Universal Intellectual Standards:

And questions that can be used to apply them


Universal intellectual standards are standards which must be applied to thinking whenever one is interested in checking the quality of reasoning about a problem, issue, or situation. To think critically entails having command of these standards. . . .





Could you elaborate further on that point?

Could you express that point in another way?

Could you give me an illustration? Could you give me an example?


If a statement is unclear, we cannot determine whether it is accurate or relevant. In fact, we cannot tell anything about it  . . . For example, the question "What can be done about the education system in America?" is unclear. In order to adequately address the question, we would need to have a clearer understanding of what the person asking . . . is considering the "problem" to be.




Is that really true? How could we check that? How could we find out if that is true? A statement can be clear but not accurate, as in "Most dogs are over 300 pounds in weight."




Could you give me more details? Could you be more specific? A statement can be both clear and accurate, but not precise, as in "Jack is overweight." (We don't know how overweight Jack is. . .)




How is that connected to the question? How does that bear on the issue?


A statement can be clear, accurate, and precise, but not relevant to the question at issue. For example, students often think that the amount of effort they put into a course should be used in raising their grade in a course. Often, however, "effort" does not measure the quality of student learning, and when that is so, effort is irrelevant to their appropriate grade.




How does your answer address the complexities in the question? How are you taking

into account the problems in the question? Is that dealing with the most significant



A statement can be clear, accurate, precise, and relevant, but superficial (that is, lack depth). For example, the statement "Just Say No", which is often used to discourage children and teens from using drugs, is clear, accurate, precise, and relevant. Nevertheless, it lacks depth because it treats an extremely complex issue, the pervasive problem of drug use among young people, superficially It fails to deal with the complexities of the issue.




Do we need to consider another point of view? Is there another way to look at this question? What would this look like from a conservative standpoint? What would this look like from the point of view of...?


A line of reasoning may be clear, accurate, precise, relevant, and deep, but lack breadth (as in an argument from either the conservative or liberal standpoints which gets deeply into an issue, but only recognizes the insights of one side of the question).




Does this really make sense?

Does that follow from what you said? How does that follow?

Before you implied this and now you are saying that, I don't see how both can be true.


When we think, we bring a variety of thoughts together into some order. When a [number] of thoughts are mutually supporting and make sense in combination, the thinking is "logical." When the combination is not mutually supporting, is contradictory in some sense, or does not "make sense," the combination is "not logical."


From Richard Paul and Linda Elder,

The Miniature Guide to Critical Thinking Concepts and Tools, pp. 10-11

2006 Foundation for Critical Thinking www.criticalthinking.org