Thinking, as an attempt to understand the world as it is, has a natural excellence or fitness to it. This excellence is manifest in its clarity, precision, specificity, accuracy, relevance, consistency, logicalness, depth, completeness, significance, fairness, and adequacy. These perfections are general canons for thought; they represent legitimate concerns irrespective of the discipline or domain of thought.
To develop one’s mind and discipline one’s thinking with respect to these standards requires extensive practice and long-term cultivation. Of course, achieving these standards is a relative matter and varies somewhat among domains of thought. Being precise while doing mathematics is not the same as being precise while writing a poem, describing an experience, or explaining a historical event.
Furthermore, one perfection of thought may be periodically incompatible with the others: adequacy to purpose. Time and resources sufficient to thoroughly analyze a question or problem is all too often an unaffordable luxury. Also, since the social world is often irrational and unjust, because people are often manipulated to act against their interests, and because skilled thought often serves vested interest, thought adequate to these manipulative purposes may require skilled violation of the common standards for good thinking.
Skilled propaganda, skilled political debate, skilled defense of a group’s interests, skilled deception of one’s enemy may require the violation or selective application of any of the above standards.
Perfecting one’s thought as an instrument for success in a world based on power and advantage differs from perfecting one’s thought for the apprehension and defense of fairminded truth. To develop one’s critical thinking skills merely to the level of adequacy for social success is to develop those skills in a lower or weaker sense.« Back to Glossary Index