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Why Intellectual Virtues Are Important

Think Christianly: Why Intellectual Virtues Are Important

Monday, July 2, 2012

Why Intellectual Virtues Are Important

One of the ways that we can increase the chances of forming true beliefs and arriving at knowledge is by pursuing intellectual virtues. An intellectual virtue is “a characteristic of a person who acts in a praise-worthy manner in the process of forming beliefs.” For example, James Beilby and David Clark describe the intellectual virtues of honesty and courage: “Being intellectually honest means making a fair appraisal of the evidence at hand, dedicating effort to reach valid conclusions, admitting personal biases that affect beliefs, and seeking to reduce those biases. In an intellectual context, courage involves, among other things, being willing to take the minority position when the evidence points in that direction. It also means investigating personally held beliefs with rigor” (Why Bother With Truth?). These virtues do not happen by accident, they are the result of forming healthy intellectual habits over time.

But the goal of knowledge is not just to accumulate data. The acquisition of knowledge should help us along the path of becoming virtuous people and flourishing as followers of Jesus Christ. Knowledge, over time and with effort, becomes understanding. Understanding then describes the growing integration of our fragmented knowledge into an increasingly coherent picture of God and our world. And as we grow in understanding, we have the opportunity to grow in wisdom as well, which is the skillful application of knowledge and understanding to life.

Solomon speaks of the blessing that accompanies this dynamic pursuit: “Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding” (Prov. 3:13; cf. 2:6). Knowledge is the crucial first step in this process. And as Christ-followers, we should remember that our actions flow out of what we truly believe (cf. Rom. 12:1–2).

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Blogger tlizenby said...

Very timely: just finished reading the chapter on Intellectual Virtues in James Sire's HABITS OF THE MIND.

July 3, 2012 at 9:32 AM  
Blogger Eric Burton said...

I would like to agree with the majority of this post. I think it is vitally important to be intellectually honest with yourself and with others.

One thing that I think is important, and missing from your post (perhaps it is implied), is how any question should be open to new evidence and should be questioned. Even belief in God, or that He raised His Son Jesus from the dead. If one is trying to remain intellectually virtuous, they should consider those questions open as well.

July 3, 2012 at 3:37 PM  

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