Bad ideas are the sharpening stone for good ideas and the articulation of those ideas. If we think an idea is good, kindness for example, and leave it at that then this idea is just a platitude. It offers nothing except to make us feel like we said something good. But have that idea questioned and presented with examples of why the opposite is true and we can refine our idea and not only find out what kindness actually means to ourselves but why it is a good idea. This takes a broad meaningless platitude, like the word kindness, and can turn it into a well thought out idea that can be articulated as such. Also we won’t be bogged down by other people’s interpretation of what kindness means if we can articulate exactly what we mean when we use that term.
So what does kindness mean? If we say kindness is being charitable to people who have less than us then we can ask: does that include people who have committed heinous acts? Yes? Then does that include rapists and murderers? No? But what if they have significantly less than us? Still no? Well why not? And what If someone says that they think being charitable to people who have less than us is a bad idea because it promotes dependence and laziness? Now you have to further your argument and find reasons for why that person could be wrong etc.
This is just one example of how questioning our idea of kindness forces us to refine and develop our idea further. But we will never be as hard on our own ideas as others will be. If you have ever put any ideas out there via social media or friend groups you’ll probably have experienced having them criticised. This forces you to develop new ways of showing why your ideas are good. It also forces you to express those ideas in a way that people will understand them.
There may be times when our ideas are in need of serious criticism and should be discarded or changed and learning whether to develop an idea further or discard it altogether can be difficult to distinguish, but there are some things we can try in order to find out if our ideas are worth working out. We should first make sure that our ideas are logically consistent. For example:
All humans are deserving of my kindness. Person A is (obviously) human and has committed a heinous act. Therefor person A is not deserving of my kindness because they have committed a heinous act.
This is an invalid argument because it is not logically consistent. The first statement and the conclusion don’t follow. We can change a couple of things in order to make this argument valid. The first way would be to make sure the third statement, which is the conclusion, follows the first two statements that are the premises:
All humans are deserving of my kindness. Person A is (obviously) human and has committed a heinous act. Therefor person A is deserving of my kindness because they are human.
The second way to make the argument valid is to change the first statement so that the original conclusion follows logically:
All humans except those that have committed heinous acts are deserving of my kindness. Person A is human and has committed a heinous act. Therefor person A is not deserving of my kindness because they have committed a heinous act.
We need to try to make ourselves consistent with ourselves. If our ideas are logically consistent it makes them harder to criticise.
Now that we have made our idea consistent we can address the premise, why are all humans deserving of my kindness? This technique is the one used in the opening paragraph and is called the Socratic Method. This method is used largely in Philosophy and Law and is usually a dialog in which two people explore or try to find holes in an idea. I love the Socratic method but the problem is that Socratic dialogs often never lead to a definitive conclusion of what an idea actually means. This could be because it is impossible to pin down just one interpretation of an idea and usually an idea is questioned to the point of exhaustion where the person being questioned can no longer answer. I don’t know how practical this is for the average person like myself and I think the method is best not used to completely destroy all of your ideas. I think it shines when trying to refine them.
If making our ideas logically consistent, questioning them, and exposing them to criticism or opposing ideas makes us think better then we should be trying to expose ourselves to opposing ideas frequently. Eventually we will all find ourselves in conversation with someone who has a horrible idea and if we want to be able to formulate a good counter argument then we need to have defined reasons for why our idea is better and their idea is not. Furthermore we need to be able to articulate that idea in a convincing and understandable manner.