Critical Thinking, Part 2: Intellectual Standards


A crucial part of critical thinking consists in holding oneself and others to various intellectual standards, standards that make the very existence of rational discourse and inquiry possible. If one wants to think critically, one must keep each of these in mind when assessing and creating arguments. Each standard below is from The Foundation for Critical Thinking.

Standard: Clarity

understandable; the meaning can be grasped

  • Could you elaborate further?
  • Could you give me an example?
  • Could you illustrate what you mean?

Standard: Accuracy

free from errors or distortions; true

  • How could we check on that?
  • How could we find out if that is true?
  • How could we verify or test that?
  • Is what you are saying plausible?
  • Is what you are saying true? What is the justification for your claims?

Standard: Precision

exact to the necessary level of detail

  • Could you be more specific?
  • Could you give me more details?
  • Could you be more exact?

Standard: Relevance

relating to the matter at hand

  • How does that relate to the problem?
  • How does that bear on the question?
  • How does that help us with the issue?

Standard: Depth

containing complexities and multiple interrelationships

  • What factors make this a difficult problem?
  • What are some of the complexities of this question?
  • What are some of the difficulties we need to deal with?

Standard: Breadth

encompassing multiple viewpoints

  • Do we need to look at this from another perspective?
  • Do we need to consider another point of view?
  • Do we need to look at this in other ways?

Standard: Logic

the parts make sense together, no contradictions

  • Does all this make sense together?
  • Does your first paragraph fit in with your last?
  • Does what you say follow from the evidence?
  • Are your views internally coherent?
  • Is the argument valid? Sound?

Standard: Significance

focusing on the important, not trivial

  • Is this the most important problem to consider?
  • Is this the central idea to focus on?
  • Which of these facts are most important?

Standard: Fairness

justifiable, not self-serving or one-sided

  • Do I have any vested interest in this issue?
  • Am I sympathetically representing the viewpoints of others?

Standard: Completeness

fully-encompassing; inclusive

  • Have I examined and evaluated all the evidence and reasoning present?
  • Has the one who has presented the argument left out crucial facts or reasoning?

Standard: Limitations

the argument’s boundaries

  • What can the argument establish? What can it not establish?
  • Are the claims proportional to the evidence, or do they attempt to conclude more than the evidence provides?
  • How much does the evidence allow us to conclude? What sorts of claims can we and can we not make based on the evidence?
  • In what way is the argument restricted?

Using these standards will greatly improve one’s own and others’ thinking, and they are each essential to rationality itself.

Author: Joe



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