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The Table Video

Robert C. Roberts& Jason Baehr

For Those Who Love Knowing, But Hate Learning

Professor of Ethics and Emotion Theory at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues
Professor of Philosophy, Loyola Marymount University
July 3, 2015

You might know people who love knowing, but hate learning. For them, learning is like going to the dentist: It’s a necessary evil you have to pay a lot of money for, but you just want to speed up and get it over with, just for the outcome it produces. Philosophers Robert C. Roberts, Janelle Aijian, Jason Baehr, and Gregg Ten Elshof discuss.


One of the expressions that you see a lot in connection with education and the virtues is love of learning. So, I wondered how we instill a love of learning in our students especially if we distinguish that from the love of knowing.

So, I think I know people who love knowing [people laugh quietly] but hate learning and learning is like going to the dentist. They’ll pay a lot of money for it but really they hate it. What they really want is knowing and if that’s a sensible distinction, how can we train folks up into the love, not just of knowing but of learning.

Well, I think that, the making the process of learning enjoyable, is an important thing and making it enjoyable is, you can make it enjoyable in part just by making it excellent.


If your method of learning, of teaching, is a very, very wrote or if you’re just, you know, teaching for the exam or something, then, the student might well and appropriately hate learning. [people laugh quietly]

But if you make it a matter of conversation with other interesting people, about interesting topics and teach the students to be critical, to enjoy the give and take of civil, critical interaction, then, I think it’s just, it’s enjoyable. It’s an activity that should be enjoyable for human beings because of the way we are.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. My first instinct was to say, something must have gone wrong for someone to not love learning in the first place, right! I actually think, mostly people love learning and it’s maybe a set of bad habits that have been cultivated or a set of bad educational environments that have changed the person into the kind of person who doesn’t enjoy learning for its own sake cause that’s the kind of people that, that’s the kind of things that people are. People are things that are curious.

That said, it’s also, they’re painful moments in the process of real learning. When you’re really puzzled about something that you deeply want to understand, it’s emotionally painful. But, of course, if you stay with it, [laughs quietly] you may come up with a solution to your problem and when understanding emerges, after that kind of suffering, it’s especially enjoyable, right!

So the point there is, you actually need an intellectual virtue in order to enjoy learning cause perseverance in that moment of, I’m going to keep doing this thing that I’m not feeling like I’m making progress and you actually have to have that virtue in order for learning to be something that continues to be enjoyable.

Yes, it looks like there are things essential to learning that are accidental to knowing.


So perseverance presumably is essential to learning but it’s accidental to knowing a kind of industry, the habit of industry as opposed to Sloth. Looks like that’s gonna be essential to learning but accidental to knowing. There are others, I’m sure. So part of this I think is training students up into the love of submission, industry, perseverance and the like of that.

That sounds right to me provided that you are thinking of learning in more of kind of complex, as a complex process that takes place overtime cause there are simple things that we can learn without, simple and interesting things that we can learn without perseverance and so forth. But deep understanding of rich and important subject matters. That’s hard to come by and the only way there or the way there, makes demands, not just on how smart we are or how much prior knowledge we have, but on who we are as people and on our agency.

Continue the conversation with this interview with Robert Roberts.