Intellectual humility

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Academic convergence postulates that an intellectually humble person recognizes they could be incorrect. In other words, intellectual humility is the acceptance that one's beliefs and opinions, one's intellect, could be wrong. Apart from the admittance of this convergence, there are other characteristics which accompany intellectual humility.[1][2] This could include a low concern for status (such as intellectual domination) and one's mindset towards one's intellectual limitations.[3]

Intellectual humility is often described as an intellectual virtue.[4] As studied in philosophy and psychology it is contrasted with other perceived virtues and vices such as open-mindedness, intellectual courage, arrogance, vanity and servility.[5] It can be understood as lying between the extremes of intellectual arrogance/servility or diffidence,[6][7] and intellectual dogmatism/timidity.[7]

'What should we do to be intellectually humble?’ is a question that can be asked in situations like disagreements or when it comes to testimony. Should we believe what people say or what should we do when we disagree with someone? These questions are all epistemological questions because the goal of being intellectually humble is to gain more knowledge and to find out what is true and what is not.


There is widespread agreement among philosophers and psychologists that intellectual humility is important and valuable in some way, especially if one is going to engage with deep disagreements in a productive way. However, there is little consensus about the precise nature of intellectual humility. For example, some philosophers[8] emphasize the importance of a disposition to own one's particular limitations (e.g. the limitations of one's knowledge and perspective), while others[citation needed] focus on the connection between humility and a low concern for status. Meanwhile, psychologists such as Justin Barrett and Peter Hill are working on better understanding the science behind intellectual humility, and on developing accurate measures[citation needed] that can tell us more about how to quantify humility.

General humility and intellectual humility[edit]

Some authors place intellectual humility as a subdomain of general humility,[9][10] along with others such as relational humility, cultural humility, spiritual humility and political humility.[11][12][13] General humility has epistemic qualities.[14] Others disagree with this categorization.[9]


While intellectual humility as an independent and focused area of study is a recent phenomena, the presence of humility in discourse dates back many centuries. Socrates embodies intellectual humility.[15] Studies by Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and Gordon Allport discuss humility with regard to one's knowledge without using the phrase intellectual humility.[15] In 1990, Richard Paul presented intellectual humility as a critical thinking disposition, as a trait of the mind, interdependent with others such as intellectual courage.[16][17] He defined it as, "Awareness of the limits of one's knowledge, including sensitivity to circumstances in which one’s native egocentrism is likely to function self-deceptively; sensitivity to bias and prejudice in, and limitations of one's viewpoint."[16] Paul adds "It does not imply spinelessness or submissiveness. It implies the lack of intellectual pretentiousness, boastfulness, or conceit, combined with insight into the logical foundations, or lack of such foundations, of one’s beliefs."[16]

In recent times, one of the first focused studies of intellectual humility was conducted by Roberts and Woods in 2003.[18] A lot of the literature on intellectual humility is about attempting to frame definitions.[19] These definitions converge on the point that a person recognizes they could be wrong. Other aspects of the definitions reveal other characteristics.[1][2] Conceptions of humility include proper belief, underestimation of strengths, low concern, limitation owning, as well as semantic clusters, cluster of attitudes, confidence management.[3]

Doxastic definition[edit]

Ian M. Church and Peter L. Samuelson proposed a doxastic[20] account of intellectual humility. They considered intellectual humility as a virtue, one of valuing one's own beliefs "as he or she ought", "Prima facie, humility is the virtuous mean between arrogance, on the one hand, and self-depreciation or diffidence on the other."[21]

People are intellectually arrogant when they erroneously evaluate their intellectual capacity higher than warranted ("smarter than average"). This results in the intellectually arrogant person being more closed-minded and biased than the intellectually humble person. People who are intellectually diffident are those who fail "to appropriately recognize or appreciate their intellectual achievements." Such a person is less inclined to speak out when he or she encounters wrong information.[21]

Church and Samuelson cite several advantages of this treatment of intellectual humility as a virtue. By adopting such an approach, one is better equipped to counter a natural tendency to overestimate one's strengths, and underestimate one's weakness, thus countering confirmation bias. Church and Samuelson further propose that by being open to the viewpoint of others, one positions oneself for growth and learning. The doxastic definition of intellectual humility does not necessarily mean that one abandons one's beliefs, only that one is open to new and alternative viewpoints.[21]


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, 'Dude, I'm Done': When Politics Tears Families And Friendships Apart[22]

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, A quote from Demagoguery and Democracy[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Porter 2015, p. 4, "All of these definitions share a recognition that the intellectually humble are aware of the fallibility of their intellect.".
  2. ^ a b Leary 2018, p. 1, "most definitions converge on the notion that IH involves recognizing that one’s beliefs and opinions might be incorrect".
  3. ^ a b Snow 2018, 15.1.1 Eight conceptions of humility.
  4. ^ Church & Samuelson 2016, Part I: Theory. 2. What Is An Intellectual Virtue?. §5: Is Intellectual Humility an Intellectual Virtue?; Zmigrod et al. 2019, p. 1; Samuelson et al. 2015, p. 3, "epistemic virtue that is widely acknowledged as desirable in both the philosophical and psychological literature is intellectual humility"; Porter 2015, p. 5, "many philosophers consider it a virtue (e.g., Baehr, 2012; Roberts & Wood, 2003)".
  5. ^ Samuelson et al. 2015, p. 4, "as a virtuous mean lying somewhere between the vice of intellectual arrogance (claiming to know more than is merited) and intellectual diffidence (claiming to know less than is merited)"; Leary et al. 2017, p. 5-6; Whitcomb et al. 2017, p. 5, "reflections by Robert Roberts and Jay Wood. They tell us that ―a perfectly rich account of humility‖ requires understanding how humility is ―opposite to‖ fourteen vices: ―arrogance, vanity..."; Haggard et al. 2018, "A limitations-owning perspective of IH focuses on a proper recognition of the impact of intellectual limitations and a motivation to overcome them, placing it as the mean between intellectual arrogance and intellectual servility".
  6. ^ Haggard et al. 2018, Abstract.
  7. ^ a b Snow 2018, 15.3 Two Proper Belief Accounts.
  8. ^ Whitcomb, Dennis; Battaly, Heather; Baehr, Jason; Howard-Snyder, Daniel (1 August 2015). "Intellectual Humility: Owning Our Limitations". Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. 94 (3): 509–539. doi:10.1111/phpr.12228. ISSN 1933-1592.
  9. ^ a b Leary 2018, p. 2.
  10. ^ McElroy et al. 2014, p. 19-20, "Whereas humility refers to a variety of domains, intellectual humility (IH) pertains to one’s knowledge or intellectual influence"; Davis et al. 2016, "is a subdomain of humility".
  11. ^ Porter 2015, p. 3-4.
  12. ^ Haggard, Megan C. (December 2016). "Humility as Intellectual Virtue: Assessment and Uses of a Limitations-Owning Perspective of Intellectual Humility" (PDF). Baylor University. p. 1.
  13. ^ Hodge, Adam (December 2019). "Political Humility: Engaging Others with Different Political Perspectives" (PDF). University of North Texas. Thesis. Master of Science (Psychology).
  14. ^ Samuelson et al. 2015, p. 5.
  15. ^ a b Bąk, Wacław; Wójtowicz, Bartosz; Kutnik, Jan (2022). "Intellectual humility: an old problem in a new psychological perspective". Current Issues in Personality Psychology. 10 (2): 85–97. doi:10.5114/cipp.2021.106999. ISSN 2353-4192. S2CID 237964643.
  16. ^ a b c Paul, Richard (1990). Critical Thinking: What Every Person Needs to Survive in a Rapidly Changing World. Center for Critical Thinking and Moral Critique, Sonoma State University. pp. 54, 194. ISBN 0944583040. LCCN 90-80195.
  17. ^ Aberdein, Andrew (2020), Alfano, Mark; Lynch, Michael; Tanesini, Alessandra (eds.), "Intellectual Humility and Argumentation", The Routledge Handbook of the Philosophy of Humility, Routledge, pp. 325–334, retrieved 4 June 2022, Paul is the only theorist in Ritchhart’s survey to propose intellectual humility as a critical thinking disposition
  18. ^ Haggard, Megan C. (December 2016). "Humility as Intellectual Virtue: Assessment and Uses of a Limitations-Owning Perspective of Intellectual Humility" (PDF). Baylor University. p. 2.
  19. ^ Lynch et al. 2016, p. 2, "Much of the current philosophical literature of intellectual humility concerns how best to characterize or define the concept.".
  20. ^ Gertler, Brie (2020), "Self-Knowledge", in Zalta, Edward N. (ed.), The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2020 ed.), Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, retrieved 26 October 2021
  21. ^ a b c Church & Samuelson 2016.
  22. ^ Smith, Tovia. "'Dude, I'm Done': When Politics Tears Families And Friendships Apart". Retrieved 26 October 2021.
  23. ^ "A quote from Demagoguery and Democracy". Retrieved 26 October 2021.

Cited works[edit]


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