The mechanics of motivated reasoning...

Updated: Jul 25, 2020

I try to be aware of my own motivations as I engage with various arguments—those I might be inclined to believe and those I might presume to be dubious. This isn't so easy a task that it can be assumed or placed on auto-pilot. This requires a discipline and insight that easily retreats upon the onset of with emotion... because, of course, emotion is integral to human thought.

Epley and Gilovich argue in particular that our motivations in reasoning show up most notably in how we recruit evidence in our meaning-making.

"When considering propositions they would prefer to be true, people tend to ask themselves something like “Can I believe this?”.... In contrast, when considering propositions they would prefer not be true, people tend to ask themselves something like “Must I believe this?” (137).

The "Can I believe this?" measure requires much less burden of proof whereas "Must I believe this?" would seem to warrant something more like an overwhelming abundance of evidence to move one's thinking. It may be that neither motivation is inherently more valuable than the other; and there are times in which one motivation may be more appropriately suited than the other. But I would argue that we should always know—or at least have made the effort to know—whether we are engaging with a "Can I?" or "Must I?" perspective... because to engage in reasoning without awareness of one's motivations is to engage without the agency that allows for the discernment of truth.

22 July 2020

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