There’s been a great discussion going on in the comments to last week’s post on humility and science. This week I’m going to focus on only one of the themes mentioned, which takes us in a different direction from that post but is interesting in its own right.
My post recounted Carl Sagan’s claim that although “religions” claimed an ideal of humility, science was actually more humble; I argued that the two were in fact very similar. A comment from Ben acutely pointed out something I had been missing, a way in which Sagan was right that the tradition was different. Sagan, Ben points out, is defending “not the humility of individuals, but the humility of the whole tradition.” Science as a whole is able to admit when it is wrong, in a way that Christianity and Buddhism are not. In a following dialogue, Ben and I agree that science maintains an institutional humility that “religious” traditions do not, though those other traditions likely do a better job of promoting individual humility.
Other commenters took issue with this agreement, however. If you follow the comment threads on this site with any regularity, you will know that Thill and Jim Wilton do not usually agree on very much. But this time, they unanimously condemn the point shared by Ben and myself: “There is a category mistake here,” says Thill. “Traditions cannot be said to be humble or arrogant. Only individuals can be said to be humble or arrogant.”
And this is a question that well deserves further philosophical exploration. Can an institution or a tradition possess a virtue? Can a government be courageous? Can a corporation be honest? Can a tradition be humble? Continue reading