Monday, May 23, 2011

Honesty: An Intellectual Standard(s)

Intellectual standards are important, so much so that they are taken for granted. There are some that I know I take for granted (The Critical Thinking Community has a good list for starters), but there are others that I think should be spelled out, oh, every few weeks or so, especially for the benefit of academics, intellectuals, journalists, politicians, and the like--those who tend to be the ones speaking and publishing the most often and thereby forming climates and cultures of opinion and thought.

The following standards could all be included under the superordinate standard of intellectual honesty. This is the most important intellectual standard, the violation of which may be the only mortal academic sin. Love can cover a multitude of sins when it comes to clarity, accuracy, precision, etc. But dishonesty in academic work is unpardonable. So, four intellectual standards relating to honesty:

1) I must be forthright about my biases and perspectives, my blik. NOTE: Objectivity is a bias, but "bias" does not equal "bad."

2) I must try to understand those with whom I disagree before beginning a critique and then must state their views in a way they would agree with.

3) I must not write about things I know I do not understand. NOTE: This is different from writing about things on which I am not an expert, which is not objectionable in the least but should nonetheless be policed...

Turkish MPs reach a compromise.
4) I must be up front when writing about things on which I am not an expert or fields in which I have not earned a degree but nonetheless understand and want to comment on.

It must of course be noted that all standards for intellectual debate and interaction may be summarily dismissed if one has either a sturdy walking cane or a jarring right hook. Upon reflection, it would seem that the real unpardonable sin in academia is an under-appreciation of the physical.

Preston Brooks reasons with Charles Sumner.
political cartoon by J.L. Magee

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