Saturday, April 13, 2024

A Call for Intellectual Humility

by Rey Jose Marie I. Urbiztondo | March 13 , 2022

In the Philippines, politicians are usually either dynastic candidates or well-known celebrities. Elections are dominated by individual and familial personalities rather than political parties. Relatively, clientelism and electoral fraud are frequent in political posts, which provide several opportunities for patronage. 

Given the Philippines’ plurality system, the amount of people who stand for this type of corruption or favoritism concerns me, as a person who champions civic engagement. And the worst part is 99.99% of those people (according to my ostensive observations) are unrelenting through and through. As I looked into reasoned bases of this behavior, I happened upon philosophical accounts on intellectual humility.

Intellectual humility is the virtuous middle ground between being arrogant and servile. According to Ian M. Church’s (2016) doxastic account of intellectual humility, a humble person does not place too much value on themselves—which would be arrogance—nor do they place too little value on themselves—which would be akin to servility, self-deprecation, or diffidence. Intellectual humility is said to be the virtue of accurately tracking what one might mistakenly believe to be the positive epistemic status of one’s own beliefs. In brief, an intellectually humble person would only value themselves appropriately. This suggests that the degree to which one values their beliefs should be determined by how sensitive one is to the relevant reasons and justifications for and against said beliefs.

Not to be confused with general humility and/or self-doubt, intellectual humility is not about a lack of self-esteem. Intellectually humble people would not immediately cave once their ideas are challenged. Simply put, it is a way of thinking which involves being open to one’s wrongness and learning from others’ experiences. As such, intellectual humility necessitates being actively attentive with one’s own “blind spots.”

According to Roberts & Wood (Intellectual Virtues, p. 239), intellectual humility “is a striking or unusual unconcern for social importance, and thus a kind of emotional insensitivity to the issues of status.” Their account adverts to the intellectually arrogant prevalent desire to promote their own societal status. This is considered one of two primary rationales that are regarded as drivers for intellectual arrogance. The second being one’s inability to own up to their limitations. Intellectually arrogant people are oblivious to their own limitations and overly attentive to their own strengths. Instead of being oblivious to their own strength and overly attentive to their limitations (which would be intellectually servile) however, an intellectually humble person solely owns their limitations. This philosophical account is particularly applicable to cases where no social status is involved.

Why can’t some people be intellectually humble?

One reason could be that our culture promotes overconfidence in some form or another, which can easily turn humbling moments into humiliating ones. This can be seen in how some people, even when they are wrong (due to ignorance or a mere oversight) and realize it, can’t seem to or find it difficult to own up to their shortcomings. In online arguments, this often gets papered over by the abused “respect my opinion” card, which can specially get dangerous once it’s already at the expense of everyone (i.e., putting the wrong people in power).

Generally speaking, when presented with difficult questions, people are all too willing to reject dissent. From the essentially unipolar political atmosphere during Duterte’s hallmark drug war—albeit anti-establishment—to the dehumanizing orthodoxy and ignorance in religious dialogue, our nation needs more people who are adequately sensitive to their intellectual frailty. Our nation is in need of more people who are open to the possibility that their political, religious, or moral beliefs might just be mistaken; people who are adequately sensitive to reasons that are—not only for but also—against their beliefs. 

Having intellectual humility is to choose our convictions carefully; and my conviction is that our nation needs more of it. You may think otherwise but I’m always open to discussion.

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