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Chapter 6. The Parts of Thinking > Thinking to Some Purpose

Thinking to Some Purpose

A British scholar by the name of Susan Stebbing wrote a book (1939) on the importance of purpose in thinking. In it, she said: “To think logically is to think relevantly to the purpose that initiated the thinking: all effective thinking is directed to an end.” We agree. All thinking pursues a purpose. We do not think without having something we are trying to accomplish, without having some aim in view, something we want. When humans think about the world, we do not do so randomly but, rather, in line with our goals, desires, needs, and values. Our thinking is an integral part of a patterned way of acting in the world, and we act, even in simple matters, with some set of ends in view. To understand someone's thinking—including one's own—we must understand the functions it serves, what it is about, the direction it is moving, and the ends that make sense of it.

Much of what we are after in our thinking is not obvious to us. Raising human goals and desires to the level of conscious realization is an important part of critical thinking. Though we always have a purpose in thinking, we are not always fully aware of that purpose. We may have some vague idea of it. Perhaps we have not clearly come to terms with our purpose. For example, you might call a meeting to discuss an important issue with your staff, but you may not know exactly what you are trying to accomplish in the meeting. As a result, the thinking during the meeting may diverge in many unhelpful directions. Without a clear sense of what you are about, the thinking you do may be very unproductive.


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