Monday, September 17, 2012

Intellectual Virtues

Intellectual Virtues: an Essay in Regulative Epistemology by Robert C. Roberts and W. Jay Wood. Oxford University Press, 2007. 329 pp. ISBN: 9780199283675.

Francis Bacon noted, "Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." Intellectual Virtues by Roberts and Wood is to be chewed and digested. The purpose of this book is not "to produce a theory of justification, warrant, knowledge, or rationality; instead, the goal of this book is to "use the virtues as the focus of reflections  to increase our practical understanding of the inner workings of the intellectual life" (323).

Robert C. Roberts is the distinguished professor of Ethics at Baylor University. He also published two other books, Emotions: An Essay in Moral Philosophy and Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues. W. Jay Wood is professor of philosophy at Wheaton College. He has been on the faculty since 1982.

Intellectual Virtues is divided into two parts and twelve chapters. The first part provides the "context" for exploring the seven intellectual virtues: "Love of knowledge," Being steadfast, "courage and caution," "humility," independence, "generosity," and "practical wisdom." The important concepts discussed in part one are, "epistemology," intellectual "goods," "virtues," the mind and intelligence, and "practices." Chapter five provides an overview of the intellectual virtues discussed in chapters six through twelve. The second part, chapters six through twelve, are the meat of the book.

This reviewer has always wondered about the relationship between the moral and intellectual virtues. It is commonly said that young people go to school to train their intellect, not their character. Intellectual Virtues dispute this idea. The authors take the tradition of teaching about training the will and applies it to the intellect. They interact with Aristotle's Ethics and Linda Zagzebski's Virtues of the Mind. They believe that certain habits must be cultivated in the student if the intellectual life will prosper in them. Roberts and Wood think there exists a thin line dividing the moral and intellectual virtues. For example, the authors note, "The natural appetite for knowledge needs to be matured, formed, realized, completed" (154). There will be temptations or vices that will need to be overcome if we will achieve wisdom, knowledge, and understanding.

Intellectual Virtues will require much effort for the reader, but the prose is intelligible. The authors provide narrative and examples to make the ideas more intelligible. This book is recommended for anyone who is interested in cultivating the life of the mind.

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