UConn hosts workshop on humility and democratic deliberation

UConn's Humanities Institute hosts a two-day event called Interdisciplinary Workshop: Intellectual Humility and Public Deliberation at the Student Union Nov. 11-12.  (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus) 

The University of Connecticut’s Humanities Institute hosted a two-day workshop at the Student Union where scholars discussed the role of openness and understanding in the democratic process.

The event, called Interdisciplinary Workshop: Intellectual Humility and Public Deliberation gathered together scholars from Harvard, Yale, New York University, European universities and UConn to discuss intellectual humility.

“In my own view [it’s] an umbrella term,” Humanities Institute director and UConn philosophy professor Michael Lynch said.

There were eight lectures presented over the course of Friday and Saturday.  These lectures covered a range of topics, mostly revolving around deliberation in a democracy.

Indiana University political  science professor Aurelian Craiutu talked about meekness. Craiutu described meekness as the duty to understand arguments against one’s own without corrupting their perspective or taking information in blind faith.

Craiutu describes moderation and skepticism as essential to meekness. Both, however, are often looked down upon, Craiutu said.

“[Moderation is a] virtue incapable of great heroic acts,” Craiutu said.

Craiutu said that moderation was been stigmatized as a virtue of cowards because it is believed that a person cannot hold convictions and be moderate at the same time.

Craiutu disagreed, and said that moderation within the virtue of meekness takes a certain character and strength in order to respect all perspectives and be able to criticize them all fairly.

Meekness also insures that politics is controlled and does not become an identity, Craiutu said.

“Politics are not everything,” Craiutu said. “Life outside must be protected.”

Vanderbilt University philosophy professor Robert Talisse focused on deliberative democracy.  He specifically focused on the effects that deliberation had on the perspective of citizens.

Talisse pointed out, for example, that deliberation is typically meant for onlookers instead of the arguing parties. Instead of trying to convince one another of the validity of their position, a show is put on for observers, Talisse said.

“The whole exchange is kind of a performance for the sake of the viewer,” Talisse said.

This isn’t a problem for the well-informed audience, Talisse said. It only becomes a problem when the audience does not have relevant facts on the positions and have already made up their mind on which side is right, Talisse said.

Talisse said that this is often seen in news, when a panel is invited to discuss on some news topic, which may be loaded against a position from the start.

Talisse gave the example of the staw-man fallacy.

“Speaker A misrepresents speaker B’s view in a way that makes it weaker than it actually is,” Talisse said. “A then soundly critics the weaken presentation of that view, and then takes himself to have refuted B’s view.”

This industry standard presentation leads to polarization and the inability to deliberate because no side sees another side’s perspective as valid, Talisse said.

“That distortion encourages a kind of shutting down of an argument,” Talisse said.

University of California at Irvine political science professor Simone Chambers contested the standard belief in academia that one can posses either conviction or intellectual humility, but not both.

Chambers shared his own studies on electronic town-hall meeting with cooperating members of Congress to support his claims.

Chamber’s results showed that not only do moderate people tend to show up to deliberate, but that conflict is surprisingly low, said Chambers.

“You know how many comments we had to filter out?” said Chambers. “Zero.”

It was also a surprise that the participant’s conviction to participating in politics remained even after four months since the town-hall meeting, said Chambers.

Although these topics seemed far apart from each other, Lynch said that intellectual humility underlined the whole event.

“The idea [is] to be willing to see your own belief system as open to revision and improvement from the evidence of experience from other people,” Lynch said.

The reason why Lynch used the title “Humility and Conviction” was for the impact it had on people, Lynch said.

“It was meant to show the tension between conviction and humility,” Lynch said.

The workshop was part of the Humanities Institute’s Humility and Conviction in Public Life project.

Lynch said the project started back in September during an event in Washington D.C.  

Named “Humility in Politics,” according to a UConn Today article from Sept. 21, the event had a cadre of professional writers and advocates. This included Lynch, The New Yorker contributing writer Jelani Cobb, New York Times opinion writer David Brooks, NPR radio host Krista Tippett and Liz McCloskey from the of the Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University, according to the UConn Today article.

The purpose of the talk was to reach out o a group of decision makers, such as politician and non-profit heads, and discuss the importance of humility in public discourse, the article stated.


Dario Cabrera is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at dario.cabrera@uconn.edu.