What is Intellectual Humility? – with Bradley Jackson

Appreciating that you don’t know everything is a strength, not a weakness. Institute for Humane Studies senior program officer Bradley Jackson discusses intellectual humility and why it is central to a free society as part of our video series with Big Think on the core concepts of classical liberalism.

Intellectual humility is the recognition that you have imperfect knowledge about the world.

–Dr. Bradley Jackson
Dr. Bradley Jackson

The recognition that you don’t know everything—that you don’t have all of the answers—but would continually like to learn is an essential skill. Dr. Jackson argues that in understanding that we possess blind spots, we are able to more effectively participate in civil conversations.

Dr. Jackson explains that Socrates is a key historical figure that exemplified this approach of intellectual humility in all of his interactions. In each conversation, Socrates would enter with the hypothesis that he knew nothing and could learn from his interlocutor.

It is only by assuming that we don’t have certainty—only by recognizing the fundamental uncertainty of being a human in the world—that we can have a posture that tells us to go and try to fix it.

–Dr. Bradley Jackson

Dr. Jackson highlights that liberalism assumes that all people in society are equal. When there is a notion that one person knows more than others, aristocracy and similar governmental orders emerge that are based on the idea of people not being equal. Intellectual humility is intended to be an antidote to this possibility of inequality.

“If we want to maintain the liberal order,” Dr. Jackson says, “then we need to maintain the social trust that is necessary to live with each other as equals.”

When we’re intellectually humble in our discussions, we are sharing and accepting knowledge in the pursuit of personal and societal growth.

This video is one in a series about the core concepts of classical liberalism. Additional articles, videos, and content on this topic and others can be found on the Institute for Humane Studies blog.

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