Intellectual humility

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Intellectual humility is the acceptance that one's beliefs and opinions could be wrong.[1][2] Other characteristics that may accompany intellectual humility include a low concern for status and an acceptance of one's intellectual limitations.[3]

Intellectual humility (IH) is often described as an intellectual virtue.[4] It is considered along 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 opposite extremes of intellectual arrogance/dogmatism and intellectual servility/diffidence/timidity.[6][7]


While IH as an independent and focused area of study is a recent phenomenon, the presence of humility in discourse dates back many centuries. Waclaw Bąk et al. identify Socrates as "the ideal example" of IH.[8] Studies by Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Gordon Allport discuss humility with regard to one's knowledge without using the phrase "intellectual humility".[8]

In 1990, Richard Paul presented IH as a critical thinking disposition, interdependent with other traits such as intellectual courage.[9][10] 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".[9] 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."[9]

One of the first focused studies of IH was conducted by Roberts and Woods in 2003.[11] Much of the literature on IH concerns attempts to frame definitions.[12] Conceptions of humility include proper belief, underestimation of strengths, low concern, limitation-owning, as well as semantic clusters, cluster of attitudes, and confidence management.[3][jargon]

Doxastic definition[edit]

Ian M. Church and Peter L. Samuelson proposed a doxastic[13] account of IH. They considered IH as a virtue of valuing one's own beliefs "as he or she ought". They argued humility is the "virtuous mean" between arrogance and self-deprecation.[14]

This definition proposed that people are intellectually arrogant when they erroneously evaluate their intellectual capacity to be higher than warranted, resulting in them 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.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Porter 2015, p. 4, "All of these definitions share a recognition that the intellectually humble are aware of the fallibility of their intellect.".
  2. ^ 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".
  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, "Robert Roberts and Jay Wood... 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. ^ Snow 2018, 15.3 Two Proper Belief Accounts.
  8. ^ a b Bąk, Wójtowicz & Kutnik 2022.
  9. ^ a b c Paul 1990.
  10. ^ Aberdein 2020.
  11. ^ Haggard 2016.
  12. ^ Lynch et al. 2016, p. 2, "Much of the current philosophical literature of intellectual humility concerns how best to characterize or define the concept.".
  13. ^ Gertler 2020.
  14. ^ a b Church & Samuelson 2016.

Cited works[edit]


Further reading[edit]