David Brooks’s op-ed in the New York Times on “The Mental Virtues” reminds us that “character tests are pervasive even in modern everyday life. It’s possible to be heroic if you’re just sitting alone in your office”:
Thinking well under a barrage of information may be a different sort of moral challenge than fighting well under a hail of bullets, but it’s a character challenge nonetheless….
[T]he mind is embedded in human nature, and very often thinking well means pushing against the grain of our nature — against vanity, against laziness, against the desire for certainty, against the desire to avoid painful truths. Good thinking isn’t just adopting the right technique. It’s a moral enterprise and requires good character, the ability to go against our lesser impulses for the sake of our higher ones.
Montaigne once wrote that “We can be knowledgeable with other men’s knowledge, but we can’t be wise with other men’s wisdom.” That’s because wisdom isn’t a body of information. It’s the moral quality of knowing how to handle your own limitations.
Citing the book Intellectual Virtues, Brooks lists ways we can work on the virtues needed at the computer keyboard. For example, regarding “firmness,” he says, “You don’t want to be a person who surrenders his beliefs at the slightest whiff of opposition. On the other hand, you don’t want to hold dogmatically to a belief against all evidence.” Here are the six he describes: