Humility in Philosophy


Because the views we espouse are always open to objections and disagreement, our practice at its best nurtures in the philosopher a capacity to withstand huge shifts in her understanding of even her most deeply entrenched beliefs about how things are in the world. Good philosophy of all stripes fosters in the practitioner the virtue of epistemic humility.

The best philosophy teachers are the ones who are able to model this virtue. They show their students, à la Socrates in at least the early Platonic dialogues, how the right kind of conversation can bring to consciousness the utter preposterousness of something that one has always taken for granted and then how to survive finding oneself turned around in one’s shoes. Epistemic humility sometimes takes the form of humbleness, but not always. It can be intensely empowering for people who have always assumed that the systematically poor way the world treats them is fundamentally the way they deserve to be treated.

The worst enemy of the best philosophy is ideology in all its forms. Philosophy at its best evinces deep skepticism about the stories powerful people and institutions tell about How Things Are.

I guess it’s Nancy Bauer week at Daily Nous. The above is from an answer Professor Bauer (Tufts) gives to the question “How can philosophy make itself more relevant?” at Aeon’s Ideas site.

When I introduce students to philosophy one thing I tell them I’d like to see them cultivate in themselves is “the philosophical disposition,” exemplified in some respects by Socrates:

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Bauer concludes her answer by saying that “The natural home of philosophy is in the agora, not the ivory tower. The question is whether the academy can bear to confront that truth.” What would it mean for the academy to “confront that truth”?

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