Ethics for Everyone

Moral wisdom for the modern world

A Virtuous Mind: Carefulness

Second in a series on intellectual character traits

We have a tendency to be intellectually careless.

We jump to conclusions not warranted by the evidence, we more heavily weigh evidence in favor of our cherished beliefs and discount that which might count against them. We also can be too influenced by our emotions or by image rather than by careful thought and intellectual substance. Or we may just be tired, or overwhelmed by details and the information that is constantly streaming our way.

We need the virtue of intellectual carefulness.

In a previous post, I discussed intellectual courage. In this second in a series of posts based on Philip E. Dow's award-winning book, Virtuous Minds, I would like to focus on intellectual carefulness.

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The intellectually careful individual wants to know the truth, and is diligent in her pursuit of it. She takes sufficient time before drawing conclusions, focusing on what the available evidence has to say. Sometimes, she withholds judgement until more evidence becomes available.

This doesn't mean that the intellectually careful person never takes intellectual risks. She does not stay in intellectual neutral. She makes important commitments and follows the evidence where it leads, without needing certainty to guide her. But she does seek knowledge and apply wisdom in her daily life, because she has developed habits of careful thinking that guide her decisions.

And she, as well as those who are effected by her, are better off because of this.

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Michael W. Austin, Ph.D., is a Professor of Philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University.

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