Since our inaugural videos in 2011, Learn Liberty has sought to advance the ideas of classical liberalism with the help of the scholars and professors who champion them. We’re proud to say that seven years running, the legacy of our early videos lives on in the work we do today.
At the core of the classical liberal tradition lies a commitment not only to the rights of the individual to freedom of speech and freedom of thought, but also to the values of open inquiry and civil discourse, and to the virtue of intellectual humility which underpins these values.
If there’s something we’ve learned since those early years, it’s that true intellectual development occurs within a mindset of intellectual humility, rather than a “transmission” mindset.
A transmission mindset bears a posture of:
“I believe I hold the right ideas, so all I need to do is to become an expert on these superior ideas and transmit them to everyone else.”
A mindset of intellectual humility, by contrast, says:
“I believe I hold the right ideas, based on what I think I know now, but there is a lot that I don’t know—and I could be mistaken.”
That small seed of doubt compels its owner to approach opposing ideas with patience and curiosity, and to engage with them deeply in the pursuit of truth. For as the great philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill once said,
“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, [and] if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion.”
When in the mindset of intellectual humility, we are open to challenge not for the opportunity to practice deploying our best counterarguments, but to consider the challenge in earnest—because such challenges refine and sometimes upheave what we think we know.
But intellectual humility doesn’t stop at a recognition of our individual capacity for error or ignorance. As we strive to embody this virtue, we must not only think about where we could be wrong or what we don’t know—we must also look inward and think about how we think. We must understand that by its nature, the human mind is given to a number of cognitive biases that can lead us astray when we take our assumptions for granted; it is so attuned and sensitive to social pressures, too, that it may unconsciously lead us to settle on certain beliefs because of the comfort and security those beliefs allow us to feel within our social milieu, rather than because of the rational calculations we feel that we have made to arrive at them.
To relinquish our sense of certainty and begin striving to adhere to a mindset of intellectual humility is no small task. Biases and group identities run deep, and fewer and fewer who question their ideological friends get to keep them. This kind of mindset takes robust internal courage, radical curiosity, and ruthless self-interrogation. These things do not come easily to many of us as human beings—and we here at Learn Liberty are no exception. Just the same, in the latter half of our 7th year, we’ve made a series of videos that set out to cheer-on the mindset of intellectual humility and to get us thinking more deeply about how we think. You can check them out below.