Friday 16 December 2016

Intellectual humility

Apologies for a two-day hiatus - normal service will now be restored.

Earlier this year the Times Literary Supplement carried the  following advertisement:


Intellectual Humility in Public Discourse

Request for Proposals and Fellowship Applications
With the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation, and subject to a final grant agreement, the University of Connecticut’s Humanities Institute announces a funding proposal competition of $2 million dollars to support interdisciplinary research projects on intellectual humility and its role in promoting meaningful public discourse. [...]
Topical areas of focus include both the barriers that prevent people from engaging in open-minded, intellectually humble dialogue over culturally divisive issues and scalable models or other interventions that may be effective or ineffective in promoting more reason-based, intellectually humble dialogue.

I'd never heard of the Templeton Foundation. The phrase that snagged my attention, and perhaps yours too, was 'intellectually humble dialogue'. What did this mean? I started to dig around and looked first at the  Foundation website, where I found what is, I suppose, a mission statement: Here it is:

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of dwfinitenal clarity and new insights.

Our vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton's optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The Foundation's motto, "How little we know, how eager to learn," exemplifies our support for open-minded inquiry and our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.

What are 'the Big Questions'? There's clearly a religious slant  to the Foundation's preferred lines of research - 'forgiveness, love and free will' are all Good Things, and I'm all for definitenal clarity.

The Foundation is very rich indeed, and reportedly hands out around $70 million each year in research grants and programs. in five core funding areas:
  • Science and the big questions
  • Character development
  • Freedom and free enterprise
  • Exceptional cognitive talent and genius
  • Genetics

This is all fascinating, and you might like to ake a look at their funding priorities here, 

The Foundation also provides grants for several independently administered awards.,including the $100,000 Epiphany Prizes for ‘inspiring movies and TV’, Past winners include The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

As to its billionaire founder - ';a penny life will give you all the facts' as Auden said. These days it's Wikipedia.  He held British citizenship, lived in the Bahamas and was quite fantastically generous. The Wiki entry says that he "attributed much of his success to his ability to maintain an elevated mood, avoid anxiety and stay disciplined."

An example to us all, then. I don't suppose I'd ever be a recipient of the Foundation's munificence, although perhaps my sense of personal inadequacy is evidence of intellectual hunility?  I can be pretty good at elevated moods. , if that adds to my case. But I shan't hold my breath.

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