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Intellectual Perseverance: Working Through Complexity and Frustration

Let us now consider intellectual perseverance:

Intellectual perseverance can be defined as the disposition to work one's way through intellectual complexities despite the frustration inherent in the task. Some intellectual problems are complex and cannot be easily solved. One has intellectual perseverance when one does not give up in the face of intellectual complexity or frustration. The intellectually perseverant person displays firm adherence to rational principles despite the irrational opposition of others, and has a realistic sense of the need to struggle with confusion and unsettled questions over an extended time to achieve understanding or insight.

The opposite of intellectual perseverance is intellectual laziness, demonstrated in the tendency to give up quickly when faced with an intellectually challenging task. The intellectually indolent, or lazy, person has a low tolerance for intellectual pain or frustration.

How does a lack of intellectual perseverance impede fair-mindedness? Understanding the views of others requires that we do the intellectual work to achieve that understanding. That takes intellectual perseverance-insofar as those views are very different from ours or are complex in nature. For example, suppose you are a Christian wanting to be fair to the views of an atheist. Unless you read and understand the reasoning of intelligent and insightful atheists, you are not being fair to those views. Some intelligent and insightful atheists have written books to explain how and why they think as they do. Some of their reasoning is complicated or deals with issues of some complexity. It follows that only those Christians who have the intellectual perseverance to read and/or understand atheists can be fair to atheist views. Of course, a parallel case could be developed with respect to atheists' understanding the views of intelligent and insightful Christians.

Finally, it should be clear how intellectual perseverance is essential to all areas of higher-level thinking. Virtually all higher-level thinking requires some intellectual perseverance to overcome. It takes intellectual perseverance to reason well through complex questions on the job, to work through complex problems in intimate relationships, to solve problems in parenting. Many give up during early stages of working through a problem. Lacking intellectual perseverance, they cut themselves off from all the insights that thinking through an issue at a deep level provides. They avoid intellectual frustration, no doubt, but they end up with the everyday frustrations of not being able to solve complex problems.

Test the Idea
Intellectual Perseverance

Most people have more physical perseverance than intellectual perseverance. Most are ready to admit, "No pain, no gain!" when talking about the body. Most give up quickly, on the other hand, when faced with a frustrating intellectual problem. Thinking of your own responses, in your work or your personal life, how would you evaluate your own intellectual perseverance (on a scale of 010)? Write out what you are basing your score on.

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