This term, we are starting a new series titled 'Developing Virtues for Intellectual Life'. In this series, we will be looking at how the development of virtue relates to the development of our academic work. Does our character have bearing on the quality of our academic work? If so, how?
In academic circles, the theory 'virtue epistemology' looks at precisely this question. It's a relatively new theory, and in some ways the jury is still out on how exactly it relates to other epistemological models or theories. As Christians, though, we do not necessarily need to subscribe to virtue epistemology in order to agree on the core truth that our character impacts every area of our lives, and that this includes our intellectual life.
Put differently: whereas Enlightenment philosophies would have us believe that there are 'sacred' and a 'secular' parts to our life, with our character belonging to the 'sacred' domain and having no bearing on our work in the 'secular' domain, virtue epistemology therefore pushes back at that aspect of that sacred-secular divide. It argues that we are, in fact, beings whose virtue, or vice, has implications for our intellectual work.
That means that there is a need for us to develop virtue in order to be as fruitful as possible in the intellectual work that God has given us to do. Prof Jay Wood (Professor of Philosophy, Wheaton College) puts it this way:
"Nobody wants to be characterised as gullible, as willfully naive, as self-deceived, as close-minded, as dogmatic, as unteachable. ... [T]hese are all traits that can take up permanent residence in the intellectual life of a person, so by contrast we want to foster those traits that are going to open us up to truth, to deeply warranted and justified belief. So intellectual humility, intellectual courage, discernment, circumspection, teachability: these are the habits of mind that we think constitute Paul as he says in Romans 12: a 'transformed mind' will be one that is not marked by these vices of the life of the mind but rather by its virtues."
This series will therefore look at different virtues to see how they impact academic work, and how we can cultivate them as Christians. Before we look at individual virtues, however, it will be helpful to think more about the nature of virtue epistemology more generally, and how it relates to other epistemological theories. That is therefore the focus of this week's resources - see below.
Interview with Prof Jay Wood introducing virtue epistemology. Watch from 5:00 onwards.
Conversation Starter Questions
We hope that this series will be of help to you, and that if there are any other Christian postgraduates in your university or city, they might serve as materials that you can meet up to discuss study together. To that end, each email includes a number of conversation starter questions. Here are the questions for the reading by Roberts and Wood:
What habits of mind - what intellectual virtues or vices - do you think can help or hinder your academic work?
Did you find the two sections 'Introduction' and 'Virtue Epistemologies' helpful? How would you sum up the relationship between virtue epistemologies and other epistemological models?
According to Roberts and Wood, why is it worth philosophers and others interested in the nature of the intellectual life taking an in-depth look at particular virtues rather than only focussing on questions such as the definition of knowledge, justification, warrant, etc.? (See the end of the section 'How Regulative Epistemology Regulates')
Have you ever thought about the command in Romans 12 to 'be transformed by the renewing of your mind' in the context of your academic work? How would you like to change the ways in which you go about your academic work? What virtues would you like to develop?
If you would like to explore this topic more, these resources are a good place to start.
DePaul, Michael R., and Linda Trinkaus Zagzebski, eds. 2007. Intellectual Virtue: Perspectives from Ethics and Epistemology. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Baehr, Jason S., ed. 2016. Intellectual Virtues and Education: Essays in Applied Virtue Epistemology. Routledge Studies in Contemporary Philosophy 75. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.