Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, in a major address, called yesterday for a "realistic" U.S. stand on human rights abroad in keeping with "the limits of our power and of our wisdom."

Vance's first prepared speech as Secretary of State, delivered to a Law Day observance at the University of Georgia, took a cautious position on the use of leverage to implement American ideals in foreign countries.

While emphasizing the U.S. commitment to a broad range of human rights, he said that "a sure formula for defeat of our goals would be a rigid, hubristic attempt to impose our values on others. A doctrinaire plan of action would be as damaging as indifference."

Calling for a case-by-case approach, Vance cited 16 questions that should be asked when the United States decides whether to take some action against human rights violations abroad. The questions involve the nature of the problems, the prospects for effective action, and the official "perspective" in view of U.S. security interests and past practices.

The address, which was said to reflect State Department policy papers as well as personal deliberation by Vance, was notably more cautious than many human rights statements by President Carter. The President is reported to be planning an address of his own on the same subject at a commencement address in a few weeks, and there is informed speculation that he will take a stronger line.

Reacting to criticism that the United States has not made clear the human rights it seeks to advance, Vance for the first time gave an explicit definition. What the United States means by human rights, he said is:

"The right to be free from governmental violation of the integrity of the person. Such violations include torture; cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment; and arbitrary arrest or imprisonment. And they include denial of the right to a fair trial and invasion of the home."

"The right to the fulfillment of such vital needs as food, shelter, health care and education. We recognize theat the fulfillment of this right will depend, in part, on the stage of a nation's economic development. But we also know that this right car, be violated by a government's action or inaction - for example, through corrupt official processes which divert resources to an elite at the expense of the needy, or through indifference to the plight of the poor."

"The right to enjoy civil and political liberties - freedom of thought; of religion; of assembly; freedom of speech; freedom of the press; freedom of movement both within and outside one's own country; freedom to take part in government."

Vance reaffirmed that the United States looks to economic aid - both bilateral and through international financial institutions - as a mechanism; for fostering human rights. He also noted that the Carter administration reduced military aid to three countries earlier this year due to human rights abuses.