Intellectual Humility is Today's Most Important Intellectual Virtue

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-21 07:26

In a nutshell, intellectual humility is the ability to recognize that our viewpoint may be wrong, or that a different viewpoint is just as valid as ours. Scientists now say that this intellectual virtue is key to making good choices and being a good person in general.

Intellectual humility has been known as a “wallflower” as far as personality traits go. It hasn't had as much attention from the scientific community as qualities like egoism, megalomania, or narcissism. However, in these days of divided views and opinions, this intellectual virtue may warrant more attention than ever before.

A new study details how being intellectually humble influences peoples actions in various areas of their lives. An intellectually humble person can make better decisions on matters like politics, business, and interpersonal relationships.

Intellectual Humility in Action

Discussions and interactions with others improve when we're intellectually humble.
[Photo by Matthew Henry]

The researchers define intellectual humility as the opposite of intellectual arrogance. An intellectually humble person can accept that others have different points of view. While intellectually humble people can have strong beliefs, they are also open to the possibility that these beliefs may be proven wrong.

In the study, the researchers measured how intellectually humble participants are, and how the presence or lack of this trait affects their perception of others.

The participants had to read an essay about a controversial topic. They then had to answer questions about what they think the author is like as a person.

Intellectually arrogant participants who disagreed with the contents of the essay judged the author's character harshly. Meanwhile, the researchers found that intellectually humble participants were less likely to judge a person who held conflicting views.

Intellectually humble people are also able to evaluate evidence better. They have a better capability to distinguish strong evidence from weak arguments. Intellectually humble people are also less likely to criticize a politician for changing his or her stand on an issue. Of course, this is as long as this change is based on strong evidence.

The researchers say that being intellectually humble or arrogant can also have an impact on personal relationships, even in small matters. If a person cannot consider viewpoints other than their own, this behavior can impact their relationships with friends, family, and lovers.

Intellectual humility is also important in business. Bosses who are intellectually arrogant are less likely to listen to other people's suggestions and ideas. A good leader should be able to have a broader perspective, which is something that intellectual arrogance does not allow.

How Intellectually Humble are You?

Not everyone is open to considering that they're wrong about something they believe in, especially if they feel strongly about their beliefs. Being intellectually humble means being open-minded and accepting factual evidence that contradict what you believe. Understandably, for some, the possibility of being wrong can be upsetting.

Fortunately, the researchers say that people can learn and nurture intellectual humility. In fact, a philosopher has even started a school that teaches intellectual humility, among other intellectual virtues. Of course, we can all try to be intellectually humble by simply trying to be more open to different views and beliefs.

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