9 Intellectual Virtues For Success In The Modern World

Feb 15, 2024 | Inquiry, Shift

9 Intellectual Virtues For Success In The Modern World

by Drew Perkins, Director of ThoughtStretchers Education

To equip students to thrive in the complexities of the modern world it’s imperative to cultivate not just knowledge but also a set of intellectual virtues. These virtues serve as the foundation for critical thinking, problem-solving, and lifelong learning.

Author and professor Jason Baehr writes about 9 key intellectual virtues in his book, Deep in Thought: A Practical Guide to Teaching for Intellectual Virtues and categorizes them into three dimensions: skill, motivation, and judgment. Here are those nine key intellectual virtues essential for preparing students to succeed in the modern world:

1. Curiosity: A disposition to wonder, ponder, and ask why. This virtue encompasses the skill to inquire, the motivation to seek understanding, and the judgment to discern relevant questions. Encouraging students to nurture their curiosity fuels a thirst for understanding and exploration, fostering a mindset of continuous inquiry and discovery.

2. Autonomy: A capacity for active, self-directed thinking. Autonomy involves the skill to reason independently, the motivation to pursue knowledge, and the judgment to make informed decisions. Empowering students with autonomy enables them to think critically and creatively, fostering ownership over their learning journey.

3. Humility: A willingness to own one’s intellectual limitations and mistakes. Humility includes the skill to reflect, the motivation to learn from failure, and the judgment to acknowledge one’s own fallibility. Cultivating humility teaches students to approach learning with openness and humility, fostering a growth mindset and resilience in the face of challenges.

4. Attentiveness: A readiness to be personally present in the learning process. Attentiveness involves the skill to focus, the motivation to engage, and the judgment to discern relevant information. Developing attentiveness helps students stay focused and engaged, actively participating in their learning environment and recognizing important details.

5. Carefulness: A disposition to notice and avoid intellectual pitfalls and mistakes. Carefulness encompasses the skill to analyze, the motivation to strive for accuracy, and the judgment to evaluate information critically. Emphasizing carefulness encourages students to approach learning with precision and thoroughness, striving for accuracy in their thinking and reasoning.

6. Thoroughness: A disposition to seek and provide explanations. Thoroughness includes the skill to explore deeply, the motivation to understand complex concepts, and the judgment to discern underlying principles. Going beyond surface-level understanding, thoroughness prompts students to delve deeper into concepts and ideas, seeking comprehensive explanations and understanding.

7. Open-mindedness: An ability to think outside the box. Open-mindedness involves the skill to consider diverse perspectives, the motivation to embrace new ideas, and the judgment to evaluate information objectively. Fostering open-mindedness encourages students to approach learning with flexibility and adaptability, considering alternative viewpoints and challenging conventional wisdom.

8. Courage: A readiness to persist in thinking or communicating despite fear. Courage encompasses the skill to express oneself, the motivation to overcome obstacles, and the judgment to take calculated risks. Encouraging courage empowers students to voice their opinions boldly and pursue their goals with resilience and determination.

9. Tenacity: A willingness to embrace intellectual challenge and struggle. Tenacity includes the skill to persevere, the motivation to overcome adversity, and the judgment to stay focused on long-term goals. Promoting tenacity teaches students the importance of persistence and determination, enabling them to overcome obstacles and achieve success in their academic and personal endeavors.

These nine intellectual virtues are also foundational concepts of the Intellectual Virtues Academy, an independent public charter middle school in Long Beach, California, with the three dimensions renamed:

  1. Getting Started
  2. Executing Well
  3. Handling Challenges

Nurturing intellectual virtues is fundamental to preparing students for success in the modern world. These virtues are not an alternative to traditional academic content but a framework to enhance engagement with rigorous academic content and, not coincidentally, are highly compatible with the idea of teaching objective pluralism we advocate for.

To hear more listen to my podcast discusssion with Jason Baehr about his work and these intellectual virtues on our ThoughtStretchers Education Podcast: Teaching For Intellectual Virtues.

Fostering these virtues in our students helps teachers move beyond important surface learning to the kinds of deep and transfer learning that require productive discussion, metacognition, and a culture of inquiry. Leaning into these virtues not only will help your students in the short term but will empower them to navigate the complexities of the world they will inhabit as adults.


We'll be launching our ThoughtStretchers Community very soon!

Join our email list and you'll receive updates about the launch and events and more as we grow. 

*note, this is different from our main ThoughtStretchers Education email list which is focused on our professional development work.

You have Successfully Subscribed!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This