I am currently reading ‘Asking the Right Questions: A Guide to Critical Thinking’ by M. Neil Browne and Stuart M. Keeley which is already boosting my confidence with critical thinking. I’m writing this mainly as a means for myself to make my understanding of the topics covered in the book more concrete, but it may also serve as an introduction to critical thinking to the reader as well (assuming that my understanding is correct that is!).
Values are defined in the book as; “unstated ideas that people see as worthwhile. They provide standards of conduct by which we measure the quality of human behaviour.” We all have values, it’s part of being human, but we all value different things – which is what informs our different opinions on important topics and controversies. For example, someone who believes marijuana should be illegal probably values public health, order and safety over individual liberty and rights, whereas someone who believes marijuana should be legal probably values individual liberty and rights over public health, order and safety.
In order to be a critical thinker we must understand the values of those whose opinions differ from ours. It helps us to understand why they believe what they do, and can also help us to spot any ‘value assumptions’ that they might make in their reasoning.
The book lists some common values that people hold:
Freedom of speech,
To understand why a person is arguing the way that they are, it is important to understand the kinds of values they have as a person. For the critical thinker we are told to value autonomy, curiosity, humility and respect for good reasoning. It’s also important as a critical thinker to try not to become too emotionally involved with our values, emotions are particularly good at clouding our judgements. Understanding this will also help you to spot it in others.
It also helps us to communicate effectively with others, if we can understand the kinds of things that they value. It doesn’t mean we have to agree with them, but understanding their values will at least help us to respect their opinions.