Clarity as an intellectual virtue

Have you ever thought of clarity as a virtue? In the last post, Roy Clouser started our series on intellectual virtues by explaining the importance of the ‘logical’ or ‘analytical’ aspect of reality for scholarship. Clarity is a norm (a kind of goodness) that presupposes the norm of distinguishing logically; once we have good distinctions, we should seek to communicate these clearly. But why should Christians have anything to say about these basic norms?

It is interesting that the first specific task God gave to Adam, the naming of the animals, (Genesis 2:19–20) was both an analytical and a linguistic operation. Before you can give a name to a species, you’ve first got to identify what makes it different from the other species around it, and this means making generalisations from one animal to a whole group (I don’t think Adam was calling one sheep ‘Bob’ and another ‘Margaret’!). One aspect of the creation mandate for humans to ‘fill the earth and subdue it’ is the idea that we work to bring it under our mastery and into our understanding; as part of this, we need to use our God-given analytical faculties to shine a light on the logical interactions and relationships of the world around us.

What does this mean for us as Christian researchers or postgrads? I think there’s a few key principles here:

  • Analysis is not a neutral act. When we attempt to make abstractions, we’re not just jumping through intellectual hoops, nor are we opening up heroic new vistas for human independence. We are doing what God designed and commanded us to do: exploring, examining and explaining His world. If we remember this, it can give us a sense of purpose in our daily work. If we forget it, we risk distorting the vision He set before us.
  • Clarity is not the same as simplicity. Thinking clearly does not mean ignoring the world’s complexities, which are testament both to God’s rich creativity and also to the chaos our sin has wreaked on our environment. The opposite of clarity is not complexity but confusion. As we approach the world analytically, through our different disciplines, we are working with its complexity, not against it – working to engage with and harness this complexity as part of our act of intellectual worship and service. We can help the church to be confident, and not fearful or suspicious, when faced with complicated truths and situations.
  • Researchers can be servants. The ability to find and describe the relationships between different aspects of reality is a gift, given by God for the common good. Our job is not to make things as complicated as possible, however much that might validate our abilities to ourselves and the academy around us; our job is to engage with complexity for the sake of our broader community, just as Adam gave names to the animals as a first step to domesticating them. Wherever possible, we should be open to ways (however unexpected!) in which our studies can bless our church family.

Comments

First rate, Mark.
One can also point out that Clarity (as you elucidate it) is one of many norms that the Great Commandment of Love lays upon us.
To leave our neighbour in confusion about what we say because we can’t be bothered to make ourselves clear is an act bereft of Love. If we don’t know how to do that, then it’s Love again that demands we learn or are taught.
In this way, the linguistic norm of clarity in its own unique fashion anticipates the specific norms of love in human relationships.

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