Intellectual Standards


Humans live in a world of thoughts. We accept some thoughts as true. We reject others as false. But the thoughts we perceive as true are sometimes false, unsound, or misleading.

The mind doesn’t naturally grasp the truth. We don’t naturally see things as they are. We don’t automatically sense what is reasonable and what unreasonable. Our thought is often biased by our agendas, interests, and values. We typically see things as we want to. We twist reality to fit our preconceived ideas. Distorting reality is common in human life. It is a phenomenon to which we all unfortunately fall prey.

Each of us views the world through multiple lenses, often shifting them to fit our changing feelings. In addition, much of our perspective is unconscious and uncritical and has been influenced by many forces – including social, political, economic, biological, psychological, and religious influences. Social rules and taboos, religious and political ideologies, biological and psychological impulses, all play a role, often unconscious, in human thinking. Selfishness, vested interest and parochialism, are deeply influential in the intellectual and emotional lives of most people.

We need a system for intervening in our thoughts. We need to take rational command of our cognitive processes in order to rationally determine what to accept and what to reject. In short, we need standards for thought, standards that guide us to consistently excellent thinking – standards we can count on to keep our thinking on track, to help us mirror in our minds what is happening in reality, to reveal the truth in situations, to enable us to determine how best to live our lives.

Foundation for Critical Thinking

Standards for thinking
Join the Critical Thinking Community Online 
New interactive learning  Free 30-Day Trial!

What are Universal Intellectual Standards?
Universal Standards Part 1
Universal Standards Part 2

3. What is Clarity?

The intellectual standard of clarity derives from the fact that we want or need to communicate a certain meaning to others and unclear language undermines or defeats that purpose.

4. What is Accuracy?

The intellectual standard of accuracy derives from the fact that we are trying to understand or communicate things as they actually are. Inaccurate thought defeats that purpose.

5. What is Precision?

The intellectual standard of precision derives from the fact that we often need details and specifics to accomplish our purpose. Imprecision, or the failure to provide details and specifics, defeats that purpose.

6. What is Relevance?

The intellectual standard of relevance derives from the fact that some information—however true it might be—does not bear on a question to which we need an answer. Irrelevant information, thrust into the thinking process, diverts us from the information we do need and prevents us from answering the question at hand.

7. What is Depth?

The intellectual standard of depth derives from the fact that some issues involve complexity and thinking that ignores complexity will not effectively deal with the complicated problem or issue at hand.

8. What is Breadth?

The intellectual standard of breadth derives from the fact that some issues can be dealt with only from multiple points of view. Thinking that is one-sided when many-sidedness is called for cannot address the problem or issue at hand.

9. What is Logicalness?

The intellectual standard of logic derives from the fact that reasoning that is inconsistent and self-contradictory necessarily lacks coherence and hence intelligibility

10. What is Significance?

The intellectual standard of significance derives from the fact that some questions and issues can only be addressed through gathering and considering important information and focusing on significant ideas and viewpoints; failing to focus on what is important will necessarily keep us from effectively addressing significant problems or issues.

11. What is Fairness?

The intellectual standard of fairness derives from the fact that it is possible to ignore relevant facts and insights when they are not in line with one’s interest or agenda. Violation of this standard is common in human life.

Content from the Foundation for Critical Thinking