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  • Corey Lee Wilson

Enhancing "intellectual humility" on campus

Intellectual humility is a mindset that guides our intellectual conduct. In particular, it involves recognizing and owning our intellectual limitations in the service of pursuing deeper knowledge, truth, and understanding.

Saint Augustine famously called humility the foundation of all other virtues. Sir John Templeton himself spoke and wrote about the need for a humble approach to knowledge and discovery that touches on the “big questions” of science, philosophy, and theology.

Intellectual humility speaks to people’s willingness to reconsider their views, to avoid defensiveness when challenged, and to moderate their own need to appear “right.” It is sensitive to counter-evidence, realistic in outlook, strives for accuracy, shows little concern for self-importance, and is corrective of the natural tendency to strongly prioritize one’s own needs.

When we discuss important, controversial issues with others, our initial responses to their arguments tend to be shaped by our preferences, identities, and prior opinions. Intellectual humility buffers against those responses so that we can become more “truth-oriented.” It helps us overcome our self-centered inclinations in discussion and learning, making us more likely to follow the evidence where it leads and positioning us to better understand the truth.

Researchers have presented a number of models for how intellectual humility functions and here are some examples and benefits to consider:

  • Intellectual humility moderates particular attitude-forming tendencies, making intellectually humble people more likely to reconsider their views and less defensive when their beliefs are challenged.

  • Still others posit that intellectual humility reduces our concern for our own intellectual self-importance.

  • Another proposed benefit of intellectual humility is that it enhances tolerance or respect for the beliefs or ideas of others. Ego-defensive reactions can lead people to discount, disparage, and even shun out-group members.

  • It is sometimes claimed that intellectual humility improves inquiry and learning. Intellectually humble people may well have better access to others’ perspectives.

  • Researchers also note that intellectual humility can help people know when to listen to experts.

Humbly stated, our understanding of intellectual humility has expanded considerably over the last decade, but much more remains to be explored and clarified. For a great video on the topic check this link out at the John Templeton Foundation website regarding their Intellectual Humility Program at:

The Joy of Being Wrong – John Templeton Foundation: https://youtu.be/mRXNUx4cua0



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