We are all subject to flawed reasoning. Any one of us may catastrophically misread the landscape we’re navigating, whether literal or metaphorical, causing us to arrive at false beliefs that end in our deaths. We may also be thwarted in our purposes by setting them too high or low. Someone might outmaneuver us. We may make all the wrong allies—and find ourselves with all the wrong enemies. There are so many ways, and at so many levels, our critical thinking can fail, and so it is that we bring questions to the claims that people bring to us for our consideration–questions like these: (1) Does this person have any real evidence for the things they believe—and what is the quality of that evidence? (2) Are there converging lines of evidence supporting these claims? (3) Is the person an expert on the matters in question, or do they rely on authorities and experts to support their claims—and how reliable are those authorities and experts, exactly? (4) If the person doesn’t have direct physical evidence or data to support their claims, do they at least have other good reasons for believing what they do? (5) Given the quantity and quality of the evidence and reasons available to them, how strongly should they actually hold their beliefs? (6) What indications are there that the person is actually competent to weigh evidence and arguments (do they apportion their beliefs to the evidence, for instance, or do they seem overconfident, believing things without sufficient warrant)? (7) Are their beliefs coherent with other things that are well-known and established (the things we think we already know about the universe and how it works)? (8) Has the person actively sought out disconfirming evidence and arguments? (9) Has the person weighed alternative beliefs or explanations and really come to the best beliefs or explanations on offer? (10) What roles are group belonging, self-identity and esteem, financial interest, temperament, and desire—desire of any sort—playing in this person’s conclusions? (11) Is this person under the spell of a narrative that they’re telling themselves and others about their claims—and are there other ways—better ways—to tell the story of this matter that might break the spell? (12) Why does this person start their stories and claims where they do, and why do they stop their stories and claims where they do? (13) Do the explanations for these starting and stopping points amount to, when push comes to shove, question begging (circular reasoning)? (14) Are the heuristics (the rules of thumb, models, maps, narratives) the person overlays onto reality too simple? Too complicated? Is this person open to reality testing them? (15) Is the person introducing any static into their arguments (things that are beside the point, emotional appeals, logical fallacies, etc.)? If so, why are they doing that? What’s the signal in the noise here?
The critical reasoner brings such skeptical questions, not just to others, but back upon the self. Skeptical questioning directed outward, toward others, but never back upon oneself, is not skepticism. Do you have the capacity, not just for bringing criticism to others, but for self criticism–and the hearing of criticism?