Chapter 3 – Virtues

What is an Intellectual Virtue? Roberts and Wood (2007), in the book Intellectual virtues: an essay in regulative epistemology[1], seek to outline this question thoughtfully and insightfully throughout its pages. Starting from the idea that Virtues make a person excellent as a human being, this text aims to summarize the main ideas contained in chapter 3 of the book.

The Virtues have both intellectual and non-intellectual meanings, although, in one way or another, they all have a cognitive aspect. For example, a person cannot want to play the guitar without knowing what a guitar means and what it is like to play it. The authors identify the will as one of the central elements of a virtuous individual; its constitution is crucial for forming the intellectual character. In this way, will is what in the human mental repertoire motivates and drives action and can be externalized through desire, concern, care, and interest. Four functions of the will are conceived: a) Attraction; b) Choice; c) Willpower; d) Emotion.

Attraction is related to the desire and propensity for something. Skills appear when someone has a will and is motivated to act; the intellectually excellent individual is the one who finds knowledge attractive and is moved to seek it both for himself and others. The will as a power of choice involves doing something that is not necessarily desired but related to fulfilling duty, exercising your free will to judge desires. Thus, even if it is not the most attractive alternative, the choice has a reason for it. Willpower is the management of impulses, that is, the ability to suppress unwanted behaviors and actions. As the source of emotions, the will is based on concerns and feelings.

The love of knowledge is an essential virtue for intellectual life, as it provides direct epistemic contact with reality and provides the enjoyment of learning. Intellectual charity is also a virtue when there is love for God and neighbor in order to interpret the writings with generosity and benevolence. The absence of the vices of pride, such as vanity, arrogance, and presumption, characterizes intellectual humility. Intellectual awareness involves duties such as questioning the motives for defending a position and examining the evidence diligently and honestly. Finally, intellectual courage is the ability to perform intellectual tasks well, despite possible threats. The Virtues realm is challenging because it involves discipline, both self-imposed and imposed by others.

There is a caveat to the idea that the will moves us, as it is the object that moves us due to the condition of our will. For example, it is concern that motivates helping someone who is suffering. That said, it is noted that there is something transcendental. The person is not just a set of aptitudes plus a set of sensitivities drawn to a prospect or object; there is an assessment of objects from their impulses, desires, and attractions to the eligibility of action. That is, the virtuous individual does not do what he likes but what he considers the best, autonomously and for intrinsic reasons.

[1] ROBERTS, Robert C.; WOOD, W. Jay. Intellectual virtues: an essay in regulative epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Back To Top