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Lesson Explainer: Factors in Faulty Thinking Philosophy

In this explainer, we will learn how to identify some factors of faulty thinking.

Sometimes, thinking can turn faulty. When we are not thinking well, we are less likely to be able to understand the world around us.

On the other hand, if we know what factors can lead to faulty thinking, we may have a better chance of thinking well.

There are two types of factors that we will look at in this explainer: objective and subjective factors.

Suppose you are a detective tasked with figuring out who stole the famous Vladivostok diamond. There will be numerous factors that might prevent you from coming to the correct conclusion.

Detective on tree notes
Figure 1: A detective observing a suspect. A detective is only as good as their clues.

Some of these factors are qualities of what you are thinking about. For example, you may not have access to an important clue. This is an objective factor because it is something about the thing or problem that you are thinking about that is potentially contributing to faulty thinking.

There are also subjective factors in faulty thinking. Subjective factors are qualities of the thinking person that make faulty thinking more likely.

For example, your dislike for one of the suspects may lead you to believe that they committed the crime (even if you do not have any evidence against them). This is a subjective factor because it is something about you. It is a problem with your own thinking process that is contributing to faulty thinking.

Let’s look at four objective factors in faulty thinking.

Key Term: Objective Factors

Objective factors are qualities of what a person is thinking about.

The first objective factor we will look at is linguistic ambiguity. Some words have multiple meanings; linguistic ambiguity refers to the confusion that this can lead to.

When we communicate our thoughts, the ambiguity of language leaves them open to misinterpretations and misunderstandings.

Although we cannot eliminate linguistic ambiguity entirely, being aware of it may help us to minimize its harmful effects.

Figure 2: Linguistic ambiguity. The word foot can mean a body part or a unit of measurement.

Example 1: Explaining Linguistic Ambiguity

Why does the ambiguous meaning of words sometimes contribute to faulty thinking?

  1. Because different words can mean the same thing
  2. Because we have to use so many words to express a single thought
  3. Because the same words can mean different things
  4. Because people are not willing to spend the time necessary to understand what we really mean

Answer

Some words have multiple meanings; linguistic ambiguity refers to the confusion that this can lead to.

When we communicate our thoughts, the ambiguity of language leaves them open to misinterpretations and misunderstandings.

In that way, linguistic ambiguity can lead to faulty thinking.

The correct answer is C.

The second objective factor is domination. Sometimes, we are unable to think independently because our thinking is dominated by another person or group of people.

Domination can happen because of the influence of a person who is in a position of power or a person who is a skilled and manipulative communicator.

The third objective factor is the difficulty of problems. When we face problems that are very difficult, it becomes harder to think well.

Some problems are so difficult that philosophers have argued back and forth about them for thousands of years—problems like whether humans have free will or whether the universe goes on forever or comes to an end at some point.

Key Term: Problem

A problem is a matter for contemplation or discussion that may or may not have a solution.

Because it is the problem itself that is difficult, we may not be able to eliminate the difficulty completely. For example, if you want to understand whether the universe goes on forever, it would be best to study what philosophers have said about it.

If you try to understand the question without studying what great thinkers of the past and present have said about it, then your thinking is very likely to be faulty.

However, some problems are so difficult that they make faulty thinking likely, even when we prepare ourselves well.

Photo of nervous indoor young business colleagues collaborating with work. Except for the laptop
Figure 3: A group of people pondering a difficult problem. Difficult problems can make faulty thinking more likely.

The fourth objective factor is informational inaccessibility. When we do not have sufficient information to understand a problem, the likelihood that our thinking will be faulty is much higher.

Often, when we do not have sufficient information, we can take steps to correct this problem. For example, we can do additional research.

However, sufficient information is not always accessible. This may be because it does not exist or because we are not in a position to access it.

Example 2: Explaining Informational Inaccessibility

When is insufficient information an objective factor in faulty thinking?

  1. When sufficient information cannot be accessed
  2. When the insufficiency is very serious
  3. When further research can eliminate the insufficiency
  4. When faulty thinking results from it

Answer

The question concerns not only when insufficient information constitutes a factor but also when it constitutes an objective factor.

We can eliminate option D because it does not distinguish between the objective and subjective factors. Either one can result in faulty thinking.

Whether or not a factor is an objective factor is not a question of the seriousness of the factor. Therefore, we can eliminate option B.

Option C can be eliminated because when insufficient information can be corrected by attaining the necessary information, it is not an objective factor. It is the fault of the thinker.

It is the inaccessibility of information that makes insufficient information an objective factor in faulty thinking. Therefore, the correct answer is A.

Now, let’s look at four subjective factors in faulty thinking.

Subjective factors are things about individuals that may make it difficult for them to avoid faulty thinking.

Objective factors that contribute to faulty thinking cannot always be avoided. However, we can make faulty thinking less likely by overcoming the subjective factors and making ourselves better thinkers.

Key Term: Subjective Factors

Subjective factors are things about individuals and their thinking processes.

The first subjective factor that we will look at is prejudice. Prejudice is the formation of conclusions or judgments on the basis of insufficient information.

For one reason or another, we may not always have all the information we need to be able to adequately understand a situation. When we form a judgment about the matter anyway, our judgment is not an informed one. Instead, we are prejudging it or, in other words, being prejudiced. This prejudice makes faulty thinking likely.

We are better off recognizing that when we do not have a lot of information, our thinking is likely to be faulty. If we do that, then we can at least avoid forming prejudices on the basis of insufficient information.

Example 3: Explaining Prejudice

What is prejudice?

  1. Forming any judgments at all
  2. Forming judgments on the basis of insufficient information
  3. Suspending judgment
  4. Judging a person based on their appearance
  5. Predicting the future

Answer

Thinking involves forming judgments about the world around us. Judgment is an essential aspect of thinking.

That means that we cannot avoid forming any judgments at all nor can we suspend judgment as long as we are thinking.

On the other hand, prejudice is the formation of judgments before we have acquired sufficient information to judge the matter adequately.

Judging a person based on their appearance is the form of prejudice that is most widely discussed, but it is also just one way that prejudice is displayed.

Predicting the future may or may not be a display of prejudice, depending on whether that prediction is formed on the basis of sufficient information or not.

The correct answer is B.

The second subjective factor in faulty thinking is emotional bias. Like prejudice, emotional bias can also be a result of having insufficient information. However, emotional bias can affect us even when we do have sufficient information.

Emotional bias is when we allow emotions to overwhelm our reasons and determine our judgments.

Emotional bias contributes to faulty thinking by preventing us from recognizing the significance of reasons.

For example, the detective mentioned earlier is led by their emotional bias against a suspect to conclude that they are guilty. They think that the suspect is guilty of the crime because they dislike the suspect, not because there is strong evidence that the suspect is guilty.

Example 4: Explaining Emotional Bias

We all have emotions as well as the capacity for reason. What relationship between reason and emotions is likely to contribute to faulty thinking?

  1. Maintaining a delicate balance between reason and emotions
  2. Recognizing the validity of one’s emotions
  3. Keeping one’s emotions firmly under control
  4. Finding the right moments to express emotions
  5. Allowing emotions to overwhelm one’s reason

Answer

Emotions are part of the human experience and play an important role in thinking. Reason and thinking well do not entail ignoring emotions. In fact, maintaining a balance between them is crucial to thinking well.

Avoiding faulty thinking and, more specifically, emotional bias does not require one to not recognize the validity of one’s emotions nor does it require one to always keep one’s emotions firmly under control.

However, emotional bias can interfere with thinking well and is a factor in faulty thinking. For that reason, it is necessary to avoid allowing emotions to overwhelm one’s reason.

The correct answer is E.

The third subjective factor is intolerance. Intolerance can also contribute to faulty thinking by preventing us from recognizing the significance of reasons, specifically reasons that support beliefs with which we disagree. When we are intolerant of the beliefs of others or extreme in our commitment to our own, we are likely to make mistakes because we have not given enough credit to the reasons supporting opposing views.

On the other hand, we can also be led into faulty thinking if we are overly suggestible. Suggestibility is the fourth subjective factor. If we do not have enough confidence in our own beliefs and the reasons that support them, we may be too suggestible. That means that we are quick to be swayed by the confidence with which other people hold their beliefs.

This can lead us to give up beliefs that are true and adopt those that are false simply because they are presented with confidence and charisma.

Let’s summarize some of the key points we have covered in this explainer.

Key Points

  • Factors in faulty thinking can be grouped into two types: objective and subjective factors.
  • Objective factors are qualities of the thing that we are thinking about that might cause us to make errors.
  • Linguistic ambiguity refers to the multiple meanings of our words and the confusion that this can lead to.
  • Domination is when a person is unable to think independently because their thinking is dominated by another person or group of people.
  • The difficulty of a problem can make faulty thinking likely all on its own.
  • Informational inaccessibility may arise because the necessary information does not exist or because we are not in a position to access it.
  • Subjective factors are things about individuals and their thinking processes that may make it difficult for them to avoid faulty thinking.
  • Prejudice is the formation of conclusions or judgments on the basis of insufficient information.
  • Emotional bias is when we allow emotions to overwhelm our reasons and determine our judgments.
  • Intolerance of the beliefs of others can lead us to fail to give enough credit to the reasons supporting their views.
  • If we do not have enough confidence in our own beliefs and the reasons that support them, we may become suggestible.

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