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Intellectual Curiosity


This blog is part of a series of reflections based on Philip Dow's book Virtuous Minds*


Curiosity is defined as “an eager desire to know; inquisitiveness”. It asks the questions ‘why’ and ‘how’ and pursues the answers. It is often the forerunner of invention and new ideas. It is not just a state of mind but is active in its observation, investigation and exploration; in its pursuit of answers.


Curiosity is innate in many animal species and in mankind but Dow claims that “most of us have gotten out of the habit of asking why” (p56).


Left unbridled and unrestrained it can be dangerous. We only have to consider the experiments carried out on humans by the Nazis during WWII or the Communist regime under Mao to have a glimpse of what this can lead to. In a school situation, I once taught a student whose curiosity was insatiable but unrestrained by any sense of danger or carefulness. He was delightful in his pursuit of answers and experimentation but at times a danger to himself and others in his undertakings. Dow puts this danger this way “because of human frailty, a reasonable amount of critical self-awareness and caution should always accompany intellectual curiosity” (p58).


Within these parameters curiosity can push us into ever more challenging intellectual ventures. Dow says it is ‘the most foundational virtue’ (p56) and is ‘easier to develop’ than other virtues (p59). It can be stimulated in learners by teachers and it can be taught. When used in the pursuit of truth, it is powerful.


Philip Dow will be the keynote speaker at the upcoming Christians in Teaching Conference in April.


Can we encourage you to delve into his award winning book Virtuous Minds*, be challenged by his call to pursue truth and to build intellectual virtues in your students, and join us for the upcoming Christians in Teaching Conference. 


*Dow, Philip E. 2013. "Virtuous Minds: Intellectual Character Development". Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press


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