Published May 18, 2020
The University at Buffalo Department of Philosophy is pleased to announce that James R. Beebe, Professor of Philosophy, has been awarded a $234,000 research grant from the John Templeton Foundation to study the philosophy and psychology of intellectual autonomy. The three-year project aims to deepen understanding of how to balance a healthy reliance upon our own reasoning and decision making with a robust awareness of the fallibility of our cognitive capacities. On the one hand, overestimating our intellectual abilities and achievements can lead us to dismiss the testimony of peers and experts when they disagree with us, closing us off to potentially valuable information. On the other hand, focusing too much on our intellectual limitations and weaknesses can result in insufficient self-trust and an excessive deference toward the opinions and reasoning of others. Knowing how to balance intellectual self-reliance with intellectual humility can be especially difficult when navigating contentious public debates that are marked by increasing polarization and massive amounts of misinformation that are disguised as fact.
In collaboration with philosopher Jonathan Matheson from the University of North Florida and psychologist Joshua Wilt from Case Western Reserve University, Prof. Beebe and his team will draw upon recent scholarship within philosophy on the nature of intellectual virtue to craft a theoretical understanding of the mutually supportive relationship between intellectual self-reliance and intellectual humility. On the basis of this philosophical investigation, they will construct a self-report measure of individual differences in intellectual self-reliance and demonstrate how this measure relates to existing measures of intellectual humility, arrogance, and other virtues and vices of the mind.
According to Beebe, “The misinformation age in which we live is intellectually demanding. It requires us to cultivate a healthy skepticism toward much of the ‘information’ and ‘experts’ we encounter, even though at the same time we are increasingly reliant upon the input and expertise of others for the information we need. And we want to retain and defend many of our core convictions while remaining able to respond to those with whom we disagree in fair-minded ways. These intellectual balancing acts can be tremendously challenging.”
Prof. Beebe’s team will host an international conference on intellectual autonomy at the University of North Florida and a public forum in Buffalo, NY, to engage the public in dialogue about ways that the cultivation of intellectual humility, mutual respect, and self-respect can improve public discourse.