Philosophy & Psychology Team Win Million-Dollar Grant for Work on Intellectual Humility


Mark Alfano, associate professor of philosophy at Macquarie University, along with Jay Van Bavel, associate professor of psychology at New York University (NYU) and Philip Pärnamets, a postdoctoral fellow in psychology at NYU, have won a AU$1,382,150 (approximately $924,000) grant from the John Templeton Foundation for a project on intellectual humility.

The 33-month project, which will be hosted at Macquarie, focuses on humility in regards to our disagreements with those outside of our own ingroups, and aims to create a new subdiscipline of  “social virtue epistemology”. Here’s a description of the project:

What does intellectual humility mean in the context of inter-group conflict? We spend most of our time with ingroup members, such as family, friends, and colleagues. Yet our biggest disagreements are likely to be with those who do not belong to our ingroup. Intellectual humility towards the former might be difficult to integrate with intellectual humility towards the latter, leading to smug tribalism that masquerades as genuine humility. These potentially conflicting priorities have recently come to the fore because “tribal epistemology” has so thoroughly infected political and social discourse. There is a gap here: most research on intellectual humility focuses on individual traits and peer-disagreement, with little attention to group membership, inter-group conflict, or people’s epistemic goals. This project is the first examination of the best ways to practice intellectual humility in a fragmented and pluralistic social world. We will analyze and evaluate both the individual dispositions and the social structures that support intellectual humility within and between groups. To accomplish this, we combine virtue-theoretic reflection on individual dispositions with the social epistemology of networks.

Our research team spans multiple disciplines, ensuring that our theory and methodology will be mixed and interdisciplinary. We will employ tools from social and personality psychology, computational linguistics, and network science to address this pressing humanistic challenge.

Our plan is to produce at least six academic papers, three chapters, a monograph, an edited volume, and several op-eds. In addition, we will host a workshop, a conference, and two methodology masterclasses to cultivate a cohort of scholars who are interested in pursuing this issue. Thus, our ambitious project will establish a new subdiscipline that we call social virtue epistemology and provide resources and tools to both humanists and social scientists.

You can learn more about the project here.

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