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What has most helped you improve as a thinker? What books, courses, exercises, habits, etc. have helped you achieve greater clarity and understanding?

asked Sep 23 '10 at 22:47

Publius's gravatar image

Publius ♦

edited Sep 27 '10 at 11:21

Greg%20Perkins's gravatar image

Greg Perkins ♦♦

Dr. Peikoff's The Art of Thinking was helpful to me. Beyond that, simply listening to lectures and reading articles by Objectivists, and absorbing their epistemological method. By that I mean: note how they approach issues, how they reason about them, where they begin in any area, what kind of questions they ask to gain clarity, what kind of evidence they give for their conclusions.

Some elements of the distinctly Objectivist approach:

  • Asking: What facts of reality give rise to this concept (or question, or idea)?
  • Similarly, asking: What is the evidence for (or against) this idea or conclusion?
  • Asking: What are the consequences, in reality and in human lives, of accepting and practicing this idea?

answered Sep 24 '10 at 02:33

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jasoncrawford ♦

Thanks everyone for your answers. Here are a few stray thoughts of my own. Most of the lessons here I learned the hard way.

*Contrast is crucial. When dealing with ideas, it's often extremely clarifying to follow Harry Binswanger's advice and ask, "As against what?"

*Be a conceptualizer. Or, to put it more plainly, be in the habit of naming things. Put into words what emotion you're feeling, what your impression was of the person you just met (and ask yourself what facts created that impression), why you liked that movie you just watched.

*Listen to Dr. Peikoff's courses "Understanding Objectivism" and "Objectivism Through Induction" and implement his methods.

*Be a ruthless devil's advocate. No opponent should be able to raise more challenging questions and objections to your views than you.

*Be curious. Ask yourself questions constantly, especially if you don't see an obvious answer.

*Read and re-read Ayn Rand's works. Here's a self-test: how does she start out her discussion of the nature of government? (If you answered "By a discussion of the value of society to the individual" then you're way ahead of the game.)

*Think in essences. Good thinkers know, not only what is true, but what is important. In complex issues, always try to identify what the crux of the matter is.

*Analogies can be extremely clarifying. But they can be dangerous. I've met people whose first inclination in any issue is to search for an analogy; they are definitely not the best thinkers I know. Analogies are best used to crystalize your understanding of an issue.

*Take notes. The more you put your thoughts into words on a page, the more clear and precise your thoughts will be.

*Put things into your own words, and come up with your own examples. The fact that most of us still use chairs and tables to explain concept formation is a stinging indictment. Why not use cats and dogs?

*Often a good question in thinking about moral issues: What would this mean if I adopted this as a general policy?

*Finally: Objectivism is not conventional. If you find yourself making the same arguments as conservatives, libertarians, or liberals, that's usually a clue you don't really understand the Objectivist view.

answered Sep 26 '10 at 12:29

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Publius ♦

The best way to improve your thinking skills is to really focus on exercising your conceptual faculty. This does depend on what time you have available etc. The most effective way is to write. Your knowledge you have is an integrated whole, that is, when you think about a particular concept you do not need to go through the whole hierarchical process to arrive at a conclusion, the conclusion is already there. However, when you write you cannot hand over knowledge as a whole--it needs to be broken up. Imagine writing a recipe for a cake, you could not just write 'Carrot Cake', you need to give a logical, hierarchical explanation in order to arrive at the conclusion 'Carrot Cake'. The same principle applies when you write.

You could pick a particular subject you like and write about it. start by asking yourself, "What do I know?" "How do I know it?" and , "What do I need to know in order to know that." Then write it all down, explaining it to yourself. This was very helpful for me.

I found Dr. Peikoff's 'Philosophy of Education' and Ayn Rand's 'The Art of Non Fiction' very helpful in these matters.

I hope this is helpful.

answered Sep 24 '10 at 09:18

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Radical_for_Capitalism ♦

edited Sep 24 '10 at 09:19

Be sure to tend to your physical health as well as your mental, conceptual and emotional health. Problems arising from even subtle health and fitness issues can impact the central nervous system, including the brain, just as they can any other part of the body. It's easy to overlook this angle, or to brush it off as psychosomatic, so beware of the temptation to do so. The mind works best when it is fully integrated with the body.

answered Sep 24 '10 at 09:32

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kelleyn ♦

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Asked: Sep 23 '10 at 22:47

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Last updated: Sep 27 '10 at 11:21