From the Critical Thinker’s Toolbox: Have You Considered the Other Side’s Best Argument?
by Kenneth Samples
Most of us prefer to listen to people who agree with us. Hearing a critical assessment of our beliefs can be quite uncomfortable or potentially a waste of our time if the criticisms are not well reasoned. However, if we listen only to people who agree with us then we’re susceptible to a type of groupthink where we do not know or address the most viable arguments against our positions.
Because I believe that being an informed and objective critical thinker will likely get me closer to truth, I intentionally force myself to listen to contrary or opposing opinions and positions. Of course, not every issue in life, or even every position on a specific issue, is worthy of such time and effort. Sometimes it is reasonable and necessary to trust qualified authorities in a given field. However, I always give greater weight to those specialists who reflect a fair-minded objectiveness in their analysis of controversial issues.
To get the maximum benefit from this important intellectual exercise I’d encourage people to ask four broad questions. This criterion can be used to approach philosophical, religious, ethical, historical, political, and even key sports (Lakers) questions:
- Is this a sufficiently important topic where I either need or want to form a judgment but in which I have not adequately studied the field?
- Are there likely genuine alternative positions to mine on an issue that may prove true and could significantly impact me, my country, or human beings in general?
- If there is an important alternative or opposing position to the one I hold, then who best represents that position in a clear, careful, cogent, and compelling way?
- Having identified the best representative of this alternative perspective, what is the best inference or argument in its favor and could it serve as a potential defeater of my view?
Here’s an example of how I used this approach recently…