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Stage One: The Unreflective Thinker—Are You an Unreflective Thinker?

We all are born as unreflective thinkers, fundamentally unaware of the role that thinking is playing in our lives. Most of us also die this way. At this unreflective stage, we have no useful conception of what thinking entails. For example, as unreflective thinkers we don't notice that we are continually making assumptions, forming concepts, drawing inferences, and thinking within points of view. At this stage, we don't know how to analyze and assess our thinking. We don't know how to determine whether our purposes are clearly formulated, our assumptions justified, or our conclusions logically drawn. We are unaware of intellectual traits and so are not striving to embody them.

At this stage poor thinking causes many problems in our lives, but we are unaware of this. We think of our beliefs as truth. We think of our decisions as sound. We lack intellectual standards and have no idea what such standards might be. We lack intellectual traits, but are not aware that we lack them. We unconsciously deceive ourselves in many ways. We create and maintain pleasant illusions. Our beliefs feel reasonable to us, and so we believe them with confidence. We walk about the world with confidence that things really are the way they appear to us. We judge some people to be "good" and some to be "bad." We approve of some actions. We disapprove of others. We make decisions, react to people, go our way in life, and do not seriously question the thinking we do or its implications.

At this stage, our egocentric tendencies play a dominant role in our thinking, yet we do not recognize this. We lack the skills and the motivation to notice how self-centered and prejudiced we are, how often we stereotype others, how frequently we irrationally dismiss ideas because we don't want to change our behavior or our comfortable way of looking at things.

Test the Idea
Reflecting on Your Knowledge of Thinking

Are you at the unreflective stage of development? Test yourself by writing your answers to the following:

  1. Can you describe the role that thinking is playing in your life? (Be as clear and as detailed as you can.)

  2. What was a recent assumption you made (that you should not have made)?

  3. What is a recent concept you formed (that you previously lacked)?

  4. List five inferences you made in the last hour.

  5. Name and explain a point of view that you sometimes use to guide your thinking.

  6. Briefly describe how you analyze and assess thinking.

  7. Name some intellectual standards you use. Explain how you apply them.

  8. Explain the role of egocentric thinking in your life.

  9. Take one or two intellectual traits and explain what you are doing to try to embody them.

If you have trouble answering these questions, you may well be at the unreflective stage in your development as a thinker. If you are, you do not need to apologize for it or feel badly about it. Most people are at this stage and don't know it. Traditional schooling and the way people are typically reared do not help them become skilled thinkers. Often, parents and teachers themselves are unreflective thinkers. This is the product of a vicious circle. Unreflective persons raise unreflective persons. Once you recognize explicitly that you are at this stage, however, you are ready to move to the next stage. And when you move to the next stage, you may be close to breaking out of the vicious circle of unreflectiveness. This requires that we become honestly reflective—that we begin to notice some problems in our thinking, that we begin to recognize that our thinking is often egocentric and irrational, that changes in our own thinking are essential.

Honest reflectiveness leads to a healthy motivation to change. It is functional and productive. You must not only see problems in your thinking but also have some sense of how those problems might be addressed. You must become reasonably articulate about what you have to do to improve. Motivation is crucial. Without a drive to change, nothing of much significance will happen.

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