Intellectual Humility: The Benefits of Being Open-Minded and Tolerant
Update Your Beliefs in Light of New Evidence.
“We need to enter the conversation willing to be wrong, willing to admit the limits of our own knowledge, willing to reconsider our evidence, sources, and premises. That is self-skepticism.” —Patricia Roberts-Miller
Who likes to admit that they are wrong? Few people, myself included.
We naturally tend to hold on to our beliefs and opinions, even when they are wrong.
This is called confirmation bias, leading us to selectively search for evidence that supports our views while ignoring evidence that contradicts them.
The feeling of knowing something is called conviction. It feels good to be correct and have strong convictions.
Unfortunately, conviction often leads to close-mindedness.
We become less tolerant of different opinions and less willing to consider new evidence. This is the danger of epistemic vice.
We all have confirmation bias to some extent.
It’s part of human nature.
But it’s crucial to try to overcome it.
Because if we don’t, we risk becoming close-minded and dogmatic.
We become resistant to new ideas and perspectives.
What is Intellectual Humility?
Intellectual humility can be considered a willingness to recognize our cognitive limitations and biases, admit when we’re wrong, and be more interested in understanding an issue than being right.
Intellectual humility is not only a recognition that our beliefs and opinions are fallible but also an acknowledgment that we could be wrong.
It’s a virtue that allows us to respectfully listen to others and learn from them.
Epistemic vice is the opposite of intellectual humility.
It’s the refusal to acknowledge that our beliefs might be wrong and the unwillingness to consider new evidence or perspectives.
Epistemic vice leads to close-mindedness, dogmatism, and fundamentalism.
Intellectual humility is essential for healthy dialogue and debate. Without it, we would miss hearing and learning from other people’s perspectives. We would also be more likely to make dogmatic and close-minded decisions.
So why is intellectual humility necessary? Let’s take a closer look.
Social epistemology studies how we know things in a social context. This includes how we interact with others to gather information and how the people around us influence our beliefs.
Intellectual humility is essential in social epistemology because it allows us to have more productive conversations with others.
When we’re open to the fact that we might be wrong, we’re more likely to listen to what others say and consider their perspectives. We’re also more likely to update our beliefs in light of new evidence.
On the other hand, if we’re closed-minded and dogmatic, we’re less likely to listen to others and more likely to hold on to our own beliefs even when they’re wrong. We would also be less likely to change our thoughts in the face of new evidence.
Intellectual humility is thus essential for epistemic progress. It allows us to have more productive conversations and to update our beliefs in light of new evidence.
Examples of Intellectual Humility
Here are some examples of how intellectual humility can play out in real life:
You’re discussing politics with a friend, and you realize that you don’t know as much about the issue as you thought. Instead of getting defensive, you listen to your friend and learn from them.
You’re white, and you’ve never really thought about race before. But then you read an article by a black woman about her experiences with racism, and it opens your eyes to something you were previously unaware of. You become more humble about your views on race and start to learn more about the issue.
You’re a Christian, and you’ve always been taught that homosexuality is a sin. But then you meet someone gay, and they share their experiences with you. You realize that you’ve misunderstood them and become more tolerant and accepting of their lifestyle.
As you can see, intellectual humility can lead to greater understanding and tolerance. It allows us to listen to others and learn from them rather than dismissing them.
How to Cultivate Intellectual Humility
Intellectual humility is a virtue that can be cultivated. Here are some things you can do to cultivate intellectual humility:
Listen to others with an open mind and be willing to learn from them.
Recognize your own cognitive biases and limitations.
Admit when you’re wrong, and be ready to change your beliefs in light of new evidence.
Seek out perspectives that differ from your own.
Be more interested in understanding than in being right.
Practice self-reflection and try to see things from other people’s points of view.
By doing these things, we can become more intellectually humble and open-minded. This will allow us to have more productive conversations with others and to learn from them.
It will also help us to update your beliefs in light of new evidence.
“A little more listening to understand, a little less trying to convince, and a lot more intellectual humility would do everyone a world of good.” —Tania Israel
Drawbacks to Being Intellectually Humble
While intellectual humility is generally seen as a positive trait, some argue it can lead to close-mindedness and intolerance.
For example, if you’re too humble about your beliefs, you might be unwilling to defend them against criticism. This could lead you to abandon your beliefs entirely, even if they’re good.
There’s also a danger of being too tolerant of other people’s beliefs. You might believe false things if you’re too quick to accept others’ perspectives.
So while intellectual humility is generally seen as a positive trait, it’s essential to strike a balance.
We should be humble about our beliefs and willing to stand by them when necessary. And we should be tolerant of others but not to the point of accepting false premises.
I’ve always believed that finding a balance is vital. You don’t want to be so close-minded that you’re unwilling to consider other points of view, but you also don’t want to be so open-minded that your brain falls out.
I think intellectual humility is a great virtue to strive for.
It allows us to have more productive conversations with others and to update our beliefs in light of new evidence. Being more open-minded and tolerant can create a better world for everyone.
What do you think? Do you think intellectual humility is a positive trait? Or do you think it can lead to close-mindedness and intolerance? Let me know in the comments!
© Alejandro Betancourt, 2022. All Rights Reserved.
May Queen Elizabeth II Rest in Peace
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