Department of Educational Psychology


Document Type


Date of this Version

Summer 2003


Published in LIBERAL EDUCATION, vol. 89, no. 3 (Summer 2003), pp. 30-37. Copyright 2003 Association of American Colleges and Universities. Used by permission.


Intellectual development, the development of the intellect, is the emergence of increasingly sophisticated forms or levels of cognition, the progress of understanding, reasoning, and rationality. We can describe the outcomes of intellectual development by specifying steps, stages, or levels of development for cognition as a whole and/or for various cognitive domains. Fundamentally, however, intellectual development is an ongoing process of reflection, coordination, and social interaction that begins in early childhood and continues, at least in some cases, long into adulthood.
Liberal education, however defined, includes the promotion of intellectual development as a primary goal. There may be specific facts, skills, and values we want students to learn in specific courses and contexts, but above all we want to foster intellectual progress. To encourage intellectual progress, we must promote reflection, coordination, and social interaction, the basic processes of development. There are many ways to do this, but the fundamental context for all of them, I argue, is one that encourages students to consider, propose, and discuss a variety of ideas-that is, an environment of intellectual freedom. I conclude with a set of principles of academic freedom that, I suggest, are foundational to the promotion of intellectual development.