The Problem with Talking About Intellectual Virtues

Thinker at Columbia University

By: Brooke Allen

This piece is a response to Colleges Should Teach Intellectual Virtues by Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe.

The problem with talking about Intellectual Virtues is that it can give intellectuals the feeling they are virtuous when they are just talking.

Colleges might not think of themselves as being in the business of teaching virtues (like honesty, integrity, courage, fairness, wisdom, and love of the truth) but the fact is they can reinforce or squash good instincts. For example, a student I know wrote a college admissions essay that began with a graphic description of the earth under attack by aliens when he, as super-hero, arrived to save the day. His essay concluded by saying he wanted to go to college to save the world.

Three years into college I introduced the student to the Heroic Imagination Project (www.HeroicImagination.org). Its founder, Dr. Phillip Zimbardo, wrote to the student asking how they might work together to change the world. The student wrote to me, “I’d rather not change the course of history than risk changing it for the worse.” I cannot tell you how imagined courage become timidity but I can tell you when and where it happened.

Question: How can the people at colleges do a better job teaching courage? Continue reading “The Problem with Talking About Intellectual Virtues”

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