I want to suggest that of these three general approaches to humility, and thus intellectual humility, it is the non-egoist proposal that we should prefer. Crucially, however, this way of thinking about intellectual humility will not generate the putative tension with the non-conciliatory view about epistemic peer disagreement. (Indeed, as we will see, arguably neither of the other two proposals will generate this tension either, at least once the details are teased out, though this is not immediately obvious).
Interestingly, only the accuracy and non-egotist proposals are plausible contenders when it comes to the issue that we are concerned with. This is because we have granted to the opposition that intellectual humility is an intellectual virtue, as this is an important part of the case that’s being made for the inherent tension between non-conciliatory views and the demands of intellectual character. But it simply isn’t credible that an intellectual virtue could be constituted in terms of an inaccurate conception of oneself. Intellectual virtues, after all, are characterised by their epistemic credentials, and an intellectual ‘virtue’ that essentially involved inaccuracy would inevitably be lacking in epistemic pedigree.Footnote 14 (Moreover, notice that on this view it would appear to follow that having an accurate conception of one’s epistemic standing would be an intellectual vice, which is a somewhat bizarre entailment of the position). In any case, if intellectual humility is not a virtue, then it wouldn’t obviously have anything essential to do with the demands of intellectual character, so there would be a lacuna in the argument that there is an inherent tension between non-conciliatory proposals and manifesting good intellectual character. So whatever else one might say in opposition to the ignorance proposal for intellectual humility, it is out of the running for our purposes, as it can’t be employed to create the putative tension between non-conciliatory proposals regarding epistemic peer disagreement and the demands of intellectual character.
With this in mind, it is important to note that if any of the remaining accounts of intellectual humility is generating the putative tension between non-conciliatory views about epistemic peer disagreement and the demands of intellectual character, then it is the accuracy proposal (though the ignorance proposal would be a more dramatic way of staging this tension). The problem is that if one sticks to one’s commitment to the target proposition in the face of an epistemic peer disagreement, and hence regards one’s belief as just as justified as before, then one is not, it seems, ‘owning’ one’s fallibility at all, but rather ignoring it. One is thus lacking in the virtue of intellectual humility, and that’s a failing of intellectual character. (As we will see below, there may be a way of understanding the accuracy account such that it doesn’t have this consequence, but if so, then all that would follow is that one can’t appeal to this account in order to motivate the tension between non-conciliatory views and intellectual character that concerns us).
In contrast, the non-egotist account of intellectual humility isn’t necessarily in tension with a non-conciliatory position at all. What’s important to this account is specifically the kinds of dispositions you manifest—whether you are open to changing your opinions, whether you are willing to reflect on your evidence and the counterevidence presented by others, whether you are respectful of other people’s views, and so on—and whether those dispositions are rooted in the appropriate motivational states. But one could well manifest all of these dispositions along with the relevant motivational statues and still be as committed to the target proposition as before. In particular, one could manifest all these dispositions in the appropriate way while still regarding one’s belief as no less justified than prior to the epistemic peer disagreement, and hence no less likely to amount to knowledge. Moreover, in maintaining one’s commitment to the target proposition in this fashion one wouldn’t be displaying intellectual arrogance at all but rather intellectual humility, and hence one’s non-conciliatory stance would not be in conflict with the demands of intellectual character.
Now one might object at this point that if one isn’t epistemically downgrading one’s assessment of the target proposition, and thereby regarding one’s belief as less justified than before the epistemic peer disagreement, then wouldn’t that make the manifestation of these dispositions somewhat fake? I don’t think that this follows at all. This is a good juncture to return to a point I made earlier when I said that it is entirely consistent with a non-conciliatory view that one ought to reflect on the nature of one’s evidence in response to an epistemic peer disagreement. Now one might be puzzled by this because one holds that if one is not downgrading one’s epistemic assessment of the target proposition in light of the disagreement—even temporarily—then any such reflection is just a fake show. We thus have a parallel concern to the one just noted, albeit now specifically focussed on the subject’s reflection on their epistemic position while maintaining their view. Again, however, I think the worry is unfounded, and I think that the non-egotist account of intellectual humility accurately captures why.
In being willing to reflect on one’s evidence in light of the epistemic peer disagreement, one is manifesting one’s good intellectual character, and one’s intellectual humility in particular. Moreover, if this reflection is rooted in a good intellectual character, and thus arises out of the distinctive motivational states that are constitutive of such a character (i.e., a love for the truth), then there will be nothing fake at all about this process of refection. Indeed, it could well result in one realising that there is something amiss with the evidence one has for the target proposition which one has hitherto overlooked, in which case as an intellectually virtuous subject one will be willing to revise one’s epistemic assessment of this proposition accordingly, and thereby regard oneself as less justified in believing the target proposition than before the epistemic peer disagreement, and hence less likely to have knowledge.Footnote 15
I noted earlier that I thought good intellectual character not only demands that one reflects on one’s evidence in light of epistemic peer disagreement, but much also else besides. We can see why by considering what someone with the virtue of intellectually humility would do in response to an epistemic peer disagreement, at least on the non-egotist proposal. For besides reflecting on the nature of their evidence, she will also manifest a range of other distinctive behaviours, such as considering the other person’s reasons for thinking otherwise, being willing to respectively discuss the issue further, and all the time showing a willingness to change her mind if that is demanded by the evidence. Crucially, however, one can manifest all of these behaviours—along with the corresponding motivational states—while nonetheless maintaining one’s conviction in the target proposition, and hence regarding oneself as no less justified in one’s belief than before the epistemic peer disagreement. And since these behaviours are arising out of appropriate motivational states for an intellectual virtue, there is nothing remotely fake about responding in this way.
We have seen that of the three main ways of thinking about intellectual humility, only one of them—the accuracy approach—generates even a prima facie basis for thinking that there is an essential tension between non-conciliatory views and intellectual humility. Moreover, there is one way of thinking about intellectual humility—the non-egotist approach—such that there need be no essential tension of this kind at all. Still, one might argue that this is beside the point because it is the accuracy account of intellectual humility that creates this tension that is the correct position to hold. With this in mind, let me explain why I think the non-egotist account of intellectual humility is to be preferred over the accuracy account.
There are two scenarios that we should consider. In the most straightforward case we imagine someone who has an accurate conception of her (ordinary) cognitive achievements and abilities, but who is nonetheless lacking in the distinctive other-regarding dispositions and motivational states as set out by the non-egotist account. This is entirely possible, after all. Perhaps she fully recognises her limitations, but is nonetheless dismissive of others regardless, and hence acts in an intellectually arrogant way. And of course being intellectual arrogant is incompatible with being intellectually humble. The point is that while normally recognising one’s epistemic limitations leads to certain distinctively humble other-regarding dispositions, it doesn’t have to.
We can bring this point into sharper relief by imagining a second case where the subject is not an ordinary individual from an epistemic point of view, but rather intellectually exceptional. This person might well recognise her inherent fallibility, but at the same time also recognise that she is far less fallible than most of the ordinary folk. On the accuracy view, what would prevent her from being quite explicit about her epistemic superiority over those around her, and hence being dismissive of their opinions as a result? After all, that would be entirely compatible with embracing her fallibility, given that her intellectual superiority means that she is far less fallible than those around her. The crux of the matter is that in this scenario ‘owning one’s limitations’ could be entirely compatible with being dismissive of others and hence being intellectually arrogant—she is intellectually superior, after all.
Now one response that someone who defends the accuracy view might offer to such cases is to insist that genuinely ‘owning’ one’s intellectual limitations entails exhibiting the other-regarding dispositions set out by the non-egotist proposal, such that the two scenarios just described would not be bona fide cases of ‘owning’ one’s fallibility.Footnote 16 I really don’t see why this should be the case—especially when it comes to someone who is genuinely intellectually superior and fully recognises this fact—but we do not need to argue the point for our purposes. This is because if this is the way we are to understand the view, then, at least in terms of the putative tension between non-conciliatory views and the demands of intellectual character, there is no substantive difference between this account of intellectual humility and the non-egotist proposal. Accordingly, if the non-egotist account of intellectual humility doesn’t generate this tension, then neither will the accuracy account on this reading. So, again, the case for this putative tension collapses.
Interestingly, once we notice that the accuracy account—insofar as it is significantly distinct from the non-egotist account anyway—is compatible with failing to display the characteristic dispositions and motivational states of the intellectual humble, then we also realise that it doesn’t necessarily generate an essential tension with non-conciliatory views either. It seemed to above because we were taking it as given that having an accurate conception of one’s epistemic capacities meant being willing to automatically downgrade one’s epistemic assessment of the target proposition in light of an epistemic peer disagreement, and thereby regard one’s belief in the target proposition as less justified (and hence less likely to be knowledge) as a result. But since one can satisfy the requirements of the accuracy account even while being dismissive of others and hence intellectually arrogant (as in the case where one fully recognises that one is intellectually superior to those around one), then obviously this entailment doesn’t follow at all. (Of course, we have seen that not downgrading one’s epistemic assessment of the target proposition in light of an epistemic peer disagreement is also compatible with being intellectually humble). So the putative tension between non-conciliatory views and the demands of intellectual character are unravelling even granting that we opt for the problematic accuracy account of intellectual humility.
Finally, notice that having an accurate conception of one’s epistemic standing isn’t necessary for one to manifest intellectual humility anyway. Perhaps one is inclined to underestimate one’s epistemic standing. Would that preclude one from manifesting intellectual humility? I don’t see why. The crucial thing is whether one manifests the distinctive behaviours and corresponding motivational states described by the non-egotist proposal, behaviours and motivational states that one could manifest regardless of whether one’s epistemic assessment of oneself is accurate. Having an accurate conception of one’s epistemic standing—or, for that matter, an inaccurate one—is not an essential requirement for one to manifest intellectual humility. What is important is displaying those distinctive behaviours and corresponding motivational states associated with being intellectually humble.