A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.William James

Recently, there was a shooting, and the hoodie sweatshirt became a focal point. Does a prejudice about a hoodie say more about you, or the person wearing it?

What does that mean?
At theFreeDictionary.com, prejudice is defined as “An adverse judgment or opinion formed beforehand or without knowledge or examination of the facts.” and “A preconceived preference or idea.” So rephrasing the quote, “a great many people believe they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their preconceived judgements.”

So, what a lot of people are doing, according to the quote, is simply applying one adverse judgement (formed without having examined the facts) in place of another. This differs from actual thinking because thinking is based on an examination of the facts, and coming to a logical or informed decision based on those facts.

Absent the facts, one cannot actually have an intelligent discussion, much less perform logical thinking. Everything becomes conjecture and hypothesis. While something can come of such theoretical thought, that requires a lack of preformed or preconceived notions about the topic.

To recap, to think you must have facts, and must leave preconceived notions or prejudices behind. Without both conditions, you’re not really thinking, but simply moving your prejudices around.

Why is abandoning prejudices important?  
I believe that finding facts are fairly straightforward in this day of internet search engines, so I won’t spend any more time considering that portion of what we need in order to properly prepare ourselves for thinking. The more difficult thing, at least in my mind is recognizing and releasing our preconceived notions.

You would think that things that are not based in fact would be easy to release, but I’ve seen plenty of people struggle with the issue, myself included. When things aren’t based on facts, they are more accurately described as beliefs, which are based on faith.

It can be truly difficult to dislodge something that has become an article of faith and a part of your being. But without doing so, it is almost impossible to actually think clearly and reason soundly. But beliefs are stubborn beasts, and must be removed all the way to the root, lest they regrow, like a weed.

Where can I apply this in my life?
What are some of the places where you have preconceived notions, based not on fact, but on beliefs? That was largely a rhetorical question, because if you knew you had an uniformed opinion, you would probably have fixed that mistaken notion long ago, right?

Rather than trying to examine every single thought you’ve ever had and challenging it to prove itself to be based in facts, let’s take a slightly easier, if less thorough path. Each time you think you are thinking, examine the thoughts you are having and consider if those are fact based, or belief based.

The next question: on what should we try this new method? There are a lot of emotional issues this election season in the USA, so for those of us here, there’s plenty to use for fodder. For those living elsewhere, pick some debate that is very emotional, and use it.

The point of the exercise isn’t to change your mind, nor is it to change the mind of anyone else. We aren’t trying to start a war, a feud, or even an argument. The point of the exercise is to examine ourselves, not use our keen intellect to flay someone else for their poor thinking.

Consider your position on the topic. What are the facts that underpin your viewpoint? Grab some paper and write these down, with some space between each of your points. Keep at it until you have a long enough list to solidly defend your viewpoint.

Now look at each of them in turn. Consider which might be based more on emotion than on facts. Put a mark of some kind next to them to help you keep track of them.

Start with the ones you didn’t mark and do some quick fact checking. How many sources can you find that match what your viewpoint? How many have different information? Choose one that is most closely aligned with your view and see where they got their facts from. This is a variation of the “keep asking questions” method.

Ask “Who, How, What, Where, When, Why” questions, in whatever order you wish, until you can convince yourself that the fact in question is unquestionable. Be careful of polls or surveys, as properly vetting them require knowing an astounding amount of information, including the exact wording of the questions and the demographics used to arrive at the conclusion.

Now, with the easy ones done, look at the ones you think may be on shaky ground, relative to facts. Do the same kind of research you just did for the other items on your list. If you are having a significantly harder time getting answers, that’s a clue that you need to do more work on this item (in the future, move on to the next item for now).

Another clue that you are dealing with a belief and not a fact is if everything leads back to political sites, opinion sites, blog posts, or editorial pages. Those places are where people air their own prejudices. Those are not the places where facts live, so keep digging until you either find some facts, or give up for now, and mark it for more work in the future.

If everything you came up with checked out, either you’ve already done your homework and checked your facts before coming to this conclusion, or you aren’t trying very hard, and accepting some less than stellar sources for your ‘facts.’ 8)

We are all human, and we all have feelings. These feelings often cause us to jump to conclusions without first checking facts. It’s not a crime, and it’s a very human thing to do. However, now that you know what to look for, you might want to consider what else you can revisit and try to verify.

Whether to reconsider your view in light of the facts, or to bolster your position with facts, where before you only had prejudices.

From: Twitter, @DennyCoates
confirmed at : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/w/williamjam109175.html
Photo by mattpringle

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6 Responses to A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.

  1. srummler 24 December 2015 at 8:17 pm #

    A follow up to my previous comment (can’t edit it).

    So, we all actually rely on our belief, or belief system, when making decisions, taking sides, forming or stating opinions etc… This is true if we base our beliefs on rigorous thought & data/facts, or if we base or beliefs on emotion, hearsay, propaganda, the perceived opinions of groups of others, fear…

    So, my perspective, is that belief and fact are not in opposition, unless the person forming their beliefs does not require their beliefs to be vetted through a rigorous process. In my opinion this process is likely most effective when most closely structured like the scientific method.
    NOTE: In the scientific method we make observations & record what we observe, it is safest to not claim these observations are facts.
    A generally supportive article here:

    NOTE 2: (I’m sure we agree I just want to state that, for the record, facts vs belief is a bit misleading, the important part, which you cover, is the method of formation & verification of the belief)

    • philosiblog 4 January 2016 at 4:16 am #

      Ah, part two… Still no specific belief shown to be proven true, which is a big hole in your argument as stated in the prior comment.

      I agree that there are beliefs based on more substantial information and some based on really poorly sourced information. That said, you comment about facts and beliefs not being mutually exclusive, and I concur. In the context of the quote, this is not the usual case for argumentative persons.

      Indeed, what we do in the Scientific Method is best called observations. Consider the time that some people thought they found something moving faster than the speed of light. They published their observations, and their concerns, and were ultimately proven to have had a minor error in timing which explained their observations.

      Glad we agree on something. Thanks for stopping by.

  2. srummler 24 December 2015 at 7:35 pm #

    Thank you for this valuable article. There are many (I would suggest most, as the quote from William James does) who do not think enough to have well vetted opinions, not based on preconceived bias & prejudice.
    I believe the steps you mention are quite valuable in rectifying this problem. In particular the perspective that finding well vetted reasons for opinion for the sake of solidifying the veracity of the opinion itself & not to provided further ammunition for argument with others, seems quite valuable.

    I feel compelled, however, to provide clarity on one point, belief vs. ‘fact’. A single point of fact is a more malleable thing than a well established, & rigorously tested belief. Consider the ‘facts’ that Newton discovered. By observation & much consideration he correctly discovered the force of gravity. However, his laws & associated calculations have proven to be ultimately incorrect, in the face of a more broad solution (the laws of Relativity which Einstein conceived).
    This means Newtons facts were incorrect, (though not by much). However, science still holds to Newtons belief that there is a force of gravity. Which belief Newton arrived at through rigorous observation and consideration… but ultimately it is still (even to this day) a belief that there is a force which we call gravity.

    • philosiblog 4 January 2016 at 4:11 am #

      Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment.

      Newton is right as far as he could measure. Ultimately, as one approaches relativistic speeds, it begins to break down. Newtons facts were not incorrect, they just are not universally applicable (ie at high speeds, well beyond what he could measure or create for verification purposes). For sane speeds and high school physics, it’s just fine. One can pick apart almost any scientific achievement by finding a specific counter-example, if one digs hard enough, or stretches the envelope far enough.

      As far as beliefs go, how does one test beliefs. If someone believes in a higher power, how do you rigorously test it? What about life after death, how does that get rigorously tested? Granted you have chosen a fact which can be argued, but provide no facts on beliefs, just your own belief that a belief can be rigorously tested and proven to be more reliable than a fact.

      Ultimately, it’s not something I’m all that interested in. We each have beliefs, and many are unverifiable or impossible to rigorously test. Such is life. Hope that helped.

  3. Johannes Olofsson 15 May 2012 at 9:23 pm #

    Reblogged this on FILOSOFISK.


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