A Virtuous Mind: Tenacity

Third in a series on intellectual character traits

Posted Feb 03, 2014

"In both our actions and our thinking habits, tenacity is often the difference between success and failure, fulfillment and frustration." Philip Dow, Virtuous Minds

In this third in a series of posts based on Philip E. Dow's award-winning book, Virtuous Minds, I would like to focus on intellectual tenacity. It seems to many as if we have lost the virtue of tenacity in general in our culture, compared to prior generations. Whether this observation is simply a bit of curmudgeonliness, or is in fact true, it is the case that we often don't achieve what we could in our personal or professional lives because we simply aren't tenacious enough.

This is often true in our intellectual lives.

At times I've noticed in myself and in many students a lack of motivation to read demanding works or painfully work through the steps of a rigorous argument. However, tenaciously doing so gets us to (or closer to) the truth. It also develops our intellectual and moral character. Plus there is a deep sense of accomplishment when one finally gets the point, understands the argument, and learns something new. This isn't just the case for philosophical works, but also for other fields. For example, the rewards I've reaped from reading Wuthering Heights and Crime and Punishment certainly outweighed the effort these works require. I have also greatly benefited both personally and professionally from reading outside of my own discipline; I appreciate the work done by the contemporary psychologists that I've read.

We need intellectual tenacity in all of life, as we consider what it means to be a good parent, which position to take on some important moral, social, or political issue, and as we consider questions of deep philosophical significance about human beings and reality. Tenacity moves us to consider objections to our own views about morality, politics, and religion, and work through them until we are satisfied that we have a sound reply. Or the objections may lead us to change our minds, as the evidence leads.

But the tenacious person will not take the easy way out and flip on the tv to avoid the hard work of thinking. When dealing with questions that matter, she will go deeper than sound bites and caricatures to get at the truth.

I'm on Twitter @michaelwaustin