Similarly, that intellectual virtues are typically acquired traits distinguishes them from innate faculties and temperaments. Intellectual skills are like virtues in this respect, but they do not automatically render a person excellent in the way virtues do—one is personally excellent for being intellectually courageous in a way that she is not excellent for being say skilled at algebra.
Further, intellectual virtues require a motivation for intellectual goods. One can acquire skills for purely mercenary reasons, as when a child learns her math sums solely in order to receive candy. Intellectual virtues, by contrast, require motivation for intellectual goods themselves. Next it will be helpful to consider what is intellectual about the intellectual virtues; that is, to distinguish intellectual virtues from moral virtues.
It is standard to distinguish between moral and intellectual virtues in terms of the spheres of activity that these virtues involve, including the ends of the relevant activities. Intellectual virtues are dispositions to think and act excellently as one carries out intellectual activities; that is, activities with intellectual ends such as knowledge and true belief. For example, intellectual courage and caution can be distinguished from their moral analogues by the way the former virtues are, but the latter need not be, related to intellectual projects that aim to discover, retain, or communicate epistemic goods.
Likewise for intellectual perseverance. This characterization of the relationship between the intellectual and moral virtues is not comprehensive. However, sorting out the precise relationship between these sets of virtues would take us too far afield. Proper setup with respect to that task does not require sorting out the set relations between moral and intellectual virtues. Rather, we simply need to highlight something about intellectual virtues that sets them apart from other virtues, whether these others are species in the same genus say, moral virtues or not.
The current way of drawing the distinction suffices for this. To get an initial grip on our target concept, it can help to consider paradigm cases. In addition to those mentioned in the introduction, consider the following examples. First, return to the case of Helen Keller. Born with sight and hearing, as an infant Keller suffered an illness that left her blind and deaf.
Having great difficulty in giving and receiving communication, as a young child she was prone to despair, anger, and fits of violence. At the age of seven, Keller came under the tutelage of Anne Sullivan. Once the method became clear to Keller, she immediately demanded that Sullivan teach her signs for many more objects, so that within a few hours, Keller had mastered some thirty words. This was no temporary flurry of intellectual excitement.
She was unwilling to leave a lesson if she did not understand it all, and even at the age of seven she would never drop a task until she had mastered it completely. Second, consider the case of Roger Bannister. Much of the relevant research came at the cost of considerable physical exertion.
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To recount just one example: in order to obtain experimental results regarding the effects of inhaling oxygen-enriched air, Bannister did not merely test subjects and record and collate results. Rather, he made himself a subject in his own experiments. Over a dozen times, he wrapped his mouth around a rubber pipe, stepped onto a steeply-graded treadmill, and climbed to exhaustion as assistants pricked his fingers for blood samples.
Finally spent, Bannister collapsed and shot out the back of the treadmill onto a makeshift pile of blankets and mattresses—all in order to gain a better understanding of exercise physiology. Third, consider the case of Tycho Brahe. Working near the end of the 16th century, Brahe sought to develop a system that synthesized Aristotelian philosophy with the new Copernican heliocentric system.
Of central importance was to demonstrate the consistency of heliocentrism with the Aristotelian doctrine of circular orbits. The doctrine of elliptical orbits not yet having been established, it was reasonable for him to seek the synthesis. But by his lights, achieving the synthesis required painstakingly detailed observations of planetary motion. In order to make these observations, he founded and built his own observatories, which included instruments designed with exacting precision. He spent decades amassing a cache of observations whose accuracy was unrivaled in his time.
In an unfortunate and ironic series of events, Brahe died suddenly before completing his work. In Keller, Bannister, and Brahe, we see agents involved in paradigmatically intellectual activities—language learning, public dissemination of ideas, and scientific research. These agents display traits of personal excellence in their pursuit of goods, some of which are distinctively intellectual e.
The development and maintenance of these traits requires serious effort. Accordingly, in their possession and exercise of intellectual perseverance, these agents display intellectual virtue in the sense developed in Sect. Though they provide helpful orientation and inspiration, these cases are of limited theoretical value on their own. We need an analysis of our target concept.
We can start by providing an initial account of intellectually virtuous perseverance, and then proceed to unpack the details of that account. An agent A acts characteristically of intellectually virtuous perseverance in circumstances C if and only if in A acts in a way a person possessing intellectually virtuous perseverance would typically act in C.
The definitions just provided align well with the paradigm cases discussed above. However, they also raise several questions that need answering if our analysis is to be sufficiently rich: What are the vice-counterparts of intellectually virtuous perseverance? What kinds of obstacles are salient to intellectually virtuous perseverance? What is an obstacle to the achievement of intellectual goods?
What are the intellectual goods that the virtuously persevering agent seeks? Does intellectually virtuous perseverance require an exclusive focus on intellectual goods? Is intellectual perseverance the same for everyone? We can clarify our definitions of intellectually virtuous perseverance by taking these questions in turn. The remainder of Sect. Like many other virtues, intellectual perseverance is a mean between two extremes, one a deficiency and the other an excess. In the present case, irresolution is the deficiency.
Irresolution should not be confused with indifference , though both sometimes explain why someone quits an intellectual project. The former student exhibits irresolution; the latter exhibits a failure to love knowledge. The irresolute person folds in the face of obstacles, though he may value the knowledge to be gained, retained, expressed, or applied in his projects.
The indifferent person does not value the intellectual goods associated with the projects in the first place. Intransigence is the excess that opposes both virtuous perseverance and the deficiency of irresolution. It is exhibited when one persists in a project that is not worthwhile, or persists despite strong evidence that no further progress on the project is forthcoming. Here one thinks of Hobbes trying to square the circle, of nuclear physicists trying to achieve cold fusion, and of imprudent explorers searching for the Fountain of Youth. These are cases in which the inquirers persist in their projects long after the projects should be abandoned.
Plausibly, though a mean between irresolution and intransigence, intellectually virtuous perseverance lies closer to the latter. In this respect, perseverance is akin to courage, which—in both its moral and intellectual varieties—lies closer to rashness than to cowardice. To see this, think of those cases of perseverance that involve agents persisting with great effort for a very long time, and despite a large number of obstacles. For the sake of concreteness, consider authors whose manuscripts are persistently rejected or poorly reviewed before success finally arrives.
Indeed, in many such cases, had the agents persisted much further, their actions would have bordered on intransigence. This suggests that many paradigm cases of intellectually virtuous perseverance are not far from intransigence, and that they are far indeed from irresolution. By contrast, it is difficult to imagine a paradigm case of virtuous perseverance in which an agent persists just long enough, through just enough difficulty, to count as persevering. So, perseverance as an intellectual virtue is a mean between the vices of irresolution and intransigence.
What amount of time is appropriate? A natural answer is that appropriateness will be discerned by practical wisdom. Practical wisdom will, when exercised, enable an inquirer to tell whether the given project is worthy of continued pursuit. It will thereby allow her to tell whether continuing in the project would be intransigent, and whether abandoning the project would be irresolute.
But this appeal to practical wisdom is unsatisfying unless further explicated.
We want to know more about what practical wisdom recommends in concrete cases; and we want to know why practical wisdom makes its recommendations. Given the wide range of possible intellectual projects, inquirers, and circumstances, we should not expect one. But even in the absence of a decision procedure that tells us exactly how long we should stay at our intellectual projects, we can at least identify the kinds of considerations that practical wisdom will consult. That is, we can specify the kinds of considerations that will form the basis of judgment for practical wisdom.
First, in discerning whether a project is worthy of continued attention, practical wisdom must judge whether the project is worthy of interest in the first place. Such judgments enable the agent to avoid unworthy subjects, and thereby to avoid intransigence. Practical wisdom will account for the importance of the relevant task—whether to the agent herself or to human flourishing more generally.
There is no canonical list of such topics. However, some lists are better than others.
Take the list including the following questions: Do humans have morally significant freedom? What is the nature of morality? Does God exist? Is there life after death? How can we solve the problem of widespread famine? Clearly, this list is better than the following one: Which team will win the New Hampshire state high school badminton title in ? Who designed the dress that Diane Keaton wore to the Oscars last year? What metal comprised the rear bumper bolts for the Corvair? Given the importance of the questions in the first list and the relative unimportance of those in the second, practical wisdom will tend to favor projects on the first list.
Where two or more important projects compete for our time, practical wisdom will other things being equal steer us toward the most important one. Subjects who choose to pursue pointless truths will not exhibit intellectually virtuous perseverance even if they endure obstacles in the pursuit of those truths.
For in such cases, the subjects exhibit folly rather than wisdom , and intransigence rather than virtuous perseverance. Thus, there is a distinction to be drawn between perseverance and virtuous perseverance. This point is discussed in greater detail in Sect. But in other cases, the primary focus of an activity may be the acquisition of skills or knowledge that are expected to pay dividends for some future perhaps undefined inquiry. The student who is in the midst of a challenging set of math problems, or a difficult history reading, is rightly motivated by a desire for an education of the sort that will promote his intellectual and general flourishing beyond the classroom.
The project of gaining an education is an important part of what makes his intellectual activities as a student worthwhile; the student who possesses practical wisdom will account for this. Other things being equal, practical wisdom will advise her to choose project A over some other project B whose prospects for success are slimmer. Good prospects for success count in favor of an endeavor, and poor prospects count against.
Beyond this, things get messy. Pursuing a project with fairly dim chances of success need not bespeak intransigence say, if the project is extremely important. And pursuing one with very good chances of success may bespeak intransigence despite these good chances. This may happen when undertaking a project comes at the opportunity cost of foregoing a vastly more important project with slightly dimmer prospects for success.
Similarly, when a more important project is on the horizon, quitting a current one that will likely succeed does not by itself imply irresolution. Crucially, whether a current or alternative project is likely to succeed is, in typical cases, a highly discipline-specific matter. Agents who possess practical wisdom are not thereby qualified to make judgments about such matters a priori. Thus, for example, if an archaeologist is considering whether an important discovery is more likely at the current dig site than at an alternative site, the crucial facts in evidence will be archaeological facts.
In some cases, the long-run prospects for a successful inquiry hinge on certain social factors. These may in turn dictate whether continued inquiry bespeaks intransigence or virtuous perseverance. For in such a case, though she may not think that she is likely to make much progress toward a cure, she is part of a community that, taken together, is significantly more likely to make such progress. Community support can help save her from intransigence.
These considerations do not provide an algorithm that will enable one to determine whether to continue in some intellectual project. But these factors do not always point in the same direction. And when they diverge, it is not always clear how to weigh their relative merits. This is unfortunate, but not debilitating for the account of intellectual perseverance developed here. The considerations developed above provide significant guidance with respect to that question. They thereby keep the nod to practical wisdom from appearing vacuous.
Knowledge about the abilities and circumstances of the relevant subjects can provide further clarity in concrete cases. At any rate, our brief discussion shows that what practical wisdom dictates in a given case will not be baseless, but will be grounded in considerations like those just developed. Such guidelines can help an agent to discern the boundaries of appropriate devotion to her projects, and they illustrate how practical wisdom can help an agent steer between the vices of intransigence and irresolution.
Thus far, we have emphasized the temporal aspect of intellectually virtuous perseverance. However, we cannot understand perseverance merely in terms of time spent. Virtuous perseverance is not merely a matter of time, but a matter of time and serious effort. One does not count as virtuously persevering merely because one spends a long time on a project—for one may spend a long time on a project that is very easy.
Or one may spend a long time simply by lollygagging. In neither case does one persevere in the relevant sense. This should prompt us to ask what else, in addition to time spent, is necessary for intellectually virtuous perseverance. The notion of serious effort is needed to rule out the case of the slacker, who stays at his task with minimal effort over an inordinately long period of time, perhaps eventually accomplishing his intellectual goal.
The notion of an obstacle to inquiry or other intellectual endeavor is needed to rule out cases in which an agent continues in a project that is not in any way difficult. The notion of an obstacle to success in intellectual projects deserves careful treatment—for not everything plausibly called an obstacle requires virtuous perseverance to overcome. This is not wholly implausible. After all, persevering individuals do what must be done in order to achieve their aims. Our paradigm cases illustrate this. But whatever its initial plausibility, this characterization is too weak to reflect the kinds of obstacles one must overcome for intellectually virtuous perseverance.
This is because many intellectual projects are comprised of steps, and some of these steps may be very easy to perform. For example, in order to type a sentence, I must in the process type several words, themselves comprised of individual letters. The typing of these letters counts as an obstacle on our initial account. In some minimal sense, I must persevere in order to type to the end of a sentence I could, after all, quit typing in mid-sentence.
But the typing of individual letters does not comprise the kind of obstacle that requires virtuous perseverance in order to overcome. Not all cases of perseverance are cases of virtuous perseverance. However, the account is still too weak. Something can be an obstacle in this sense without making an intellectual project difficult for the agent. That is, it can make the project more difficult than it would otherwise be without making it difficult. This happens when, e.
And if an agent can overcome an obstacle without difficulty, then overcoming that obstacle does not require virtuous perseverance—even if the obstacle makes the project more difficult than it would otherwise have been. To overcome trivial obstacles is not thereby to display excellence, and so does not suffice as a display of virtuous perseverance. Problems with the preceding accounts suggest the following one: an obstacle , in the sense that is relevant to intellectually virtuous perseverance, is a state or event that makes it difficult for an agent to achieve her intellectual aims.
This account captures what it is about certain obstacles that prompts us to admire those who overcome them. These obstacles are difficult to overcome; they are such that if one overcomes them or tries to overcome them , one exhibits excellence as a person, provided the other conditions for intellectual virtue are met.
This explains why staying at an intellectual task for a long time does not suffice for intellectually virtuous perseverance. Merely staying at a task say, if it is a very easy task is not ipso facto to display excellence—much less personal excellence of the sort needed for a character virtue. Overcoming difficult obstacles to the pursuit and achievement of intellectual goods, however, does display this sort of excellence. So an obstacle, in the sense relevant to intellectually virtuous perseverance, is something that makes it difficult for an agent to achieve her intellectual aims.
Some obstacles arise by virtue of the nature of our projects themselves. Examples include the sheer difficulty of formulating a reliable psychological measure, or of transforming dense polemical prose into an argument stated in premise—conclusion form, or of replicating a quantum experiment that took months to set up. Such an internal state can make it difficult for her to achieve her intellectual aims. Obstacles of the above varieties, whether alone or together, make it difficult for us to advance our intellectual projects.
Intellectually virtuous perseverance is in part a matter of trying to overcome them. Reflection on the internal states discussed here gives rise to a kind of potential counterexample to our account of perseverance: It seems possible that subjects can virtuously persevere in inquiry without the presence of actual obstacles to their achievement of intellectual goods. You expect the reading to become much more difficult as the pages pass. Despite these expectations, you continue reading, and do so for an appropriate amount of time, thereby achieving a good understanding of the selected text.
This can seem like a case in which virtuous perseverance is present, but in which no actual obstacles present themselves—thus, so goes the objection, our analysis of intellectually virtuous perseverance is too strong. Virtuous perseverance is an excellence, and the present kind of perseverance is not. Let us now consider the goods at which intellectually virtuous perseverance aims.
In many cases in which such perseverance is exercised, it is exercised in the pursuit of truth, knowledge, or understanding. Similar remarks apply to knowledge and understanding. In some cases, perseverance is present even after the truth has been acquired. Here perseverance is expressed in the maintenance or dissemination of already achieved epistemic goods. This same author can exercise perseverance as she endures rejection from acquisitions editors when trying to get the book published, or when she stands firm in the face of undeserved criticism from reviewers.
What intellectual virtue—and thus intellectually virtuous perseverance— does require, is motivation for intellectual goods. This sort of motivation unifies the intellectual virtues, and distinguishes intellectually virtuous traits from non-virtuous ones. Agents who seek to form, retain, or disseminate beliefs without regard for the truth or epistemic status of these beliefs, fail to exhibit intellectual virtue.
This is so, for example, of the child who labors to learn her math sums solely to receive candy. The point also applies to an agent who exhibits perseverance or courage with aims that are explicitly epistemically bad. For example, suppose a researcher overcomes fears or perceived threats in promoting a belief she knows to be false.
Indeed, suppose she goes to great lengths to promote this belief, and overcomes obstacles that humans rarely overcome. Thus far we have considered several conditions necessary for intellectually virtuous perseverance. Perhaps surprisingly, these conditions do not include: i exclusive focus on intellectual goods; ii completion of the relevant project; iii genuine progress in the direction of completion; or iv that the relevant subject be thoroughly rational.
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Confusion regarding i — iv could blur the edges of our concept of intellectually virtuous perseverance. Let us therefore consider each point more closely. That intellectually virtuous perseverance must aim at intellectual goods does not imply that such goods are its only aim. Rather, his pursuit of intellectual goods is organically related to his life as a whole—and this is as it should be. Keller clearly exemplifies intellectually virtuous perseverance in her attempts to learn to communicate with others. It would be perverse to suggest that her virtue was diminished because, in addition to seeking a range of intellectual goods, Keller also sought friendship, psychological peace, and an increased ability to secure her own well-being.
Erratum to: Perseverance as an intellectual virtue
Genuine motivation for intellectual goods is required for intellectually virtuous perseverance; but this virtue does not require that such motivation have an exclusive monopoly. Next, consider the issues of completion of intellectual projects, and progress towards completion. In many cases, intellectually virtuous perseverance culminates in the successful completion of an intellectual endeavor. But such success is not required for the exercise of intellectually virtuous perseverance, or for the possession of the trait itself. Recall the case of Tycho Brahe discussed above.
Brahe exhibited extensive intellectual perseverance in his research. Given the duration, rigor, and detail of his observations, if Brahe did not exhibit intellectually virtuous perseverance, no 16th-century astronomer did. He not only failed to vindicate his own hypothesis, but also contributed to its unraveling.
Worse still, he did not live long enough to discover the truth of the matter. Brahe neither completed his project nor obtained the epistemic goods he had initially sought. He exhibited intellectually virtuous perseverance nonetheless. We can go further. Intellectually virtuous perseverance does not even require real progress toward completion.
The Brahe case illustrates this point as well. Still, Brahe sincerely believes that the circular orbit hypothesis is true—and he has reasons for believing this. His continued efforts help ensure that, despite his lack of progress, Brahe is not irresolute—rather, he is a paradigm of virtuous perseverance. But we should not infer that, in order to exhibit intellectually virtuous perseverance, one must be rational through-and-through. To the contrary, intellectually virtuous perseverance is compatible with certain irrational affective states.
Timid Tim earns a B. He is admitted to several top-tier Ph. But because he is timid, he opts instead for a middling program. Now nearing the end of his first semester, Tim is gripped with fear over writing his term papers. However, in the end, he overcomes his fears and writes the papers, taking himself to have discovered some important truths along the way. Plausibly, Tim virtuously perseveres in this case, despite his irrational fears. In setting these fears aside, he thereby sets aside internal obstacles to the successful pursuit of his education.
There is a danger in admitting this: in supporting this judgment, we could make virtuous perseverance appear too easy to come by—and this could create tension with the idea that intellectually virtuous perseverance is an excellence. If agents gripped with irrational fears can virtuously persevere, one might wonder, in what sense is the virtue excellent?
Distinctions sketched above can help here. First, recall the distinction between actions characteristic of virtue and genuine exercises of virtuous character. On this line, his actions are characteristic of intellectually virtuous courage and perseverance after all, he does what the intellectually virtuous person would do in his circumstances. But perhaps he does not yet possess these virtues as character traits.
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Second, recall the distinction between meeting the minimum requirements for a virtue and having the virtue to its fullest extent. Citing this distinction, one could claim that Tim exhibits minimal or at any rate, sub-maximal degrees of virtuous perseverance. His irrational fears do not preclude this; rather, they preclude his exhibiting the virtue in the fullest sense.
Just how irrational are his fears? Does he have a stable disposition to overcome his fears? Or is his behavior in this case uncharacteristic? Finally, as with other virtues, intellectual perseverance is to an extent person-relative. What serves as an obstacle for one person may not be an obstacle for another. A 5-year-old may exhibit virtuous perseverance as she spends an afternoon learning basic math sums. Given her current training, she must overcome certain obstacles e.
Likewise, a seasoned professor can write a brief essay without the difficulty that her sophomore students encounter. The students, but not the professor, exercise intellectually virtuous perseverance in continuing the writing project, provided they do so in the pursuit of intellectual goods. These are person-relative factors. This virtue is often exhibited in attempts to discover new epistemic goods, but it does not require this—attempts to maintain, distribute, and apply old truths or knowledge or understanding can exemplify perseverance.
Finally, the matter of which acts or characters exemplify perseverance is to some extent person-relative. It will help to begin by considering intellectual perseverance in its purest form. This will put us in a good position to highlight the ways in which perseverance is distinct from, but often alloyed with, other virtues. A key positive motivation of the agent with intellectually virtuous perseverance is the motivation for intellectual goods.
It is this motivation—perhaps often expressed as the love of knowledge—that supports and upholds her virtue in the face of obstacles. The persevering agent will be aware of the relevant obstacles, but will persist in her efforts despite them. Beyond this, her psychological profile may take on any number of additional features. But in the purest kind of case, we can imagine an agent hard at work in her intellectual pursuits, aware of their difficulty but proceeding undaunted, unafraid, undistracted, and without discouragement. Call the kind of virtuous perseverance this agent exhibits perseverance proper.
Generally speaking, intellectually virtuous perseverance is present in other virtues whenever the possession or exercise of those virtues requires overcoming obstacles to the achievement of intellectual goods. Many virtues require that agents be disposed to overcome emotions and motivations that run contrary to the pursuit of intellectual goods. Whenever these emotions and motivations serve as obstacles to the pursuit or achievement of intellectual goods, perseverance is required to overcome them. Refresh and try again. Open Preview See a Problem? Details if other :. Thanks for telling us about the problem.
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