What’s the Relationship Between Epistemic
Autonomy & Intellectual Humility?
We contend that intellectual humility should be understood as a balance of both limitations-owning and autonomy-owning attitudes and motivations.
Epistemic autonomy is the intellectual virtue of appropriately relying upon oneself in one’s reasoning, judgment, and decision making. Intellectual humility is the awareness of the fallibility and limitations of one’s reasoning, beliefs, and cognitive abilities.
In recent years, the John Templeton Foundation has funded research on the philosophy, theology, and psychology of intellectual humility, which has led to a greater understanding of intellectual humility than ever before. Most philosophical definitions and psychological measures of intellectual humility make no mention of epistemic autonomy and contrast intellectual humility only with intellectual arrogance, the tendency to overestimate and overvalue one’s capabilities or achievements in the intellectual domain (e.g., Krumrei-Mancuso & Rouse, 2016; Leary et al., 2017). The emphasis placed upon contrasting intellectual humility with intellectual arrogance has been good and important, insofar as the human tendency toward intellectual arrogance seems to be more prevalent and to have created more problems in society than the opposite extreme.
However, scholars and lay people agree that an appreciation of and focus on one’s intellectual limitations or weaknesses can be taken too far and can result in insufficient self-trust, an inappropriate underestimation of one’s abilities and achievements, and excessive deference toward the opinions and reasoning of others. It seems important to think through certain issues for oneself and not to outsource too much of one’s intellectual projects—even when one has fully owned one’s intellectual limitations. We contend that intellectual humility should be understood as a balance of both limitations-owning (Whitcomb et al., 2017; Haggard et al., 2018) and autonomy-owning attitudes and motivations but note that the latter have been largely neglected in the existing literature.