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Thinking and Deciding 1: What is Thinking?


Types of thinking

Rationality is defined as “the kind of thinking we would all want to do, if we were aware of our own best interests, in order to achieve our goals” (5).

Why is the middle part even necessary? I guess in order to prevent rationality from supporting goals that are misguided.

There are three different types of thinking: about our decisions, about our beliefs, and about our goals.

The search-inference framework

Thinking of the three above types involves searching for certain objects (information?) and then making inferences about them.

Ah, the objects are possibilities, evidence, and goals. Those are what we use to make inferences.

Thinking according to Baron is “a method of finding and choosing among potential possibilities, that is possible actions, beliefs, or personal goals” (8). It’s what we do when we do not know what to choose, desire, or believe (42).

But what if I’m just thinking about how nice the weather is, or picturing an elephant? Do these things not count as thinking? They are not really finding possibilities, or choosing them.

Judgment is “the evaluation of one or more possibilities with respect to a specific set of evidence or goals.” This is the inference step in thinking.

Thinking about beliefs

This type of thinking involves the same search and inference path. We levy the possibilities and the evidence against our goal to believe what is true, or to believe some specific conclusion. Some types of thinking about beliefs include diagnosis, reflection, prediction, scientific thinking, and learning from observation. I’m wondering if the last part really counts as thinking in every case. Maybe Baron would say that learning from observation can be a type of thinking about beliefs, but it isn’t always.

How do search processes work?

In a search process, the thinker “has a goal of finding some sort of mental representation of possibility, a piece of evidence, or a goal” (15).

One can search through recall (using what’s already in memory somewhere), or through external aids, resources outside one’s own mind. Baron emphasizes that thinking does not just occur in one’s head. It involves the activity of searching by whatever means is usual, like asking people, looking through files, googling, etc. This seems kind of weird. Why should my walking to the library count as thinking? Sure, that is an important step in my information seeking behavior, but the thinking itself does not involve walking.

Knowledge, thinking, and understanding

Naive theories are systems of belief about the world that are superseded by better theories. The belief that the earth is the center of the universe is a naive theory. Baron gives many examples from astronomy to physics. May be useful in making certain cases (against naive introspection, intuition, God’s having given us reasoning skills) in the future.


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