Epistemic Humility

Attitude of humility concerning our pretentions to know things

Introduction to the notion

Epistemic humility is the attitude of humility that flows from the realization of our limited rationality. It recognizes the limits of our rational instrumentation to deduce from it an attitude of openness and active listening.

In the 21st century, the faith placed in Reason cannot be the same as in the 18th century. Having learnt from history and worried about the impacts our productions have on society, nature and the universe, our enthusiasm is tempered and we review our rational instrumentation from three admissions:

  • that of bounded rationality (we cannot know everything; something always escapes from the clutches of reason; we are kidding ourselves when we think we can control everything);
  • that of multiple rationalities (several approaches of reality exist, several views based on metaphysics that are equally coherent and legitimate);
  • that of the opacity of the ends (the whole of humanity is not devoted to good; nothing more than an “invisible hand” exists to help control our creations; it is by no means certain that we could reach a universal idea of good, nor that humanity could reach a level of maturity that would enable it to behave like a rational being).

Just like the thing-in-itself, the enterprise – for us and compared with our ends – is never fully known nor revealed; its signification never totally exhausted; its moral code never completely guaranteed. This is also what we mean when we speak of the enterprise as a complex system. The position of epistemic humility follows on from here: we do not know everything, we will never know enough about our domains of study to exhaust them, we will never be able to reach true certainty in our proposals and decisions.

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