The Virtuous Intellectual

A Mosaic Depicting Plato’ and His Academy

There are three important intellectual virtues, but you can still be an intellectual without them. (Image: public domain)

French philosopher and spiritual writer Antonin Sertillanges has described three virtues essential for the serious intellectual. I try to live by these virtues myself, or at least, by a slightly modified version, and have expanded Sertillanges’ brief definitions to make the merits more clear.

THE VIRTUE OF CONSTANCY

Nothing is more useful for an intellectual than the quality of being unchanging or unwavering in purpose. This does not mean you cannot sidle off on a diversion when you stumble on something intriguing. Nor does it mean you must carve your goal in stone. It does mean you must maintain some overarching goal that has enough flexibility to allow for adjustments as the work progresses. Without such a goal, you are unlikely to accomplish much and run the risk of getting lost among the tempting possibilities encountered along the way. A goalless intellectual fritters away the concentrated effort needed to put together a complete work or viable set of new ideas.

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The Lonely Thinker’s Path

Nowadays, we strongly emphasize emotion. Our IQs seem to matter little while our EQs loom large. I thought it would be useful to remind ourselves of what it means to be a thinker.

Plato as Imagined by Raphael

With the emphasis now on feelings are we, as a society, losing sight of the value of thinking? (Image: public domain)

The Desire of Knowledge

French philosopher and spiritual writer Antonin Sertillanges writes: “The desire of knowledge defines our intelligence as a vital force … it is the thinker’s special characteristic to be obsessed by the desire for knowledge.”

In other words, for the thinker, the acquisition of knowledge is an emotionally important idea. It is what American psychologist Carl Rogers would call a “subjectively formed guiding principle.” This means acquiring knowledge is one of the primary objects of the thinker’s authentic will. The activity is not an add-on, an external “interest” he has acquired; it is a fundamental part of his self and personality. The behaviour will have been there from early childhood remaining unrecognized until the thinker matures and turns to matters that are more serious and noteworthy.

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