Cultivating Good Minds: Education and Intellectual Character Formation
“Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” How can we form our minds to avoid intellectual vices such as arrogance, pride, and domination? How do knowledge and love work hand-in-hand in education?
So we’ve been talking quite a bit about intellectual virtues and educating for intellectual virtue, but we all know there are corresponding vices and some of them are connected up with the goods associated with the virtues. So, we all know that Paul warns against a kind of puffing up that often accompanies knowing.
Even not knowing of the right sort, you might think, is sometimes accompanied by a puffing up. So, what can we do to educate folks into these virtues whilst avoiding these corresponding vices? If you’re looking for a sort of large problematic answer to that question, I think that what the John Templeton Foundation is doing in promoting the kind of schools that Jason has founded and calling public attention to the whole issue of vices, actually, virtues, but then because of that, also vices.
This is a wonderful place to start. That’s not, itself, [laughs] gonna make anybody intellectually virtuous, but it’s a way of beginning an awareness and calling on people to be creative in their efforts to achieve something in this regard.
So I think, I would strongly commend what Jason is doing in his school. Namely, just sitting down there and starting to do it and think hard about what kind of a curriculum, what kind of teachers you want, and how they should be encouraged and educated.
This is in some ways, more general, but also maybe a little bit more narrow. I think, if you think that as human beings we’re disposed more than we ought to be towards considerations of power or selfishness, right?
Then it sounds surprising that even something good, like knowledge and understanding, something that has power associated with it, right? Might be mishandled and misused, that it might puff up, right?
And that it might be used to harm or marginalize others. And if you think that that’s kind of our orientation, then certain virtues become really important to focus on and think about. And I think, just in my experience, thinking about this things and in some of the educational applications that Bob mentioned, I’m increasingly struck by the importance of intellectual humility.
And we think about these things a little bit differently but on my view, if I’m intellectually humble, I’m going to be alert to, and I am going to be willing to acknowledge or to own my intellectual limitations and weaknesses. I’m not going to be defensive about them. I’m not going to be arrogant or prideful, right?
I’m gonna be willing to say, “I don’t know”, when I don’t know or I’m gonna be willing to say, “That was a mistake”, right? Or this belief of mine, it’s not as well supported as this other belief, and your argument really did shed light on that, right?
So, I think, if you start with the certain view of human nature, like the one I mentioned, then the importance of helping each of us, be a little bit more willing to look at and to acknowledge our intellectual limitations, would be a really good foundation from which to pursue some of the other virtues.
It’s interesting, Gregg. So the verse, the end of it is “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up,” right? And I think it’s interesting ’cause most of the time when I read that verse, I think about it in terms of loving other people.
But I actually think the right kinds of love of knowledge, as opposed to, so there’s this love of knowing, which actually ends up being a love of self, right? I love being the one who knows, and that’s where you get these intellectual vices.
But if the love is of acknowledge rather than of knowing, then you actually, a lot of those vices end up getting overturned because I would rather know the truth than be right. And I would rather learn from you if you know the truth, than show the world how much righter I am than you.
So, it’s turns out that if you can combat a certain kind of vice with a certain kind of a love, both of knowledge and of the other, that’s a way to turn those vices back into the sort of the proper functioning virtues that they were meant to be.
It’s great, and I love the idea of ending on love because it gets back to the relational aspect of it as well. I think so often part of why we are defensive and do what we can to either hide from ourselves, or hide from others the limitations of what we know or of our beliefs or of our abilities, is a sort of fear of not being accepted, right?
And so, if I’m thinking about these things in connection with other people and wanting them to pursue the epistemic goods in a deeper way. I think that if I want my students to admit what they don’t know, right? And to take responsibility for that, I think doing that in the context of love for them is critical.