…An intellectual is someone who tries to figure out what is true by means of the best processes available, and uses them in a rational, disciplined way to try to avoid deluding himself. . . . [C]onsider a general situation of looking for the truth: you have a pile of conflicting assertions about some matter and you want to know which are true. There are two basic games you can use, the doubting game and the believing game. . . . The believing game also proceeds by indirection. Believe all the assertions. .  .  . In the believing game the first rule is to refrain from doubting the assertions, and for this reason you take them one at a time and in each case try to put the others out of your head. You
don’t want them to fight each other. This is not the adversary method.

–Peter Elbow, “The Doubting Game and the Believing Game— An Analysis of the Intellectual Enterprise” (from Writing Without Teachers) *See our Documents page for a longer excerpt.


  • Find internal contradictions
  • Find lapses in logic
  • Doubt even reasonable assertions
  • Look for imprecision
  • Look for mistakes
  • Uncover hidden (and not-so-hidden) assumptions and question them
  • Compare with your own experiences, reading, and observation to find places of dissonance with proposition
  • Consider negative implications of proposition
  • Consider what good may be accomplished by doubting

  • Don’t doubt any assertions
  • Enter into the skin of a person with other perceptions
  • Remain open; be willing to change your mind (at least during game)
  • Find ways to believe by metaphor, analogies, association
  • Find reasons that it makes sense to agree with the proposition
  • Consider positive implications of proposition
  • Consider what good may be accomplished by believing
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