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Humility

TagLast edit: 8 Apr 2021 5:47 UTC by Yoav Ravid

Humility describes the concept that we should, in general, be less sure about what we know than intuition implies. It is closely related to epistemology.

The basic concept here is that humans are over-confident on average (Inside-view forecasting is a classic example) -- people are not only wrong, they are very confidently wrong. Consequently, it seems to be of benefit to assume that your assessment of confidence (how sure you are in a given theory) is overconfident in any given instance, and to plan accordingly.

The eighth virtue is humility. To be humble is to take specific actions in anticipation of your own errors. To confess your fallibility and then do nothing about it is not humble; it is boasting of your modesty. Who are most humble? Those who most skillfully prepare for the deepest and most catastrophic errors in their own beliefs and plans. Because this world contains many whose grasp of rationality is abysmal, beginning students of rationality win arguments and acquire an exaggerated view of their own abilities. But it is useless to be superior: Life is not graded on a curve. The best physicist in ancient Greece could not calculate the path of a falling apple. There is no guarantee that adequacy is possible given your hardest effort; therefore spare no thought for whether others are doing worse. If you compare yourself to others you will not see the biases that all humans share. To be human is to make ten thousand errors. No one in this world achieves perfection.

-- Eliezer Yudkowsky, The Twelve Virtues of Rationality

(And, just to prevent life becoming too easy, make sure not to become underconfident in the process of avoiding overconfidence!)

Contrasting Humility and Modesty

In LessWrong parlance, this should not be confused with “epistemic modesty” /​ “modest epistemology”. While Eliezer lists “humility” as a virtue, he provides many arguments against modesty (most extensively, in the book Inadequate Equilibria; but also in many earlier sources.) Humility is the general idea that you should expect to be fallible. Modest Epistemology is specifically the view that, due to your own fallibility, you should rely heavily on outside-view. Modest epistemology says that you should trust average opinions more than your own opinion, even when you have strong arguments for your own views and against more typical views.

Humility should also not be confused with social modesty, or motivated skepticism (aka disconfirmation bias).

Related Sequences: Inadequate Equilibria

Related Pages: Calibration, Chesterton’s Fence, Underconfidence, Modest Epistemology, Modesty, Fallacy of Gray

The Proper Use of Humility

Eliezer Yudkowsky1 Dec 2006 19:55 UTC
130 points
53 comments5 min readLW link

Inad­e­quacy and Modesty

Eliezer Yudkowsky28 Oct 2017 21:51 UTC
108 points
80 comments18 min readLW link

In defence of epistemic modesty

Thrasymachus29 Oct 2017 20:00 UTC
32 points
22 comments36 min readLW link

The Modesty Argument

Eliezer Yudkowsky10 Dec 2006 21:42 UTC
45 points
40 comments10 min readLW link

Time­less Modesty?

abramdemski24 Nov 2017 11:12 UTC
16 points
2 comments3 min readLW link

Mis­takes with Con­ser­va­tion of Ex­pected Evidence

abramdemski8 Jun 2019 23:07 UTC
159 points
21 comments12 min readLW link2 nominations1 review

Si­mul­ta­neous Over­con­fi­dence and Underconfidence

abramdemski3 Jun 2015 21:04 UTC
36 points
6 comments5 min readLW link

Plac­ing Your­self as an In­stance of a Class

abramdemski3 Oct 2017 19:10 UTC
33 points
5 comments3 min readLW link

On Ch­ester­ton’s Fence

trentbrick10 Sep 2020 15:10 UTC
19 points
3 comments10 min readLW link

Say It Loud

Eliezer Yudkowsky19 Sep 2008 17:34 UTC
46 points
20 comments2 min readLW link

Against Shoot­ing Your­self in the Foot

Eliezer Yudkowsky16 Nov 2017 20:13 UTC
38 points
3 comments3 min readLW link

Li­tany of a Bright Dilettante

shminux18 Apr 2013 5:06 UTC
88 points
71 comments1 min readLW link

Ein­stein’s Superpowers

Eliezer Yudkowsky30 May 2008 6:40 UTC
70 points
93 comments5 min readLW link

The Sin of Underconfidence

Eliezer Yudkowsky20 Apr 2009 6:30 UTC
74 points
185 comments6 min readLW link

Are You Anosog­nosic?

Eliezer Yudkowsky19 Jul 2009 4:35 UTC
19 points
67 comments1 min readLW link

Ex­treme up­dat­ing: The devil is in the miss­ing details

PhilGoetz25 Mar 2009 17:55 UTC
7 points
17 comments2 min readLW link

Ra­tion­al­ist Role in the In­for­ma­tion Age

byrnema30 Apr 2009 18:24 UTC
7 points
19 comments3 min readLW link

Notes on Wisdom

David_Gross14 Nov 2020 2:37 UTC
5 points
0 comments4 min readLW link

How to use “philo­soph­i­cal ma­jori­tar­i­anism”

jimmy5 May 2009 6:49 UTC
13 points
9 comments4 min readLW link

Notes on Humility

David_Gross29 Nov 2020 19:50 UTC
14 points
4 comments7 min readLW link

The Pre­dic­tion Hierarchy

RobinZ19 Jan 2010 3:36 UTC
28 points
38 comments3 min readLW link