Episode 2: Thinking in Principle
Ideas are all around—some helpful and some destructive to self-improvement. The first step towards taking control of your mind is identifying first-hand where your ideas come from. To do this, you need to learn how to “think in principle.”
Just like a mathematical or scientific theory can provide a foundational truth that you can apply to a wide range of things, finding the principles that rule your thinking will empower and guide you to make better decisions, especially in unclear or difficult situations. In this episode, Marsha and Liz discuss the way the human mind works through a hierarchy of ideas and principles, and provide concrete examples of how you can develop the habit of “thinking in principle,” and put principles into action.
Identify where your ideas come from
Everyone uses philosophical ideas whether they know it or not. They are often hidden in catchphrases we accept and haven’t fully thought about. Find out how to identify ideas that affect you so you can decide whether you want to keep them or not. Learning how to trace ideas back to their original premises takes some philosophical detective work. Deciphering the basic premises of everyday catchphrases becomes easier the more you train your mind to find them.
Principles of a Well-Ordered Mind
by Marsha Familaro Enright
“The hallmark of a well-functioning mind is the ability to identify facts, analyze ideas, integrate knowledge, and successfully translate principles into action.” - Marsha Familaro Enright
- Do I regularly ask myself what evidence I have for thinking this idea or that conclusion?
- Do I ask myself if the evidence is sufficient for my conclusion? Is the evidence necessary for my conclusion?
- Do I know how much evidence I need to come to a conclusion?
- Do I have clear definitions for my words? When I have a clear definition for a word I can...
- When I think something is true or false, do I search for counter-examples to my belief?
- Do I apply the above to anything I think?
- If I use an idea in my life, do I ask myself how it affects me?
- The truth is more valuable than “being right” because the truth will lead me to what I need to know to achieve my values and goals. Am I committed to the truth strongly enough that I easily admit I am wrong? If not, am I questioning myself about why I won’t admit being wrong when it happens?
- Have I systematically examined my philosophical ideas and principles?
- Have I clearly thought about the relationships of my most abstract ideas to the less abstract ones they depend on?
- Have I identified their connections with the facts clearly?
- Have I changed them if they’re not clear?
- Do I habitually try to find these relationships with all my ideas and conclusions, no matter the topic?
- Have I found the connections between my ideas and integrated them, identified how one idea and set of facts is related to another, melding them into a connected understanding?
- What are the relationships between the facts and concepts in my different fields of knowledge? For example, how does science relate to history?
- Can I identify what subjects and which of their principles apply to a particular question and problem?
- Am I able to recognize basic philosophical ideas and relate them to commonly held conclusions?
- Do I regularly try to pay attention to my feelings and analyze what ideas/premise(s) gave rise to the feeling?
- Do I have a clear structure of common human motivations in my mind? (self esteem, love of children, jealousy, greed)
- How do I recognize when a person respects the autonomy of another?
- Thinking in principle is similar to identifying the “invisible scripts” that guide our lives, like Ramit Sethi describes: "The invisible scripts that guide our lives"
Sethi talks about how you can harness behavioral psychology to your benefit on the Art of Manliness podcast: "Harvesting behavioral psychology for a rich life"
Fermi's Paradox (Wikipedia)
How self-help is useless without the help of big ideas: "The Power of Positive Publishing: How self-help ate America" (Boris Kachka, New York magazine)
Principle vs Formula:
Principle: Honesty is the best way to live a good life. (It requires a bit of thinking to decide when to use this principle).
Formula: Always be honest.