Brian ROBINSON and Mark ALFANO
ABSTRACT: Virtues are acquirable, so if intellectual humility is a virtue, it’s acquirable. But there is something deeply problematic—perhaps even paradoxical—about aiming to be intellectually humble. Drawing on Edward Slingerland’s analysis of the paradoxical virtue of wu-wei in Trying Not To Try (New York: Crown, 2014), we argue for an anti-individualistic conception of the trait, concluding that one’s intellectual humility depends upon the intellectual humility of others. Slingerland defines wu-wei as the “dynamic, effortless, and unselfconscious state of mind of a person who is optimally active and effective” (Trying Not to Try, 7). Someone who embodies wu-wei inspires implicit trust, so it is beneficial to appear wu-wei. This has led to an arms race between faking wu-wei on the one hand and detecting fakery on the other. Likewise, there are many benefits to being (or seeming to be) intellectually humble. But someone who makes conscious, strategic efforts to appear intellectually humble is ipso facto not intellectually humble. Following Slingerland’s lead, we argue that there are several strategies one might pursue to acquire genuine intellectual humility, and all of these involve commitment to shared social or epistemic values, combined with receptivity to feedback from others, who must in turn have and manifest relevant intellectual virtues. In other words, other people and shared values are partial bearers of a given individual’s intellectual humility. If this is on the right track, then acquiring intellectual humility demands epistemic anti-individualism.