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Rigour (BrE) or rigor (AmE) (see spelling differences) describes a condition of stiffness or strictness. Rigour frequently refers to a process of adhering absolutely to certain constraints, or the practice of maintaining strict consistency with certain predefined parameters. These constraints may be environmentally imposed, such as "the rigours of famine"; logically imposed, such as mathematical proofs which must maintain consistent answers; or socially imposed, such as the process of defining ethics and law.


Rigour comes to English through old French (13th c., Modern French rigueur) meaning "stiffness", which itself is based on the Latin rigorem (nominative rigor) "numbness, stiffness, hardness, firmness; roughness, rudeness", from the verb rigere "to be stiff".[1] The noun was frequently used to describe a condition of strictness or stiffness, which arises from a situation or constraint either chosen or experienced passively. For example, the title of the book Theologia Moralis Inter Rigorem et Laxitatem Medi roughly translates as "mediating theological morality between rigour and laxness". The book details, for the clergy, situations in which they are obligated to follow church law exactly, and in which situations they can be more forgiving yet still considered moral.[2] Rigor mortis translates directly as the stiffness (rigour) of death (mortis), again describing a condition which arises from a certain constraint (death).

Intellectual rigour

Intellectual rigour is a process of thought which is consistent, does not contain self-contradiction, and takes into account the entire scope of available knowledge on the topic. It actively avoids logical fallacy. Furthermore, it requires a skeptical assessment of the available knowledge. If a topic or case is dealt with in a rigorous way, it means that it is dealt with in a comprehensive, thorough and complete way, leaving no room for inconsistencies.[citation needed]

Scholarly method describes the different approaches or methods which may be taken to apply intellectual rigour on an institutional level to ensure the quality of information published. An example of intellectual rigour assisted by a methodical approach is the scientific method, in which a person will produce a hypothesis based on what they believe to be true, then construct experiments in order to prove that hypothesis wrong. This method, when followed correctly, helps to prevent against circular reasoning and other fallacies which frequently plague conclusions within academia. Other disciplines, such as philosophy and mathematics, employ their own structures to ensure intellectual rigour. Each method requires close attention to criteria for logical consistency, as well as to all relevant evidence and possible differences of interpretation. At an institutional level, Peer review is used to validate intellectual rigour.

Intellectual honesty

Intellectual rigour is a subset of intellectual honesty—a practice of thought in which ones convictions are kept in proportion to valid evidence.[3] Intellectual honesty is an unbiased approach to the acquisition, analysis, and transmission of ideas. A person is being intellectually honest when he or she, knowing the truth, states that truth, regardless of outside social/environmental pressures. It is possible to doubt whether complete intellectual honesty exists—on the grounds that no one can entirely master his or her own presuppositions—without doubting that certain kinds of intellectual rigour are potentially available. The distinction certainly matters greatly in debate, if one wishes to say that an argument is flawed in its premises.

Politics and law

The setting for intellectual rigour does tend to assume a principled position from which to advance or argue. An opportunistic tendency to use any argument at hand is not very rigorous, although very common in politics, for example. Arguing one way one day, and another later, can be defended by casuistry, i.e. by saying the cases are different.

In the legal context, for practical purposes, the facts of cases do always differ. Case law can therefore be at odds with a principled approach; and intellectual rigour can seem to be defeated. This defines a judge's problem with uncodified law. Codified law poses a different problem, of interpretation and adaptation of definite principles without losing the point; here applying the letter of the law, with all due rigour, may on occasion seem to undermine the principled approach.


Mathematical rigour can refer both to rigorous methods of mathematical proof and to rigorous methods of mathematical practice (thus relating to other interpretations of rigour).

Mathematical proof

Mathematical rigour is often cited as a kind of gold standard for mathematical proof. Its history traces back to Greek mathematics, especially to Euclid's Elements.

Until the 19th century, Euclid's Elements were seen as extremely rigorous and profound, but, during that century, it was realised the work assumed some conditions that were not stated and also could not be proved (e.g. two circles can intersect in a point, some point is within an angle, and figures can be superimposed on each other). This was contrary to the idea of rigorous proof where all conditions need to be stated and nothing can be assumed. New foundations were developed using the axiomatic method to address the lack of rigour in Euclid's Elements.

During the 19th century, the term 'rigorous' began to be used to describe decreasing levels of abstraction when dealing with calculus which eventually became known as analysis. The works of Cauchy added rigour to the older works of Euler and Gauss. The works of Riemann added rigour to the works of Cauchy. The works of Weierstrass added rigour to the works of Riemann, eventually culminating in the arithmetization of analysis. Starting in the 1870s, the term gradually came to be associated with Cantorian set theory.

Mathematical rigour can be defined as amenability to algorithmic proof checking. Indeed, with the aid of computers, it is possible to check proofs mechanically by noting that possible flaws arise from either an incorrect proof or machine errors (which are extremely rare).[4] Formal rigour is the introduction of high degrees of completeness by means of a formal language where such proofs can be codified using set theories such as ZFC (see automated theorem proving).

Most mathematical arguments are presented as prototypes of formally rigorous proofs. The reason often cited for this is that completely rigorous proofs, which tend to be longer and more unwieldy, may obscure what is being demonstrated. Steps which are obvious to a human mind may have fairly long formal derivations from the axioms. Under this argument, there is a trade-off between rigour and comprehension. Some argue that the use of formal languages to institute complete mathematical rigour might make theories which are commonly disputed or misinterpreted completely unambiguous by revealing flaws in reasoning.


The role of mathematical rigour in relation to physics is twofold:

1. First, there is the general question, sometimes called Wigner's Puzzle,[5] "how it is that mathematics, quite generally, is applicable to nature?" However, scientists assume its successful application to nature justifies the study of mathematical physics.

2. Second, there is the question regarding the role and status of mathematically rigorous results and relations[clarification needed]. This question is particularly vexing in relation to quantum field theory.

Both aspects of mathematical rigour in physics have attracted considerable attention in philosophy of science. (See, for example, ref.[6] and works quoted therein.)


Rigour in the classroom is a hotly debated topic amongst educators. Generally speaking, however, classroom rigour consists of multi-faceted, challenging instruction and correct placement of the student. Students excelling in formal operational thought tend to excel in classes for gifted students[citation needed]. Students who have not reached that final stage of cognitive development, according to developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, can build upon those skills with the help of a properly trained teacher.[7]

Rigour in the classroom is commonly referred to as rigorous instruction. It is instruction that requires students to construct meaning for themselves, impose structure on information, integrate individual skills into processes, operate within but at the outer edge of their abilities, and apply what they learn in more than one context and to unpredictable situations [8]

See also


  1. "Rigor - Etymology". http://www.etymonline.com/. 2001–2014. Retrieved 2015-01-10. External link in |website= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Amort, Eusebio. Theologia Moralis Inter Rigorem et Laxitatem Medi.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Wiener, N. (1985). Intellectual honesty and the contemporary scientist. In P. Masani (Ed.), Norbert Wiener: Collected works and commentary (pp. 725- 729).
  4. Hardware memory errors are caused by high-energy radiation from outer space, and can generally be expected to affect one bit of data per month, per gigabyte of DRAM.[1].
  5. This refers to the 1960 paper The Unreasonable Effectiveness of Mathematics in the Natural Sciences by Eugene Wigner.
  6. Gelfert, Axel, 'Mathematical Rigor in Physics: Putting Exact Results in Their Place', Philosophy of Science, 72 (2005) 723-738.
  7. Forum: Academic Rigor, in: UNIversitas: The University of Northern Iowa Journal of Research, Scholarship, and Creative Activity 1.1 (Fall 2005).
  8. Jackson, R. (2011). How to Plan Rigorous Instruction. Alexandria, VA.: ASCD.