wiseStewardsParents should equip their children to acquire, develop, and practice intellectual virtue, because this is a necessary (but not sufficient) requirement for shalom.

But what is intellectual virtue?

An intellectual virtue is an excellence of the mind. It is an intellectual character trait that enables one to reason well for the purpose of living well. Some examples of intellectual virtues that Scripture urges us to embody include attentiveness, prudence, teachability, intellectual tenacity, intellectual humility, love of truth, and wisdom.[1] It does not matter whether one becomes a college professor, computer technician, artist, or electrician. Simply by virtue of being human, we live more fulfilled lives and can perform our jobs better if we possess the intellectual virtues and apply their fruit to our lives.

Intellectual virtue is also important to parents because parents act as a source of belief and knowledge for their children. There are many sources of belief in the world, including the five senses, reason, ethical intuition, Scripture, memory, religious experience, and the testimony of others. Some of these sources, such as the testimony of others as relayed through popular culture, are sometimes reliable and sometimes not. Parents are one voice among many, but given the centrality of that voice in the formative years of a child, parents must seek to be reliable sources of belief. That is, they must seek to be sources of genuine knowledge for their children.

Seeking to develop intellectual virtue in our children is also important as a safeguard against some of the ways in which our culture seeks to influence people. Several years ago, a PBS program detailed an advertising strategy called emotional branding. The strategy is “to fill the empty places where noncommercial institutions, like schools and churches, might once have done the job. Brands become more than just a mark of quality, they become an invitation to a longed-for lifestyle, a ready-made identity.”[2] This program points out that those who are brand managers talk as if they truly are fulfilling the needs people have for meaning, community, and even transcendence. Of course, in the end, it’s only an iPod, a car, or a pair of running shoes. But this works out for the companies, because people have to go shopping again in the attempt to get these needs met.

This is related to intellectual virtue, because in emotional branding the advertiser tries to bypass the rational mind and tap into these longings we possess. They want us to associate these longings with their products or services, and they seek to accomplish this by their marketing and advertising. The intellectually virtuous person will recognize that the kind of car one drives is generally unrelated to finding meaningful relationships with other people. We need to teach our children to be careful, critical thinkers, for not only advertisers but also politicians, pastors, and others may use the same methods of persuasion. One of the best safeguards in these contexts is a sound mind.

-The above is an excerpt from my book, Wise Stewards.

[1] W. Jay Wood, Epistemology: Becoming Intellectually Virtuous (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 19.

[2] Barak Goodman and Douglas Rushkoff, “The Persuaders,” transcript, PBS Frontline, directed by Barak Goodman and Rachel Dretzin (Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 2004), http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/persuaders/etc/script.html.