks of the grass and trees, or that it is going to rain because of the condition of the air or the state of the barometer. At one time, we see a man or suppose we do without any intermediary fact; at another time, we are not quite sure what we see, and hunt for accompanying facts that will serve as signs, indications, tokens of what is to be believed.

Thinking, for the purposes of this inquiry, is defined accordingly as that operation in which present facts sug gest other facts or truths in such a way as to induce be-. We do not put beliefs that rest simply on inference on the surest level of assurance. To say " I think so " implies that I do not as yet know so. The inferential belief may later be confirmed and come to stand as sure, but in itself it always has a certain element of supposition.

So much for the description of the more external and obvious aspects of the fact called thinking. Further consideration at once reveals certain subprocesses which are involved in every reflective operation. These are: a a state of perplexity, hesitation, doubt; and b an act of search or investigation directed toward bringing to light further facts which serve to corroborate or to nullify the suggested belief. Because it was unexpected, it was a shock or an interruption needing to be accounted for, identified, or placed. The facts as they. The act of looking was an act to discover if this suggested explanation held good. It may again seem forced to speak of this looking, almost automatic, as an act of research or inquiry.

But once more, if we are willing to generalize our conceptions of our mental operations to include the trivial and ordinary as well as the technical and recondite, there is no good reason for refusing to give such a title to the act of looking. The purport of this act of inquiry is to confirm or to refute the suggested belief. New facts are brought to perception, which either corroborate the idea that a change of weather is imminent, or negate it. Another instance, commonplace also, yet not quite so trivial, may enforce this lesson. A man traveling in an unfamiliar region comes to a branching of the roads.

Having no sure knowledge to fall back upon, he is brought to a standstill of hesitation and suspense. Which road is right? And how shall perplexity be resolved? There are but two alternatives: he must either blindly and arbitrarily take his course, trusting to luck for the outcome, or he must discover grounds for the conclusion that a given road is right. Any attempt to decide the matter by thinking will involve inquiry into other facts, whether brought out by memory or by further observation, or by both.

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