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Key Idea #3: For Thinking to Be of High Quality, We Must Routinely Assess it

Consistently high-quality thinking routinely assesses itself for flaws and then improves itself by replacing low-quality thinking with higher-quality thinking. As rational persons strongly motivated to improve our thinking, we not only think, but we think about our thinking from a critical vantage point. We routinely apply universal intellectual standards to our thought. That is, we continually strive to think in a clear, precise, accurate, relevant, logical, broad, deep, significant, and defensible ways. We learn how to check our thinking regularly using these criteria.

Strategic Idea

As disciplined thinkers, we routinely apply intellectual standards to our thinking so as to assess and improve its quality. Consider the voice of a thinker focused on applying intellectual standards:

  • Focusing on clarity in thinking. Am I clear about my thinking? Can I state it precisely? Can I elaborate on it in detail? Can I give an example from my experience? Can I illustrate it with an analogy or a metaphor? What about the thinking being expressed to me? Should I ask for the main point? Do I need an elaboration? Do I need an example? An illustration?

  • Focusing on precision in thinking. Am I providing enough details for the other person to fully comprehend my meaning? Do I need more detail and specifics on the thinking of so-and-so?

  • Focusing on accuracy in thinking. Am I certain that the information I am using is accurate? If not, how can I check to see whether it is? How can I check on the accuracy of the information in this resource?

  • Focusing on relevance in thinking. How does my point bear on the issue at hand? Or does it? How does my statement relate to what he just said? How is his question related to the question we are discussing?

  • Focusing on logicalness in thinking. Given the information I have gathered, what is the most logical conclusion I can come to in this situation? Or what is one of several logical conclusions? I'm not sure whether what he is saying is logical. What is another feasible conclusion? What is another conclusion that makes more sense? What are the logical consequences that might follow from this decision?

  • Focusing on breadth in thinking. I wonder whether I need to consider another viewpoint, or other relevant viewpoints, before coming to a conclusion? In thinking-through the issue at hand, what are the points of view that I am obligated to consider if I am reasoning in a disciplined manner?

  • Focusing on depth in thinking. What are the complexities inherent in this issue? Am I inadvertently dealing with a complex issue in a superficial way? How can I dig beneath the surface of the situation and deal with what is most problematic in it?

  • Focusing on justification in thinking. Is his purpose justified? Is my purpose justified, given the circumstances, or is it somehow unfair or self-contradictory or self-defeating, given the facts? How is he using these terms? Is he using them in keeping with established usage? Is he stretching the meaning of the key words beyond the limit of their meaningfulness?

Test the Idea
Focusing on Intellectual Standards in Questioning

In order to improve your ability to ask important and relevant questions in everyday life situations, focus on one intellectual standard per week and try to ask as many questions as you can think of on a daily basis relevant to that standard. Focus on each of the categories of questions described above.

The idea is to ask these questions so often in that week that you begin to bring them explicitly into your thinking (so that asking them becomes more intuitive to you). By practicing asking them for a week, you will be more likely to ask them when they are relevant to the context you are in.

If, for example, you are focusing on clarity in thinking, you will ask the following kinds of questions:

Am I clear about my thinking? Can I state it precisely? Can I elaborate on it in detail? Can I give an example from my experience? Can I illustrate it with an analogy or a metaphor? What about the thinking being expressed to me? Should I ask for the main point? Do I need an elaboration? Do I need an example? An illustration?

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