Critical Thinking

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Egocentrism is the tendency to see reality as centered on oneself. Egocentrics are selfish, self-absorbed people who view their interests, ideas, and values as superior to everyone else's. All of us are affected to some degree by egocentric biases. One cannot think clearly about what one is wrapped up in.

—Holmes Rolston
Egocentrism can manifest itself in a variety of ways. Two common forms are self-interested thinking and self-serving bias. Self-interested thinking is the tendency to accept and defend beliefs that harmonize with one's self-interest. Almost no one is immune from self-interested thinking. Most doctors support legislation making it more difficult for them to be sued for malpractice; most lawyers do not. Most state university professors strongly support tenure, paid sabbaticals, low teaching loads, and a strong faculty voice in university governance; many state taxpayers and university administrators do not. Most factory workers support laws requiring advance notice of plant closings; most factory owners do not. Most American voters favor campaign finance reform; most elected politicians do not. Of course, some of these beliefs may be supported by good reasons. From a psychological standpoint, however, it is likely that self-interest plays at least some role in shaping the respective attitudes and beliefs. Admit your faults. I would if I had any.

—Milton Berle

Self-interested thinking, however understandable it may seem, is a major obstacle to critical thinking. Everyone finds it tempting at times to reason that "this benefits me, therefore it must be good"; but from a critical thinking standpoint, such "reasoning" is a sham. Implicit in such thinking is the assumption that "What is most important is what / want and need." But why should I, or anyone else, accept such an arbitrary and obviously self-serving assumption? What makes your wants and needs more important than everyone else's? Critical thinking condemns such special pleading. It demands that we weigh evidence and arguments objectively and impartially. Ultimately, it demands that we revere truth—even when it hurts.

CALVIN AND HOBBES ©Watterson. Reprinted with permission of Universal Press Syndicate. All rights reserved.

The one thing that unites all human beings, regardless of age, gender, religion, economic status, or ethnic background, is that, deep down inside, we all believe that we are above-average drivers. —Dave Barry

Self-serving bias is the tendency to overrate oneself—to see oneself as better in some respect than one actually is. We have all known braggarts or know-it-alls who claim to be more talented or knowledgeable than they really are. If you are like most people, you probably think of yourself as being an unusually self-aware person who is largely immune from any such self-deception. If so, then you too are probably suffering from self-serving bias. Studies show that self-serving bias is an extremely common trait. In one survey one million high school seniors were asked to rate themselves on their "ability to get along with others." Not a single respondent rated himself below average in such ability.9 Other surveys have shown that 90 percent of business managers and more than 90 percent of college professors rate their performance as better than average. It is easy, of course, to understand why people tend to overrate themselves. We all like to feel good about ourselves. Nobody likes to think of himself or herself as being "below average" in some important respect. At the same time, however, it is important to be able to look honestly at our personal strengths and weaknesses. We want to set high personal goals, but not goals that are wildly unrealistic. Self-confidence grounded in genuine accomplishment is an important element of success. Overconfidence is an obstacle to genuine personal and intellectual growth.

Sociocentrism is group-centered thinking. Just as...
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