Rambling aimlessly through the world is no one’s intent but, how does one ensure a purposeful understanding of everyday surrounds, encounters, communications, and events? Chaffee asserts, “instead of simply relying on the testimony of authorities, critical thinkers have a responsibility to engage actively in the learning process and participate in developing their own understanding of the world” and offers guidance to assure critical thinkers are successful in developing their understanding of the world. This guidance provides measures to distinguish between what you “know” and what you “believe,” explains how to evaluate the direct and indirect experience, instructions for incorporating those experiences to evaluate beliefs.

Thus, Chaffee provides a safeguarded avenue that critical thinkers can embark on to ensure they are able to combine these experiences and use them toward elevating their beliefs and developing a purposeful understanding of the world. Much of the information presented in this article comes from the Cengage website.

The difference between what we know and what we believe

The first step in this process is to distinguish between what you “know” and what you “believe.” What is believed is something one typically gives little thought to because it has become acceptable, either due to childhood traditions, following the norm or personal experiences. Chaffee defines beliefs as, Interpretations, evaluations, conclusions, and predictions about the world that we endorse as true.” What is known is something that has been researched and proven true by reliable sources.

Chaffee, however, instills the importance of subjecting our beliefs to the same scrutiny we would something we do not believe in. It is through this scrutiny that one begins to elevate their beliefs and develop a purposeful understanding of the world.

Separating types of life experiences

Next, we move on to discuss how to evaluate the direct and indirect experience.

With direct experiences, per Chaffee, we must evaluate our direct experiences against those of others, “Yet no matter how much you have experienced in your life, the fact is that no one person’s direct experiences are enough to establish an adequate set of accurate beliefs. We can only be in one place at one time—and with a limited amount of time at that.

As a result, we depend on the direct experience of other people to provide us with beliefs and to act as foundations for those beliefs.” With indirect experiences, we use both written and spoken perspectives of other people’s direct experiences to develop and revise personal beliefs, these shared perspectives become our indirect experiences. With this borrowed information the next step in evaluating our experiences is to clarify how reliable the information is as well as the source of the information. This process is completed by critical thinking and answering, “Is the belief supported by reason and evidence, are the predictions accurate, are the beliefs consistent with other beliefs and knowledge and are the beliefs compelling and coherent explanations?”

Evaluating our beliefs

After answering the questions about new experiences and perspectives, the final step is incorporating those experiences to evaluate beliefs.

This is conducted by weighing the newfound knowledge against previous beliefs. Chaffee identifies the elements used to evaluate beliefs as authorities, references, factual evidence, and personal experiences. In this evaluating process, it is also important to balance personal views on the situation or topic against the views of others.

Open your mind to possibilities outside our beliefs

In conclusion, Chaffee warns critical thinkers of being closeminded and illustrates the importance of other people’s perspectives in the process of evaluating beliefs, “Although it is important to think for yourself, others may have good ideas from which you can learn and benefit. Critical thinkers realize that their viewpoints are limited and that their perspective is only one of many. If we are going to learn and develop, we must try to understand and appreciate the viewpoints of others.