Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Rational Thinking

Thinking rationally means to think logically or justly, that is, your arguments must be based upon your reasons and logic. Use your intellect and give your arguments such that they are valid in most of the circumstances and that most of the people can agree with them that you are a rational thinker.

The main theme of rational thinking is that your arguments should be supported by sound reasoning or logic in a justifiable and convincing (persuading) manner. Therefore, you should be cautious with the use of language and put your opinions in the least debatable way. Your GP questions are mostly based on controversial subject matters and you have to give your assessment about which side is better along with sound reasoning and justification.

Below I have outlined some guidelines which will help you to make your arguments less controversial and more convincing:

Respect other peoples' ideologies, beliefs, traditions, likes, and so on.

Considering the opinions of others is an important characteristic of a rational thinker. Respecting other people's ideologies means considering that others views are equally important to them as much as your views are important to yourself. Similarly, you should learn to respect others culture and religion. For example, if one person related to a particular religion commits a crime you shouldn't blame everyone following that religion to be a criminal. This is called stereotyping. Just avoid it. You should not consider every Islamist to be terrorists just because Osama Bin Laden is a Muslim terrorist. This bias has been highlighted in the Bollywood movie "My Name Is Khan" whose moral is simply that "every Muslim is not a terrorist"! So, avoid such bias and stereotyping and put yourself in a safe place :)

Avoid your instincts or likes and dislikes as the basis of judgement or evaluation in your GP essays.

One of the most important things you should consider is to "avoid your emotions and instincts" in your writing. Don't mingle your likes and dislikes with your reasons. Look at the subject matter from a broader perspective by considering that your feelings and preferences are not important to others. The examiners are not interested in your likes and dislikes. They are, rather, interested in your ability to draw arguments supported by reasons and justifications on any topics posed to you. I found one student asserting the following sentence in one of her essays:
"I would like my partner be helpful and cooperative to solve various problems of our life such as the difficult mathematical problems."

It was her instinct that she felt mathematics difficult or simply hated it and she used it in the wrong place. This is a wrong analogy about "problems of our life". Are the mathematical problems our real life problems? The better analogies would be the financial problems, health related problems, relationship problems, problems brought by natural calamities, and so on.

Either use the superlative degrees with care or avoid them

For example, 'Football or soccer is the most interesting sport event in the world' may not be true for all the people all the time. I just remembered a quotation of Abraham Lincoln - "You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." That is because, everyone is different and has different beliefs, perceptions and opinions, and making a over-generalized statement like this, probably simply because it's best for you, might help you to just lose your marks.

However, facts are exception to this: For example, "China is the most populous country." is completely acceptable because probably no one disagrees to this matter of fact until India overtakes China in population! Considering the population growth rate, India is expected to overtake China within the coming two decades.

Use comparison to make your reasoning more plausible

Making comparison makes you more specific in what you say and thus your arguments become more plausible. For example, if you say "KFC is better than McDonald's." then people will think that there must be reasons for which you are comparing. Then go on making a few more comparisons: "The customer service is simply much better at KFC; the food served is fresher and healthier; and the KFC menu is cheaper than that of McDonald's." This kind of comparison makes your arguments seem automatically valid because people assume that you make comparisons only because you have been to both places or that you have more knowledge about food, and restaurant business in general.

Although I have recommended you to make comparisons, this does not mean that you should use them forcefully and without any valid reasons. If you do so then it will again be a mistake which will be evident to the expert's eye. Therefore, I only suggest you to make comparisons in appropriate places or situations - not just everywhere!


  1. The student who wrote:

    "I would like my partner be helpful and cooperative to solve various problems of our life such as the difficult mathematical problems."

    did state that she wanted her partner's help with the difficult mathematical problems, but she did not state that she thought mathematics was difficult as a general assumption. She merely wrote that there are difficult maths problems and that she would have liked to receive help from her partner for them.

    Did I misinterpret the statement? Please clarify.

    1. To be exact here, it is a wrong analogy. Do you think, mathematical problems are the "problems of our life"?

      The better analogies would be the problems like, economic problems, facing disasters, family and relationship problems (with other relatives), etc.

      Thanks for pointing this out. Plus, I think I need to edit it in the article itself. Let me know if you are satisfied with my explanation.

  2. The most important thing to remember in reasoning is to be just. How to become a just rational thinker? We shouldn't let our biases in a way of our reasoning.