Thomas Kelly

Thomas Kelly

Thomas Kelly is Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. Prior to coming to Princeton, he taught at the University of Notre Dame and was a Junior Fellow at Harvard University, where he received his PhD. His published work includes papers exploring the nature of evidence and rationality, the significance of disagreement, and the status of “common sense” responses to revisionary philosophical theorizing.

Intellectual Humility, Dogmatism and Disagreement

How should we respond to arguments that challenge beliefs of which we are extremely confident, or to the knowledge that many of our beliefs are disputed by highly intelligent, thoughtful and morally serious people whom we respect? At least in our more intellectually humble moments, virtually all of us would admit that a significant number of our views–about religion, history, economics, and so on–are denied by others who seem to be in at least as good of a position to make a judgment about the issue as we are. Is it dogmatic and intellectually arrogant to nevertheless retain such views? Or might it be reasonable, and consistent with being an intellectually humble believer, to stick to our guns, at least in certain circumstances? In contrast to our controversial opinions, perhaps some of our fundamental convictionsfor example, certain common sense beliefsare relatively uncontroversial. Nevertheless, these beliefs can also be challenged, in some cases by theoretical considerations and arguments that appear quite formidable. In responding to such arguments, is it legitimate to appeal to what we ordinarily think in order to conclude that there simply must be something wrong with them? More generally, how should someone who possesses the virtue of intellectual humility view challenges to her fundamental convictions?

The goal of this project is to illuminate the nature of intellectual humility by answering these and related questions. On the account that I will develop and defend, even if someone lacks independent grounds for discounting an argument or the conflicting opinion of another (i.e., she can respond only in ways that beg the question), it does not follow that she is being dogmatic in sticking to her guns, or that her doing so represents a failure of intellectual humility. Views that suggest otherwise often rest on initially plausible but ultimately mistaken views about the nature of dogmatism. On the other hand, it is also true that a general policy of resolutely maintaining even fundamental convictions in the face of argumentative or interpersonal challengeperhaps on the grounds that one is certain of their truthis indefensible. Properly understood, intellectual humility requires that we adopt the attitude of the fallibilist even with respect to our most fundamental convictions.