Universal intellectual standards for Critical Thinking

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  • Part 2: “The essence of accuracy”

Critical thinking is like a favorite sport; the more you practice it the more you excel at it. In the first of the nine-part series on Critical Thinking, I noted that “Clarity means the reader or listener can understand exactly what is being said”, and that Clarity is a “gateway” standard—the first assessment test that has to be passed.

The second assessment test is “Accuracy”. For example: one might say, The sun rises in the west and sets in the east. That statement has clarity alright, but it is not accurate; the truth is in the reverse. Along those critical thinking lines, the following are some nine basic intellectual standards: Clarity, Accuracy, Precision, Relevance, Depth, Breadth, Logic, Significance, and Fairness.

Of course, those are not the only intellectual standards a person might use. They just happen to be basic and universal in that they help one to think appropriately across all cultures, in all discussions, and across all subjects or disciplines.

Check sources for “Accuracy”

To stress the essence of accuracy in the practice of Critical Thinking (when the training was first introduced at seminars at the request of the late Mrs Comfort Engmann of North Ridge Lyceum, Accra) I asked for any textbook to use to verify the accuracy of information and the sources cited. A head teacher happened to select a Religious & Moral Education (RME) textbook.

The RME book contained a number of scripture quotes and on checking for the accuracy of some sources, the teachers were bemused in seeing that some citations were wrong. That was an eye opener in that one could not always believe completely what was read.

In assessing thinking for accuracy, good thinkers may ask: “Is what is presented here as fact really true?” Or “How can one check or verify if what was read or heard was accurate?” Critical thinkers possess an “inquiring mindset” or a “healthy dose of skepticism” about the accuracy of what is presented to them on face value.

Decisions based on accurate information serve as the very foundation of success in all walks of life. And who doesn’t want to be successful? To be truly rich includes not only financial freedom, but that the more you learn about yourself—how you think about yourself, how you think about your own thinking, how you feel—the more your life will flow productively.

Power of thought

The power of thought is the only thing one has an absolute control of. But to use this power effectively one must be able to think accurately. Accurate thinkers tend to not permit others to do their thinking for them, as if acting on behalf of a child or person unable to think for themselves.

Even in cases of medical advice from professionals, one is advised to do due diligence by seeking a second or third opinion. And even then, one may check if the authorities deferred to were themselves dependable in the area under the discussion. That is, are they noted for giving accurate information or advice?

Often important public or international figures, for example, tend to have ulterior motives. A classic and dangerous case was the one committed by the former US secretary of state, Colin Powell – during the George W. Bush administration. His detailed presentation to the United Nations about weapons of mass destruction was a smoke screen for the invasion of Iraq. Though Kofi Annan, then the UN secretary general warned him against it, Powell’s information turned out to be not only inaccurate but caused a calamity in the destruction of many lives, treasure and historic architectural sites.

It could also happen sometimes that people may be quite wrong and not accept it while preening on the ignorance as depicted in this anonymous fable:

Why suffer the ignorant gladly?

Once upon a time, the donkey assured the tiger, “The grass is blue.”

The tiger replied, “No, the grass is green.”

The discussion became heated and the two decided to submit the argument for arbitration. They approached the lion king on his throne.

The donkey screamed, “Your highness, isn’t it true the grass is blue?”

The lion replied, “If you believe grass is blue then it is truly blue.”

The donkey rushed in blaring still, “The tiger disagrees with me, contradicts me, and annoys me. Please punish him.”

The king then declared, “The tiger will be punished to endure three days of silence.”

The donkey jumped for joy and about his merry way, repeating after himself, “The grass is blue.”

In private, the tiger approached the lion, “Why have you punished me? After all the grass is green.”

The lion replied, “You’ve always known that truly the grass is green. The punishment is for degrading yourself – a brave and intelligent creature you are – wasting time arguing with an ass. And to top it all, you came and bothered me merely to validate something you already knew to be true.

“You see, the biggest waste of time is arguing with a fool, a fanatic, who doesn’t care about the  truth but only the victory of their silly beliefs or illusions. Never waste time on discussions that make no sense.”

The morale of the fable is that there are people that can’t see the need for accuracy in their thinking – regardless of all the evidence presented to them. Others are so blinded by ego or resentment that the only thing they want is to be right even when they are wrong. As the saying goes, “When ignorance screams, intelligence moves on”.

Email: anishaffar@gmail.com

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