Lesson 3

Cultivate intellectual humility

Lesson 3

Cultivate intellectual humility

Overview

Discover how cultivating intellectual humility and an ethic of continuous learning can help improve your relationships, decision-making, and happiness. 

Our Picks
Recommended Essay:

Recommended Videos:

  • Kathryn Schulz, On being wrong, TED Talk (17:51). Writer Kathryn Schulz reflects on the notion of “being wrong,” arguing that we often have “error blindness” and that we have created a culture with an aversion to being wrong. Schulz invites us to reverse this narrative and recognize the power that comes from learning from our prior mistakes and uncertainties. For further reading, see Schulz’s book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error.

  • The Joy of Being Wrong, Free Think (3:28). Gain a brief overview of intellectual humility – a virtue that science suggests will make you wiser and happier.
Videos
  • 3 smart strategies to amplify your intellectual humility, The Philosophical Life (10:10). A detailed exploration of what it means to call intellectual humility a “virtue”. Host Chris Cloos helps us understand humility as the opposite of the intellectual “vice” of arrogance. He recommends three strategies to help us to develop intellectual humility 1) Cultivate a growth mindset, 2) Find a humble role model to emulate, and 3) Become a lover of truth.
  • Bradley Jackson, Classical Liberalism #9: How does intellectual humility unlock greater knowledge?, Big Think (6:28). This video offers an overview of what intellectual humility is and how it changes the way we approach conversations. Jackson argues that showing intellectual humility allows us to indicate to other people that we view them as equals and we’re willing to cooperate with them to solve difficult problems in our society. (Presupposes understanding of “classical liberalism”)
  • The most powerful mindset for success, Freedom in Thought (9:49). This video explains what we can gain by developing a growth mindset. It illustrates how people who adopt a growth mindset are more willing to persevere through challenges, are more resilient after failures, and tend to be more successful, because they embrace the reality that success requires hard work.
  • Why intellectual humility matters, John Templeton Foundation (3:28). Gain a brief overview of intellectual humility – a virtue that science suggests will make you wiser and happier.
Essays & Articles
  • A new brain study sheds light on why it can be so hard to change someone’s political beliefs by Brian Resnick (2017). In this article, Resnick reviews neuroscientific research which sheds light on why people often resist changing their minds about politics. In short, “partisan identities get tied up in our personal identities. Which would mean that an attack on our strongly held beliefs is an attack on the self. And the brain is built to protect the self.” In other words, the more closely a belief is linked to our sense of who we are as a person, the harder it is for us to abandon that belief.
  • The certainty epidemic by Robert Burton (2008). Neurologist Robert Burton explores the notion of “certainty” and explains that modern biology indicates that “Feeling correct or certain isn’t a deliberate conclusion or conscious choice.” Instead, “feeling certain” is “a mental sensation that happens to us.”
  • Getting it wrong: Surprising tips on how to learn by Henry L. Roediger & Bridgid Finn (2009). This article discusses findings from psychology research, indicating that we learn more when we have opportunities to make mistakes. The authors suggest that instead of shying away from situations where we might mess up, we’ll learn more if we challenge ourselves and risk of getting things wrong.
  • I’m right! (For some reason) by Steven Sloman and Philip M. Fernbach (2012). Professors Sloman and Fernback discuss psychological evidence that human beings suffer from the “illusion of explanatory depth.” They argue that “We have a problem in American politics: an illusion of knowledge that leads to extremism. We can start to fix it by acknowledging that we know a lot less than we think.”
  • Intellectual humility: the importance of knowing you might be wrong by Brian Resnick (2019). This article explores why it can be challenging to cultivate intellectual humility. Resnick explains that, on top of our tendency to be ignorant about our own ignorance, our culture often dissuades us from admitting when we’re wrong. He discusses a movement to change the culture of scientific research, so that scientists can feel comfortable admitting their errors and acknowledging that they’ve changed their minds.
  • Why being wrong really hurts by Paul Randolph (2016). Randolph explains why we often fear judgment or criticism from other people: When others disagree with us, this threatens our self-esteem.
  • You’re not going to believe what I’m about to tell you by The Oatmeal (2017). This witty comic explores the psychological phenomenon known as “the backfire effect”: When our core beliefs are challenged with new evidence, we often react by rejecting the information and strengthening our initial beliefs. The comic illustrates how frequently this process occurs and helps readers identify when it is taking place.
Podcasts
  • The podcast “Philosophy Talk” created a series on intellectual humility. Here are some of the most relevant episodes:
    • Knowing What We Know (and What We Don’t) (51:25). A conversation on how to calibrate our level of certainty about our knowledge. How can we find the right balance between radical skepticism (doubting everything) and dogmatism (doubting nothing)?
    • Cognitive Bias (51:44). We like to think of ourselves as rational beings – but psychologists have revealed that we have tons of cognitive biases that lead to irrational judgments and decisions. Fortunately, developing intellectual humility can help us take steps to counteract our natural biases.
    • How To Humbly Disagree (50:58). This episode addresses what it means to approach disagreements with intellectual humility. How can we defend our convictions without closing ourselves off to valid criticism? How can we open ourselves up to other people’s ideas without accepting unreasonable ideas? 
Academic Articles
Bookshelf
  • The Dhammapada, (Selected Excerpts), Buddha. Many of the Buddha’s most powerful sayings are collected in The Dhammapada, which advocates peaceful responses to aggression. The Buddha asserts that anger ultimately hurts the person who possesses it and that letting go of resentment is the only way to peace.
  • Meditations, (Selected Excerpts), Marcus Aurelius. Marcus Aurelius is perhaps the voice from Western ancient philosophy who most clearly advocates for a measured life, in which one chooses how to react to strife and how to maintain tranquility. This short book is full of wisdom for all facets of life, much of which is directly applicable to difficult conversations, as it emphasizes our autonomy and ability to act at each moment as though it were our last, with all the dignity that implies.
  • On Leveling All Things,(Selected Excerpts) by Zhuangzi. This classic Chinese text articulates the difference between great and petty wisdom. Great wisdom can be defined as open-mindedness and awareness of the complexity of the world. In contrast, petty wisdom reflects the insistence of holding on to one’s own position even to the point of rigidity. Zhuangzi situates this distinction in the Taoist understanding that truth is subtle and paradoxical, and provides an ancient but timeless approach to engagement with debate.
Quotation Library

Browse our selection of quotations from ancient and modern thinkers on the following topics: 

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