Standards of Thinking

Critical thinking is thinking about your thinking while you are thinking in order to make your thinking better.

Improvement in thinking involves assessing your thinking and reasoning against some kind of quality standards. Below are four standards with the acronym CARL to help your remember them ... Clarity, Accuracy, Relevance, Logical. These four standards are also presented as questions to probe and challenge your reasoning process.

Clarity of the Claim

Claims or assertions are constantly being made. It is important to recognise that a claim may either be true or false. To evaluate the claim, you need to clarify the meaning of the claim and all the words in that claim.

  • What is the meaning of that word or term?

  • Can you elaborate further on that term?

  • Can you give an illustration or example?

  • Is that claim really true?

  • Does the claim describe the way things actually are?

If the claim is unclear, we cannot pass any judgement on its truth. In fact, we cannot tell anything about it because we don't yet know what it is saying.

Accuracy of the Supporting Data

The next step toward judging a claim's truth is to know the basis of (reasons for) the claim.

  • Can you support that claim with data?

  • How can you verify the supporting data?

If the premise (reason used to argue for the claim) is unreasonable, it cannot be used to establish something else. A claim is no stronger than the data supporting it!

Relevance of the Supporting Data

Given those data, how do you justify the connection to the claim? Data may have nothing to do with the claim in question in which case the data are irrelevant facts!

  • What is the connection between the supporting data and the claim?

Often the connections are qualified most probably, maybe, etc.

Logical ... Flow of Supporting Data to the Claim

The final questions that have to be answered are:

  • Even if the premises are true, do they prove the claim?

  • Does the claim follow logically from the given premises?

  • How does that follow?

Putting accuracy of premises and logical flow (to the claim) together is what makes a strong argument ... in other words, accepting the premises forces you to accept the claim.

The development of critical thinking skills is a life-long process. Apply CARL consistently to your thinking till these standards are internalised.


© 2003, Alan S.L. Wong