Printer Friendly

The regulation of understanding through intellectual virtue: some implications for doctoral education.


Contemporary educational theory and philosophy is awash in competing theoretical and philosophical orientations. From critical postmodernism, to constructivism, to post-positivism--scholars have a veritable smorgasbord of theoretical options to choose from. And this is not without its problems. Aaron Pallas (2006) has argued that education programs have failed to prepare future scholars for the "epistemological diversity" characteristic of contemporary educational theory. He notes, "experienced researchers and novices alike find it hard to keep up with the cacophony of diverse epistemologies" (p. 6). The problem is that range of theories of knowledge available to budding and seasoned scholars alike is often overwhelming, and schools of education often give too little attention to adequately training future professors in basic epistemology. As a result, researchers are sometimes initiated into particular theoretical camps, possessing little knowledge of the philosophical underpinnings of other perspectives. In other cases, they are given a cursory scan of the major frameworks and accrue only a skin-deep command of any given epistemological point-of-view. This is problematic, he argues, because an adequate understanding of epistemology is "central to the production and consumption of educational research" (p. 6). In other words, one's understanding and capacity to produce creative scholarly work hinges on an ability to identify and understand the epistemological commitments of multiple perspectives.

Moreover, the significance of proper doctoral training extends beyond mere adequate professional development; it also has moral implications. Professors of education inform policy, design curricula, prepare future educators, provide in-service training for school districts, and serve as bulwarks against detrimental educational ideologies--roles entailing a moral or normative stance toward the broader enterprise of education. Golde and Walker (2006) persuasively suggest that professors are stewards of the discipline. They write,
   The use of the label steward is deliberately intended to convey a
   role that transcends a collection of accomplishments and skills. It
   has an ethical and moral dimension. Definitions of stewardship
   suggest core principles of stewardship that inform the term steward
   of the discipline. It calls to mind various historical uses and
   definitions. (p. 12)

Professors are not merely highly skilled creators and purveyors of knowledge, but also caretakers, guardians, and conservators of our fields. We are stakeholders in a longer multi-generational and historical conversation, which entails a moral stance toward the health of the profession. For this reason greater attention should be paid to moral dimensions of doctoral education.

Calling for an "academic revolution," Nicholas Maxwell (2007) echoes the preceding sentiment by drawing attention to academicians' pivotal role in the wellbeing of humankind and the environment. In this way he directs our attention to the role of academia outside its ivy-covered walls. He writes, "Instead of devoting itself primarily to solving problems of knowledge, academic inquiry needs to give intellectual priority to the task of discovering possible solutions to problems of living" (p. 98). To this end he argues for a wholesale turn from "knowledge" as the primary aim of academic inquiry. Rather, Maxwell would have scholars pursue wisdom concerning these global plights. If the preceding views are correct, then attention ought to be given to their development as stewards and, as I will eventually argue, toward the cultivation of virtuous habits of mind.

Given the expansiveness of educational research and its moral dimensions--and the putative stakes involved--what should the aim of doctoral education be? More specifically, when it comes to evaluating and creating works of knowledge, what would a successful PhD student look like? Certainly this student would possess a sophisticated set of research skills, and would undoubtedly understand the foundations of her field. She would also possess the requisite skillset to quickly adjust to faculty life, including a vibrant research agenda. These are crucial outcomes to be sure. In this article, though, I argue that the more epistemologically basic goal of doctoral education is the deliberate cultivation of expert understanding through intellectually virtuous doxastic practices. This claim, however, entails a reevaluation of a familiar (even hackneyed) educational concept--understanding. I suggest that recent works in virtue epistemology provide compelling reasons to shift our educational agenda away from knowledge (as supreme epistemological good) to understanding as a process of connection making. I then draw attention to intriguing model for educating for intellectual virtue: the Intellectual Virtues Academy (IVA) of Long Beach. Guided by the wellknown virtue epistemologist, Jason Baehr, IVA has developed a core educational philosophy rooted in the intellectual virtue.

Understanding as Connection Making

Contemporary philosophical work on the concept of understanding begins with a debate. In recent years, epistemologists have begun to explore what is being called the "value-turn" in epistemology. (For a robust discussion of the "value turn," see Pritchard 2007.) A central issue in these explorations concerns the question: "Why is knowledge more valuable than true belief?" Plato (1880) first drew attention to this issue in Meno, wherein Socrates asks Meno if a man who has been to the town of Larisa would make a good guide. Meno, of course, answers affirmatively. He then asks Meno if a man who had a true belief (having never been there) about the way to Larisa would also make a good guide. Again, Meno agrees that he would. Socrates then says, "Then correct opinion is no less useful than knowledge" (p. 57). True belief, in this case, would seem just as useful as knowledge. Undaunted, he goes on to argue that what makes knowledge more valuable than true belief is that it is anchored by some cause, whereas true belief is unstable (p. 58). Its value is derived from its constancy.

Not satisfied with Socrates response, epistemologists have rallied to their respective theories to show that they can offer a substantive response to this question (Pritchard, 2007, pgs. 85-110). I do not intend to address all the ways they have done this. Rather, I want to draw attention to a particular interpretation of the Meno passage that has important implications for education. Jonathan Kvanvig (2003) has claimed that Socrates might be asking a slightly different question: Is true belief as valuable as understanding (p. 185)? According to Kvanvig, understanding is valuable to persons in a way that knowledge is not (p. 204). He writes:
   If understanding is a species of knowledge, and not identical with
   it, what does understanding add that knowledge can lack? The
   central feature of understanding, it seems to me, is in the
   neighborhood of what internalist coherence theories say about
   justification. Understanding requires the grasping of explanatory
   and other coherence-making relationships in a large and
   comprehensive body of information. One can know many unrelated
   pieces of information, but understanding is achieved only when
   informational items are pieced together by the subject in question.
   (p. 192)

A coherence theory of understanding entails fitting beliefs together in the right way--to strive for coherency. Disconnected propositions or bits of knowledge haven't the same practical force or value as well rounded understandings.

While Kvanvig's account of understanding seems correct, it is also incomplete. He does not, for example, consider the role of other epistemic goods in the formation of understanding. Our experiences of the world, impressions and intuitions, religious convictions, and ideological commitments, hypothesis, opinions, to name a few, are bound together through our connection making capacities. In short, understanding entails much more than skillfully binding sets of propositions together; it also entails linking the broader range of our cognitive activity with our proposition, our intuitions with our experience, and so on. Roberts and Wood (2007) offer similar observations:
   ... two related features of propositional knowledge as it is usually
   treated in contemporary epistemology. The first is that it is
   knowledge of a relatively isolated proposition. The proposition is
   true, and the subject holds it in an attitude of believing (that
   is, of attributing truth) and is warranted in holding it with that
   attitude. The second feature is that, for any proposition, you
   either know it or you don't; this kind of knowledge does not come
   in degrees. (p. xi)

Seasoned travelers, for example, are quite committed to the life-enriching benefits of globetrotting. These exhortations often include such language as, "words cannot describe" and "you had to be there." Aesthetes will, as their panegyrics illustrate, eloquently describe their encounters with particular works of art, while eschewing any notion that their praise is adequately descriptive. In each case, these persons have had firsthand encounters that enrich and deepen their understanding. These experiences add color and three-dimensionality to knowledge. For this reason, we are apt to seek acquaintance with the world around us, but the value of these acquaintances does not necessarily derive from their belief-producing ability.

When we say that someone is acquainted with something, we do not mean that she is currently in immediate cognitive contact with it. We mean that she has had such contact and carries within her, via memory, aptitudes of recognition, belief formation, and understanding that are consequent on that earlier contact. This is the kind of cognitive advantage that we ascribe to someone by saying that she has had 'a lot of experience'--with, say, deep-sea fishing or the financial markets. (Roberts & Wood, 2007, p. 51)

I may form a belief about the little bird outside my window, but the rich perceptual encounter--the backdrop of a gray sky, the sound of the wind, the stirring of the bird's feathers, its song--is valuable for its own sake. Likewise, one may be able to give a highly detailed description of the Hagia Sophia, but this hardly replaces physically standing beneath its enormous golden dome, taking in its sights, sounds, and smells. Neither do news reports replace first-hand encounter with the grizzly horrors of wars. Acquaintance furnishes the mind with additional points of connection.

Such a theory of understanding has clear implications for doctoral education. Suppose Ruby, a doctoral student in secondary teacher education, has studied the work of Paulo F reire. When tested on his basic philosophical commitments, she may perform quite well on a multiple-choice or short response test; her propositional knowledge is very good. Such knowledge does not necessarily stipulate that she understands Freire's theories. Suppose Ruby is then charged with writing a lengthy essay comparing his theories with his 21st century successors. The sophistication of her paper will depend, in large measure, upon her ability to tie certain ideas or concepts together coherently and to articulate explanatory relationships between each. For example, she may recall a conversation with her mentor, a film or image, an erudite passage from a particular journal article, or a professor's lecture. Her understanding emerges when she connects these disparate components together. Here a pair of important points should be made. First, while Ruby may have increased her understanding of Freire's work through careful study, it is also likely that her mentor's understanding surpasses her own. Likewise, a Freirean specialist would undoubtedly understand the subject better than Ruby or her mentor. The point is simply that understanding is achieved by degrees. Second, unlike knowledge understanding can accommodate a degree of false belief--as long as that belief falls along the periphery and is not central (Kvanvig, 2003, p. 196). This is evident in Ruby's case. Her essay might have been well reasoned and largely correct, but it might have included some minor false assertions. One or two erroneous claims, however, do not eliminate the possibility that she understands.

Regulative Virtue Epistemology

The concept of understanding outlined above takes us one step closer to what we might call a regulative or normative epistemology for doctoral education. Nicolas Wolterstorff (1996) distinguishes this variety from what he calls, "analytic epistemology"--epistemology that deals in theories of knowledge, true-belief, and justification in a systematic fashion (p. xvi). This type of epistemology is the standard enterprise of contemporary epistemology. Regulative epistemology, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with the ethics of belief formation: the notion that the very process of generating new understandings is subject to ethical or moral evaluation. According to Wolterstorff, John Locke's epistemology was regulative in this sense:
   I think we can best understand what Locke was doing by employing
   the concept of a doxasticpractice (Greek doxa = belief). Locke was
   proposing a reform in the doxastic practices of his day. Those
   practices, he thought, were incapable of coping with the cultural
   crisis engulfing Europe in general and England in particular; they
   had, in fact, contributed to that crisis...Locke regarded his
   fellow citizens as not doing their best, when they should be, and
   not believing with a firmness appropriate to the results of that
   endeavor, his proposals had the status of proposals for reform. (p.

Locke linked flawed doxastic (thinking) practices to the social tumult of his day; his fellow compatriots failed to "do their best" with respect to forming beliefs, nor were they steadfast in their intellectual convictions under cultural duress. This is notable because Locke is clearly holding his countrymen accountable for their intellectual conduct and, in virtue of this, admitting moral culpability into the conduct of understanding. For Locke, then, responsible thinking is clearly a moral activity. An analogy can be drawn here. Doctoral students also find themselves in challenging intellectual contexts where multiple pressures to publish, complete coursework, pass comprehensive exams, and write and defend a dissertation, all of which produces intense intellectual strain. This does not even take into account departmental politics, peer competition, and other social pressures. Nevertheless, they, like all of us, remain primarily responsible for the veracity of their understandings. In the following, I suggest that the intellectual virtues as a moral framework for guiding these doxastic practices.

Like their moral counterparts, intellectual virtues are deep and abiding character traits, but traits that dispose and motivate us toward excellent thinking. In the first place, intellectual virtues are deep in the sense that intellectually virtuous persons are consistently and stably virtuous, e.g., under normal circumstances an open-minded person will not suddenly become close-minded. What makes them distinctly intellectual is that they describe the character of our cognitive engagement with the world around us (e.g., other persons, ideas, nature, etc.). In other words, they are habits of mind that shape our intellectual activity. Furthermore, virtue epistemologists such as Linda Zagzebski (1996), Robert C. Roberts (2007), John Greco (2002), and other agree that the intellectual virtues possess a motivational component that encourages the acquisition of epistemic goods. Zagzebski (1996) puts it this way, "A virtue, then, can be defined as a deep and enduring acquired excellence of a person, involving a characteristic motivation to produce a certain desired end and reliable success in bring about that end" (p. 137). And elsewhere she writes, "[Intellectual virtues] are forms of motivation to have cognitive contact with reality, where this includes more than what is usually expressed by saying that people desire truth" (p. 167). Here we see the connection between understanding (the connection making process) and intellectual virtue. Intellectual virtues (and vices) shape how persons make connections--the character of their contact with the external world. The intellectual virtues serve as a kind of moral framework or infrastructure that disposes persons toward positive or negative intellectual activity; and they reliably motivate us to acquire deeper understandings.

What then is a regulative virtue epistemology for doctoral education? First, it is simply the position that certain habits of mind are highly valuable in the conduct of scholarship. Second, it provides evaluable intellectual norms or, as Roberts and Wood suggest, it "clarifies the character of the intellectual life in a way that can actually help people live that life" (p. 28). Composing a final "authoritative" list of intellectual virtues, however, is not the aim of this article. If such a list were possible--and I highly doubt that it is--it does not reflect a basic intention of this work. Likewise, the state of affairs in graduate schools across the United States and in many other countries is one of extreme ethnic and cultural diversity. Thus, this RVE represents an attempt to respect diversity while recognizing that certain epistemic virtues can have salutary effects in scholarly development. Thus, while there is no comprehensive list of intellectual virtues (indeed, scholars still debate which character traits should be counted virtues) one of the more promising compilations of intellectual virtues serves as the conceptual framework of a new charter school in Long Beach, California.

The Nine Master Virtues

Under the intellectual leadership of philosopher Jason Baehr, and funded in part through a grant by the John Templeton Foundation, the Intellectual Virtues Academy of Long Beach (IVA) emphasizes nine intellectual virtues. I want to draw attention to these virtues and the novel way in which they have been organized. The nine "master virtues" can be divided into three categories: (1) getting the learning process started and headed in the right directions; (2) making the learning process go well; and (3) overcoming challenges to productive learning" ("Our Charter," n.d,). In what follows I provide an overview of these intellectual virtues with emphasis on how each serves to regulate understanding in a doctoral education context.

Readiness Virtues

Readiness virtues describe the intellectual traits of persons who--when presented with a new task or challenge--are able to quickly adapt to the specific demands of a new project. These character traits include curiosity, "a disposition to wonder, ponder and ask why, which entails "... thirst for understanding and a desire to explore." They also possess and attitude of intellectual humility, "an awareness of one's own intellectual limits; a lack of concern with intellectual superiority and status." And, finally, readiness occasions intellectual autonomy, a capacity for active, self-directed thinking; an ability to think and reason for oneself." And this "involves knowing when to trust and rely on others in a learning context" ("Our Charter," n.d,). While these readiness virtues were conceptualized for application in a middle school, I think it is obvious that they have implications for doctoral education as well.

Consider curiosity. In recent paper, Dennis Whitcomb (2010) provides the following account of curiosity: "Curiosity is a desire for knowledge, not in that its contents always involve some concept of knowledge, but instead in that it comes to be satis?ed if you come to know the answer to the question that is its content. Curiosity is thus satis?ed by knowledge alone, in the same way hunger is satis?ed by nourishment alone" (p. 673). Whitcomb's analogy to hunger seems correct. The desire for answers to our questions, when satisfied, can offer a deep sense of contentment. I would modify Whitcomb's analysis, however, and suggest that understanding as it has been articulated thus far is better candidate. Curiosity motivates persons to see how things are connected. In this way it also possesses a motivation component; it drives us to seek answers even when those answer are not immediately obvious--to fill gaps.

It should be clear that curiosity is a readiness virtue with strong ties to scholarship. Great scientific and humanistic discoveries often begin with a curiosity. Of course, this says little of how curiosity is fostered--especially at a doctoral level where adults arrive with relatively fixed intellectual dispositions. One strategy with potential to overcome this obstacle involves keeping a written record of curiosities. New doctoral students could be encouraged (or required) to keep a written record of interesting questions, intellectual conundrums, bafflements and the like. Through habituation, they would train their eyes to spot areas of confusion or gaps in understanding. It would also foster a sense of intellectual independence and reiterate the value of intellectual autonomy--a second readiness virtue cited by IVA. In keeping a written record of curiosities, students would (from the start) begin compiling a research agenda, thus mitigating the familiar case of the doctoral student who waits until the last minute to begin thinking about the dissertation or expects her advisor to simply hand her a topic. Likewise, students who have begun keeping a journal, insofar as they pursue these lines of inquiry, will more quickly discover concentration areas that truly inspire them, as well as dead ends.

Intellectual humility is the third readiness virtue. According to Garcia (2006),
   The humble are those who are unimpressed with their own admired or
   envied features (or admirable or enviable ones), those who assign
   little prominence to their possession of characteristics in which
   they instead might well take pride. They are people for whom there
   is little personally salient in these qualities and
   accomplishments. (p. 417)

An appropriate measure of pride in one's accomplishments is generally considered a positive, even psychologically healthy, as the reader may note. When contrasted with intellectual arrogance, however, we begin to see how humility plays an important part in the life of the intellectual. Intellectual arrogance entails a disposition to see one's own views as intrinsically superior to the views of others. Such hubris has the effect of limiting one's perspective even to the point of rejecting other more convincing points-of-view. Conversely, it is also common for doctoral to overemphasize their scholarly limitations to the point that they rely overmuch on their mentors or simply fail to make adequate progress in their programs. Thus intellectual humility requires an intellectually honest accounting of one's own capacities and a measure of grit to overcome these obstacles.

Executing Well Virtues

Three related intellectual virtues comprise the Executing Well category. The first, attentiveness, "keeps one focused and on task; zeroes in on important details and nuances of appearance, meaning, etc." Attentiveness is followed by a second intellectual virtue, intellectual carefulness: " awareness of and sensitivity to the requirements of good thinking and learning; quick to note and avoid pitfalls and mistakes." And, finally, intellectual thoroughness "seeks and provides deeper meaning and explanations; not content with appearances or easy answers" ("Our Charter," n.d.). Together these habits of mind provide real time intellectual governance--that is, when actively engaging in demanding cognitive activity, these virtues tune the mind to focus deeply and discriminately on the details.

Most doctoral students are acutely aware of the high-level demands of successfully completing a Ph.D., and performing their duties well is undoubtedly a priority. The accumulation of understanding, however, is complex and requires careful and thorough attention to sort through untested assumptions, motives, and ethical commitments and formative experiences. When, for example, students encounter a new idea or situation, especially one that challenges their presuppositions, they ought to carefully assess the matter. Sometimes this might involve collecting further evidence and (if necessary) revising their beliefs or questioning their motives. A number of positive character traits encourage this activity. It sometimes takes courage and honesty to subject our beliefs and motives to critique. In short, we ought to be conscientious with respect to our understanding. "Conscientiousness is an aptitude for getting certain actions performed, not under conditions of fear, as in the case of courage, but under conditions of insufficient intrinsic motivation" (Roberts and Wood, 2007, p. 79). When we lack motivation (something most doctoral students are familiar with) conscientiousness reminds us of our epistemic responsibilities.

Handling Challenges Virtues

Open-mindedness is a commonly cited intellectual virtue in the literature. One who possesses this virtue, according to Montmarquet (1993), "must tend to see others' ideas as having at least a certain initial plausibility. He or she must be more than open, relative to what strikes them as initially plausible; they must have at least some initial tendency to see others' ideas as plausible" (p. 24). The open-minded person demonstrates a kind of epistemic humility or willingness to admit her own fallibility. We all know persons whose ideas are fixed and inflexible, even when contrary evidence presents itself. Such behavior inhibits their capacity to attain epistemic goods like understanding, wisdom, and knowledge because they simply refuse to change their minds or revise their beliefs. Open-minded persons, on the other hand, are disposed to listen to counter-evidence and revise their beliefs if necessary. John Dewey (1910) highlights how open-mindedness is integral to the process of intellectual discovery.
   Mental play is open-mindedness, faith in the power of thought to
   preserve its own integrity without external supports and arbitrary
   restrictions. Hence free mental play involves seriousness, the
   earnest following of the development of subject-matter. It is
   incompatible with carelessness or flippancy, for it exacts accurate
   noting of every result reached in order that every conclusion may
   be put to further use. What is termed the interest in truth for its
   own sake is certainly a serious matter, yet this pure interest in
   truth coincides with love of the free play of thought. (p. 219)

F or Dewey, an open-minded person is one who gives his mind free reign to explore, and this entails two other intellectual virtues: a love of knowledge and conscientiousness. The lover of knowledge is one who values obtaining deeper understanding, knowledge, and experiences. This is a person who cares about improving the veracity of her beliefs and is serious and is exacting in her study. Furthermore, as noted in the introduction to this paper, a career in academia presents manifold options with respect to theoretical orientations. Open-minded inquiry avoids sectarianism and values warranted belief over close-minded partisanship.

We may face dilemmas with respect to what to believe about religion, politics, controversial social issues, or where to direct our intellectual energy. This is especially true of young academics whose scholarly identity remains in flux. These situations will sometimes put us at odds with other members of our faculty, community, or family. Such events can be personally challenging a may call for a courageous response, or cautious reservation of judgment. These related intellectual virtues, however, depend upon the right sort of motivation. Roberts and Wood (2007) write:
   So courageous actions need not be overall virtuous; they are
   virtuous insofar as they are courageous, since courage is a virtue;
   but to be overall virtuous, they need to be motivated by some
   virtuous motive. And this will mean that some virtue other than
   courage has to motivate the courageous action: justice, compassion,
   generosity, love of knowledge. (p. 217)

Courageousness acts in accordance with other--often more fundamental--intellectual virtues. Sometimes the best course of action is to boldly face a threat, and to confront it despite the possibility that we may suffer negative consequences. Here we see the value of the final "handling challenges" virtue: perseverance. A willingness press on--to muster one's intellectual energies in the face of adversity--requires a deep commitment to scholarship.

Again Dewey (1910) offers a similar observation about courage and caution in his discussion on the importance of inference: "Since inference goes beyond what is actually present, it involves a leap, a jump, the propriety of which cannot be absolutely warranted in advance, no matter what precautions be taken. Its control is indirect, on the one hand, involving the formation of habits of mind which are at once enterprising and cautious" (p. 75). These habits of mind include an enterprising (open-minded and courageous) spirit, but one constrained by caution and seriousness. He explains, "Since suspended belief, or the postponement of a final conclusion pending further evidence, depends partly upon the presence of rival conjectures as to the best course to pursue...[the] cultivation of a variety of alternative suggestions is an important factor in good thinking" (p. 75). Dewey again stresses the importance of open-mindedness by noting that exposure to rival viewpoints is integral to virtuous thinking.

Two Proposals for Teaching Intellectual Virtue

Thus far I have discussed the cultivation of specific intellectual virtues. I have also argued that the chief end of doctoral education--indeed, of all intellectual inquiry--is understanding, which is achieved through the exercise of intellectual virtue. Here I want to conclude with some general remarks about fostering intellectual virtue. I consider two broad proposals for creating educational environments that integrate teaching for virtue. In her article on teaching the intellectual virtues, Heather Battaly (2006) articulates a view, I assume, most graduate faculty would heartily endorse:
   Many of us not only want our students to learn about better ways of
   thinking, but to become better thinkers. We want our students to
   become skilled in deductive and inductive reasoning, to become
   open-minded, conscientious, and intellectually courageous, and to
   care about truth for its own sake. In short, we want our students
   to become intellectually virtuous. (p. 191)

What is the best way to teach intellectual virtue? Two approaches have been recommended: Linda Zagzebski's (2010) recent work on exemplarist virtue theory, and Heather Battaly's (2006) practical insights on developing and practicing intellectual virtue in the classroom.

Zagzebski (2010) proposes a novel virtue theory based on the observation that we learn by imitation. First, though, she points out that moral theories are generally written for philosophers and philosophy students.
   We produce moral theories first for other philosophers, and
   secondarily for students in philosophy classes. But we think that
   theoretical discussions can ultimately influence practice.... It is
   pretty obvious that theory at that level does not influence
   practice, but one of the issues I am interested in is the path from
   abstract theory to revisions of practice. I suspect that the path
   goes through disciplines other than philosophy, publications aimed
   at the general educated public, the arts and the media, and
   sometimes the law, and most of the time the path withers before
   ordinary people are affected ... (p. 44)

One way to follow the path from theory to practice, she argues, is to refine our moral principles and character by referencing exemplars--persons whose moral and (for our purposes) intellectual practices are exemplary. Because these persons are observable, she thinks this empirically grounds our understanding of the intellectual virtues. For example, if I want to know what intellectual courage looks like, I can examine the life and work of someone who demonstrates that attribute. We should do more than reference these persons, however, we also ought to imitate them. Two insights undergird her argument.

First, she notes that admiration is a very powerful emotion that motivates imitation. Thus we should select exemplars "directly through the emotion of admiration" (p. 41). This is especially notable in the case of students. Students have a penchant for imitating figures in popular culture that embody characteristics that they admire. I am reminded of the hot-tempered basketball player, Charles Barkley, and his infamous denial of "role model" status. Many teachers and parents were outraged because they understood how powerful admiration can be (Litke, 2009, March 9). While doctoral students are unlikely to model their scholarly careers on pop-culture icons (I certainly hope not!) professors should find ways to direct their students' attentions to virtuous exemplars within the academy--past or present. Zagzebski (2010) advocates studying narrative accounts of fictional and non-fictional characters (pgs. 44-45). With a slight adjustment, graduate students might be encouraged to pursue an autobiographical study of a notable scholar they find admirable. This might lead to an essay or presentation in which they elaborate that individual's positive intellectual character traits. Perhaps the clearest consequence of Zagzebski's exemplarism, however, is the centrality of the advisor/advisee relationship. Students should work closely with professors whose track records reflect a deep commitment to intellectual excellent. Moreover, they should openly discuss their intellectual practices with students and model the intellectual virtues. Note, too, that such a theory ought to give us (professors) pause: to what extent doe we embody these virtues?

Heather Battaly (2006) agrees with Zagzebski (2010) that students learn intellectual virtue through imitation, but she makes a further suggestion: that students also learn intellectual virtue through practice. First, she notes that intellectual virtues "require virtuous motivations"--chief among them, a high regard for truth. She thinks instilling a love of truth is the first step (p. 210). This can be modeled, discussed, illustrated through exemplars; any number of strategies can be employed. The main point is that students develop a respect for the value of well-grounded belief. Moreover, she recommends that teachers discuss and illustrate the differences between "intellectual motivations" and "intellectual actions." Accordingly, "Intellectual actions are (roughly) actions that one performs in acquiring beliefs; and intellectual motivations are (roughly) one's motivations for performing these actions" (p. 211). Sample intellectual motivations include desire for knowledge, desire to believe what is "easy," desire to maintain already held beliefs, and desire to believe what one "hopes" is true. Thus intellectual motivations can be both positive and negative in nature. These motivations are the reasons for our intellectual actions, which include such things as "jumping to conclusions, suspending belief, entertaining objections to one's own view, constructing replies, defending one's view against objections, conceding that another's view is correct" and the like (p. 211). What is important (and accurate, I think) about this distinction is that most students will have never given much thought about the connection between their intellectual motivations and their intellectual activity. Once more, as with understanding and intellectual virtue, doctoral students are encouraged to self-reflect and evaluate. In conclusion, the search for understanding and the cultivation of intellectual virtue "clarifies the character of the intellectual life in a way that can actually help people live that life. Conceptual clarification is an important part of education, and the improvement of intellectual character is a kind of education" (Roberts & Wood, 2007, p. 28).

Mark J. Ortwein

The University of Mississippi-Desoto


Battaly, H. (2006). Teaching intellectual virtues: Applying virtue epistemology in the classroom. Teaching Philosophy, 29(3), 191-222.

Dewey, J. (1910). How we think. Boston: D.C. Heath & Co.

Garcia, J. L. (2006). Being unimpressed with ourselves: Reconceiving humility. Philosophia, 34(4), 417-435.

Golde, C. M., & Walker, G. E. (2006). Preparing stewards of the discipline. In Envisioning the future of doctoral education: Preparing stewards of the discipline, Carnegie essays on the doctorate (pp. 1-22). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Kvanvig, J. L. (2003). The value of knowledge and the pursuit of understanding. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Litke, J. (2009, March 9). Barkley finally a role model, though it's in jail. USA Today. Retrieved from

Maxwell, N. (2007). From knowledge to wisdom: The need for an academic revolution. London Review of Education, 5(2), 97-115.

Montmarquet, J. A. (1993).Epistemic virtue and doxastic responsibility. Lanham, Md: Rowman & Littlefield.

Moser, P. K. (2002). Virtues in epistemology. In The Oxford handbook of epistemology (pp. 287-315). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Our Charter | IVA | Intellectual Virtues Academy Long Beach. (n.d.). Retrieved September 9, 2013, from

Pallas, A. M. (2001). Preparing education doctoral students for epistemological diversity. Educational Researcher, 30(1), 1-6.

Plato (1880). The meno of Plato (J. G. Baiter, Trans.). London, UK: Simpkin, Marshal, & Co.

Pritchard, D. (2007). Recent work on epistemic value. American Philosophical Quarterly, 44(2), 85-110.

Roberts, R. C., & Wood, W J. (2007). Intellectual virtues: An essay in regulative epistemology. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press.

Whitcomb, D. (2010). Curiosity was framed. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 81(3), 664-687.

Wolterstorff, N. (1996). John Locke and the ethics of belief. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Zagzebski, L. T. (1996). Virtues of the mind: An inquiry into the nature of virtue and the ethical foundations of knowledge. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Zagzebski, L. (2010). Exemplarist virtue theory. Metaphilosophy, 41(1-2), 41-57.
COPYRIGHT 2015 Caddo Gap Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2015 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Ortwein, Mark J.
Publication:Journal of Thought
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2015
Previous Article:Efforts to transform learning and learners: the first decade of an innovative doctoral program.
Next Article:A Reflection on Changes in Education from a Veteran Teacher's Perspective.

Terms of use | Copyright © 2017 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters