Intellectual Humility and the Ends of the Virtues: Conflicting Aretaic Desiderata


School of Humanities and Social Sciences

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This essay demonstrates that disagreement about how to characterize intellectual humility masks deeper disagreement about the ends the intellectual virtues are meant to serve. This has been largely unacknowledged in discussions of intellectual humility, and of the intellectual virtues generally. Despite disclaimers, contestants often proceed as though there is an available unified account of the virtue that, with enough persuasion, all could be brought to accept. This essay contends a shared account is unlikely and therefore such persuasive efforts miss the point. What is needed, rather, is more attention to the kinds of desiderata that are being privileged in the various accounts: what are the conceptions of human nature and human flourishing driving different accounts? I use a simple method to make my case. I begin with the two best contemporary efforts to characterize intellectual humility. I show why each side's attempts to persuade the other are likely to fail. I then show that even if some unified account of intellectual humility could be cobbled together from these two proposals, it could not capture at least one historically influential account of intellectual humility, one found in the writings of Augustine. In a concluding section, I offer an interpretation of why the project of finding a shared account of intellectual humility seems sure to fail. I argue that liberal political commitments drive much of the contemporary discussion of the intellectual virtues, and the extent to which agreement seems attainable is correlative to the extent we are willing to allow liberalism to determine the desiderata for an account of the virtues.


Humility--Religious aspects; Augustine, of Hippo, Saint, 354-430

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Political Theology





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