Intellectual humility – a foundation of human endeavour and communication

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PONTIAC PERSPECTIVE by PETER GAUTHIER


PONTIAC PERSPECTIVE by PETER GAUTHIER

We have access to a marvellous communication system: with the internet and applications like email, Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, blogs and many other public and private message systems, any message can reach millions within a few seconds. This is great, except for one thing: many of the messages sent are unthinking, derogatory, threatening, insulting and unacceptable in a civil society. The ease of sending an instant outburst is matched only by the desire to get
attention by outrageous and exaggerated content. This has become the standard method of ensuring an audience.  Careful attention to grammar, well constructed argument and respect for other perspectives are considered negative qualities for an internet message.
The effects of this use of social media have included: suicides of named victims, arrests of persons making threats, expulsion of students abusing the internet, and a general recognition of the malaise that seems to be taking hold of internet users. Many authorities, teachers, victims and judges of this trend have proposed methods to control this misuse of internet resources. These have included forced analysis of messages for acceptability, stiff penalties for originators, legal limits on what can be posted on the internet, etc. However, due to the nature of the internet (almost instantaneous and ubiquitous), most controls are ineffective.
Society must instill all internet users with “intellectual humility”. So, what is intellectual humility? First, it’s an intellectual virtue. In general, a virtue is a trait the helps humans live a better, more meaningful life. Aristotle was the first philosopher to develop a detailed theory of virtues, dividing them into two groups: moral virtues, dealing with living a good, just and pure life, and intellectual virtues that aid in correct reasoning and the search for truth and understanding.
All virtues can be learned, become stronger with repeated use, and represent
a balance between two extremes. Thus, intellectual humility is a balance between arrogance and servility; a willingness to admit to one’s intellectual limitations. It’s unconcerned with status and prestige, but aims for truth and understanding. In practice this means refraining from quick, unthinking reaction to someone’s stated position. Intellectual humility requires respect for the opinions of others, enough respect to require careful evaluation of their position. However, it also values intellectual integrity and allows for response to unfounded diatribes and false information.
Intellectual humility should be part of the academic curriculum, but it doesn’t require an additional subject; it becomes an integral part of other subjects. The rules of grammar should be followed with rigour, but with allowances for creative
imagination. Science and mathematics must be presented as searches for truth and understanding. Social studies should include the values of respect and cooperation. Critical thinking must be employed in all areas of study. Beyond this, intellectual humility should become a foundation of human endeavour and communication.   
Making intellectual humility a part of normal, acceptable human behaviour is an achievable goal. It does, however, require some effort and attention to the importance of meaningful, courteous communication. With practice, intellectual humility can become a natural characteristic of the person and a guide to all. This is a more certain cure for the malaise that currently infects our social media.