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The Table Video

Robert C. Roberts& Gregg Ten Elshof

Is It Selfish to Seek Intellectual Virtue?

Professor of Ethics and Emotion Theory at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues
CCT Scholar-in-Residence and Executive Board Member / Professor of Philosophy, Biola University
July 3, 2015

Arthur Schopenhauer said, “Our moral virtues mainly benefit other people; intellectual virtues on the other hand benefit primarily ourselves. Therefore, the former make us universally popular, the latter, unpopular.” Robert C. Roberts disagrees with that distinction, because it mischaracterizes what intellectual virtue really is.


Gregg: So Bob, you’ve done a lot of thinking over the years about intellectual virtue so it’s a delight to have you with us for this conversation today. I wonder if you might comment on the following. Arthur Schopenhauer is quoted as saying this: he said, “Our moral virtues benefit mainly other people.

Intellectual virtues, on the other hand, benefit primarily ourselves, therefore the former make us universally popular; the latter, unpopular.” Is that the right way to think about intellectual and moral virtue? How do you think about these things?

Robert: I wouldn’t agree with that statement. The knowledge and understanding are a good, a general human good.

And the virtues that enable us to pursue knowledge and understanding well include virtues that involve sharing knowledge with others and acquiring knowledge from others. And the processes by which we acquire knowledge are often communal, social processes in which we’re interacting with one another and bouncing ideas off one another and sharing information and so forth. And so intellectual virtues are very other-oriented in… Of necessity, I think.

And, of course, the moral virtues are often very good for ourselves, too. People who are just or… Compassionate, benevolent, kind are generally – they generally do well for themselves. It’s of course possible that in insisting on justice as a just person might, you could get in trouble and that certainly happens. But on the whole, all of the virtues are good for both us as individuals and our community.