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Intellectual Integrity: Holding Ourselves to the Same Standards to Which We Hold Others

Let us now consider intellectual integrity:

Intellectual integrity is defined as recognition of the need to be true to one's own thinking and to hold oneself to the same standards one expects others to meet. It means to hold oneself to the same rigorous standards of evidence and proof to which one holds one's antagonists—to practice what one advocates for others. It also means to honestly admit discrepancies and inconsistencies in one's own thought and action, and to be able to identify inconsistencies in one's own thinking.

The opposite of intellectual integrity is intellectual hypocrisy, a state of mind unconcerned with genuine integrity. It is often marked by deep-seated contradictions and inconsistencies. The appearance of integrity means a lot because it affects our image with others. Therefore, hypocrisy is often implicit in the thinking and action behind human behavior as a function of natural egocentric thinking. Our hypocrisy is hidden from us. Though we expect others to adhere to standards to which we refuse to adhere, we see ourselves as fair. Though we profess certain beliefs, we often fail to behave in accordance with those beliefs.

To the extent that we have intellectual integrity, our beliefs and actions are consistent. We practice what we preach, so to speak. We don't say one thing and do another.

Suppose I were to say to you that our relationship is really important to me, but you find out that I have lied to you about something important to you. My behavior lacks integrity. I have acted hypocritically.

Clearly, we cannot be fair to others if we are justified in thinking and acting in contradictory ways. Hypocrisy by its very nature is a form of injustice. In addition, if we are not sensitive to contradictions and inconsistencies in our own thinking and behavior, we cannot think well about ethical questions involving ourselves.

Consider this political example. From time to time the U.S. media discloses highly questionable practices by the CIA. These practices run anywhere from documentation of attempted assassinations of foreign political leaders (say, attempts to assassinate President Castro of Cuba) to the practice of teaching police or military representatives in other countries (say, Central America or South America) how to torture prisoners to get them to disclose information about their associates. To appreciate how such disclosures reveal a lack of intellectual integrity, we only have to imagine how the U.S. government and citizenry would respond if another nation were to attempt to assassinate the president of the U.S or trained U.S. police or military in methods of torture. Once we imagine this, we recognize a basic inconsistency common in human behavior and a lack of intellectual integrity on the part of those who plan, engage in, or approve of, such activities.

All humans sometimes fail to act with intellectual integrity. When we do, we reveal a lack of fair-mindedness on our part, and a failure to think well enough as to grasp the internal contradictions in our thought or life.

Test the Idea
Intellectual Integrity

Write about a dimension of your life that you suspect holds some inconsistencies or contradictions (where you probably are not holding yourself to the same standard to which you hold those whom you dislike or disagree with). Think of a situation where your behavior contradicts what you say you believe. This might be in your relationship with an employee, or a spouse, for example. Explain what inconsistencies may be present in your behavior.

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