Exciting news! The Templeton Foundation awarded $240,000 for a project titled “Humility, Conviction, and Disagreement in Morality: An Interdisciplinary Investigation”. The co-principal investigators are Thomas Nadelhoffer (Department of Philosophy) and Jen Wright (Department of Psychology) with help from team members from the University of Winnipeg, Duke University School of Medicine, and Duke University. Trisha Folds-Bennet from CofC’s Honors College will also be contributing as a team member. Professors Nadelhoffer and Wright will begin working on the two-year-long study starting this summer . Here is a summary of the project:
Under most circumstances, intellectual humility is treated as a virtue. Yet, is moral humility a virtue? Here, the answer is less clear. The very conviction that motivates the other moral virtues seems at odds with humility. We often treat as moral heroes those people who stand on their principles in the face of strong opposition – people who hold to their vision of the world as being morally better than the one they are opposing, despite strong pressures to do otherwise. Is such conviction consistent with, or in tension with, humility? Answering this question will require a multi-pronged approach.
First, our goal is to get clearer on the nature of moral humility. This involves not only examining humility as a psychological construct (e.g., whether it is uni-dimensional or multi-dimensional) but also discovering to which other psychological constructs (e.g., conviction, arrogance, etc.), commitments/values (e.g., meta-ethical stance), and personality traits it is related and the situational and socio-cultural factors that influence its expression. We will achieve this by constructing a robust scale for moral humility (along with other facets of humility) that will allow us not only to empirically identify the conceptual structure of humility, but also examine its relationship to a variety of other characteristics of the person possessing it and its expression within a variety of contexts. In addition, we will closely examine the “folk understanding” of moral humility in adults, along with the development of this understanding in children, adolescents, and young adults.
Second, our goal is to examine the behaviors and judgments associated with moral humility. That is, we seek to better understand what morally humble people do, how they behave, how they make judgments, etc. Do people who are high in humility display stronger or weaker conviction with respect to their moral beliefs? Are they more or less tolerant of divergent beliefs and practices? Are they more or less open-minded to alternative viewpoints? Are they more or less inclined to have objectivist meta-ethical commitments? Our goal is to use the aforementioned scale to explore these questions. In addition, we will examine people’s expectations of, and responses to, morally humble individuals. Do people expect morally humble people to behave differently than non-humble people – and, if so, in what ways? Do these expectations change over time – e.g., are children’s expectations different from those of adults? Finally, do people respond differently to the behaviors, opinions, requests of people they view to be morally humble? We will explore these questions in a variety of ways (the details of which are outlined in the objectives below).
Third, humility has been defined as “an inclination to keep one’s accomplishments, traits, and so on in unexaggerated perspective, even if stimulated to exaggerate” (Richards, 1992, pg. x). We would like to test this assumption by investigating whether people who score high in moral humility are indeed inclined to downplay (relative to others) their accomplishments and traits – in particular, those of moral relevance – and to avoid seeking public recognition and/or praise for their “good deeds.” In addition, we will examine people’s expectations in this regard – do people expect morally humble individuals to downplay their morally-relevant accomplishments and/or to shy away from receiving public recognition/praise for them? And, once again, does this expectation change over time? These are questions that will be explored, both with adults and from a developmental perspective, with children and adolescents.