About Thinking from Glenn Tinder

"Fair Use"

How does a person go about thinking?

One of my favorite books in the area of political thought is Political Thinking: The Perennial Questions*...written by Glenn Tinder**. Among the many provocative and stimulating ideas presented by Tinder is a short section in the Introduction where he makes some suggestions (applicable to thought in general, not just political thought) about how to go about thinking. Iíve reproduced this short section because I think his ideas, while not the most profound (but then again, thatís a relative statement), contain some basic insights which are helpful to anyone...teachers, students, and the general public. They certainly would make a good basis for a class discussion about thinking...in just about any discipline.
Consider what Tinder has to say...

"How does a person go about thinking? I shall offer a few suggestions in this introduction. Help of this kind, however, is necessarily of limited value. Much of the trying nature of thoughts results from the impossibility of thinking according to teachable techniques. Although much is said about "teaching students to think," a teacher can do little more than offer encouragement and criticism. The appearance of an idea is a mysterious occurrence, and it is doubtful that anyone does, or ever will, understand just how it happens.

But a student can learn to think. My reason for saying that no one can be taught to think is to focus at the outset on the dependence of the entire process on the studentís own solitary efforts. It is both the glory and the burden of thought that it is an exceedingly personal undertaking. The solitude of the mature thinker must be entered into immediately by the beginner. As the mature thinker thinks all alone, the beginner must learn to think all alone. Occasionally one may receive a gift of encouragement or useful criticism, but nothing is decided by these gifts. Everything depends on the capacity for solitary effort.

It follows that little instructions in the art of thinking can be offered beyond suggestions such as the following.

1. Do not try to arrive at ideas no one has ever thought of before. Even the greatest thinkers have rarely done that. The aim of thinking is to discover ideas that pull together oneís world, and thus oneís being, not to give birth to unprecedented conceptions. An idea is your own if it has grown by your own efforts and is rooted in your own emotions and experience, even though you may have received the seeds form someone else and even though the idea may be very much like ideas held by many others.

2. Be open. Ideas cannot be deliberately produced like industrial products. They appear uncommanded, they occur, as we recognize when we say, "It occurred to me that..." You place yourself in a fundamentally wrong relationship with ideas if you assume you can control their appearance. You can only be open to them.

3. Do not hurry. Initial efforts to think about a problem are often completely frustrating. They may best be regarded as a tilling of the ground; time is required before anything can be expected to grow.

4. Make plenty of notes. It is easier to work with your mind if you are doing some corresponding work with your hands. It is often helpful to make notes on large pads where there is room for sketching out patterns of ideas. It can also be helpful to make notes on cards and then to cut up the cards so that each idea is on a small piece of card. These can then be laid out on a desk and rearranged. Often this process suggests new connections among your thoughts.

5. Beware of substituting reading for thinking. Reading about the thoughts of others is not the same as having thoughts of your own. To be sure, to engage in thinking you need some acquaintance with the thoughts of others. The great thinkers inspire, provoke, confirm, and in other ways help you do your own thinking. But to think you must a some point lay down the book and strike out on your own."

*Glenn Tinder...Political Thinking: The Perennial Questions, Fourth Edition...Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1986
-----The latest edition is the 6th...from Longman

**Current Information: Tinder, Glenn E., PhD, University of California, Berkeley Professor Emeritus of Political Science at University of Massachusetts, Boston