Tuesday, April 03, 2018

William Perry's Stages of Intellectual Development

Today Bud Bence presented William Perry's stages of intellectual development to the new faculty seminar on the residential campus of IWU. The operative question was to what extent did a person's beliefs need to be questioned in order to reach genuine intellectual maturity.

The stages were 1) unity, 2) duality, 3) multiplicity, 4) relativity, 5) skepticism, 6) personal responsibility, 7) intellectual integrity on the level of individual consistency, 8) intellectual integrity on the level of interpersonal consistency, 9) intellectual integrity on the level of global consistency.

Perry was of course completely and thoroughly secular, so we were asking what a Christian version of this developmental schema might look like. Here's my stab:

1. Unitary thinking
No awareness that other perspectives on an issue even exist. Other ideas are just plain weird. Children think this way.

2. Binary thinking
There are only two perspectives on an issue--the right one and the wrong one. Black and white thinking. Other perspectives are just plain wrong. Teenagers often think this way. Many adults never progress beyond this way of thinking, meaning that they are intellectually stunted and see truth as a collection of false alternatives. The term "biblical" is sometimes a front for "what I already believe" rather than a deep engagement with Scripture.

3. Spectrum thinking
On most issues, there is a spectrum of nuances and possible positions. What Perry calls multiplicity is an acknowledgement of these sorts of nuances. Hopefully college students begin to appreciate these sorts of nuances in their first couple years. Unexamined assumptions are brought out into the open.

4. Positional Problematization
This is my version of skepticism. This is where you genuinely see the weaknesses of your original positions and can see your positions from the standpoint of other positions. Faith is seeking understanding, but there is an awareness that many presuppositions are cultural rather than specifically Christian.

5. Epistemic Humility
Whatever positions emerge from the problematization--even if they are the same positions with which you began--you now hold them with an awareness of the strengths of other positions and the weaknesses of your own. There's a recognition that the interpretation and appropriation of the Bible is not without ambiguities itself.

6. Epistemic Integration
Whether there is complete consistency between your positions, you are aware of the relationships between your ideas, including paradoxes and potential incongruities. There is an ability to live with some unresolved issues and the quest for deeper understanding becomes a lifelong journey. You hold presuppositions by faith, but they are not unexamined.

7. Faith Integration
Your ideas are integrated with your Christian faith and your life practices. Ideally, the center of your Christian identity is a matter of your being, your heart, your character, your attitudes and intentions. A life of love of God and neighbor then manifests itself in your choices and behaviors. Your ideas sit on top of these, hopefully in consistency with these.


Bud Bence said...

Ken, what a great job of refining a lecture and contextualizing it to faith/learning in Christian higher ed. If I give the lecture again elsewhere, I will have to add you to the credits.

Martin LaBar said...

Very interesting.

Perhaps there are related questions, about how people trying to influence others (politicians, newspeople, preachers, musicians, TV producers, parents, even sports figures) aim for the lower categories, and whether they realize there are higher ones, or not. If they do realize there are higher categories, what are the ethics of not communicating that to those they are trying to influence?