Autonomy as Intellectual Virtue

Kyla Ebels-Duggan

in The Aims of Higher Education

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2015 | ISBN: 9780226259345
Published online January 2016 | e-ISBN: 9780226259512 | DOI:
Autonomy as Intellectual Virtue

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One standard argument in support of higher education is that it is valuable because it promotes students’ autonomy, where ‘autonomy’ is roughly understood to be self-reliance and self-empowerment. According to this chapter, relying on this conception of autonomy facilitates the standard view’s incorrect diagnosis of the intellectual vices of the typical university student and misleading prescription for how to remedy these vices. This article argues that the best way to understand autonomy is in terms of the intellectual virtues of charity and humility. Given this alternative conception, it becomes clear that the actual vice of today’s student is not unreflective allegiance to a conception of the good, but instead an overconfidence in the vulnerability of all views to criticism and a resulting unwillingness to commit to any positive view. This conception of autonomy also illuminates the correct prescription for these problems: an approach to teaching that inculcates and develops the appropriate balance of charity, humility, and tenacity.

Keywords: autonomy; intellectual virtues; intellectual vices; charity; humility; tenacity; conception of the good

Chapter.  8000 words. 

Subjects: Higher and Further Education

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