Investigating the dynamics of humble, open-minded thinking and inquiry.
06.23 / 07.23
We seek to fund multidisciplinary teams with members drawn from philosophy, psychological science, and related fields to address one or more of the themes described in detail below:
- Applying Epistemic Ideals
- Science and Organizations
- Mindsets and Metacognitive Perspectives
The total funding available is $1,300,000 USD, and we anticipate supporting the work of 7–9 teams, with budgets between approximately $125,000 and $200,000 per team.
This RFP will support new research on what we call humility in inquiry—a state of open-minded consideration of diverse ideas and perspectives. Humility in inquiry concerns how people manage evidence and information while seeking accurate views. The John Templeton Foundation has also recently supported a different RFP project on other aspects of intellectual humility — see the Intellectual Humility Science project’s RFP.
Note: Researchers do not need to be based in the United States to be eligible for funding.
- Teams must be led by a Primary Investigator with a Ph.D. or equivalent degree in philosophy, psychology, or a related field
- Between summer 2023 and summer 2025, teams must attend three 1-hour progress meetings via Zoom with members of our project leadership
- Teams must send at least one member to present at Integration Workshops in early 2024 and early 2025, and we have limited financial support for travel/lodging
- Teams must attend the Humility in Inquiry Project’s Capstone Conference in Arizona in spring 2025, and we have limited financial support for travel/lodging
- We intend to support new collaborations between philosophers and scientists, as opposed to teams that only represent one discipline. Accordingly, we will give priority to teams that include both scientific and philosophical expertise (Researchers who do not have an established cross-field partnership: please see the information above about being paired with someone in another field.)
- We will also give priority to teams that include junior, pre-tenure researchers, including Ph.D. students
- Indirect/overhead costs are capped at 5% of the total award and must be included in the total request amount
- Applicants can serve as Primary Investigator for only one proposal but are welcome to serve on other proposals in other roles, such as consultants or collaborators
Letter of Intent
We use the commonplace term “LOI” but please note there’s no letter required—all we ask is that you fill in an easy-to-complete form on Submittable, where you can enter all of the information we need in a few quick steps. This stage will require answers to several short questions about your proposed project:
- With which of the RFP themes does your project engage? (100 words)
- A short description of your proposed project (200 words)
- How will your project foster interdisciplinary collaboration? (100 words)
- A short description of the deliverables you propose to create (100 words)
You will also be required to upload your team members’ CVs. Our advisory board will blind review the LOI answers. Project leadership will make final decisions on invitations to the full proposal stage. We plan to invite no more than 16 teams to submit full proposals, meaning that around 50% of teams who reach the full proposal stage will receive funding. We will announce decisions on LOIs no later than 15 March.
The full proposal will require a 2000–2500 word project description, a brief “plan for success,” a budget and budget narrative, and letters of institutional support from an institutional grant office.
Final decisions will be announced May 22.
We expect teams to have funds available by mid-June to mid-July. All subaward projects must conclude no later than 31 September 2025.
At its heart, IH encourages people to be more reasonable in their inquiry by recognizing their epistemic limitations and more open-minded as they explore difficult, controversial issues. A dispositional approach dominates the current literature. IH is almost universally treated as a personality trait, a character virtue, an epistemic mindset, or some other stable feature of persons. While philosophers and scientists offer distinctive and conflicting theoretical characterizations of IH, all accounts concur in treating IH as a stable attribute of persons, personality, or intellectual character. This is not surprising, given that influential research on IH is produced by scholars from personality psychology and virtue epistemology, where personality and character are the stock-in-trade. Consequently, there has been a proliferation of new psychometric scales to measure the trait of IH as well as philosophical analyses of IH that appeal to trait-like constructs such as dispositions and attitudes. While a dispositional approach can offer useful insights into who is intellectually humble and to which other traits IH relates, it does not illuminate what intellectually humble activities or processes are or what sort of factors support humble and open-minded inquiry. Further, a dispositional approach offers little guidance for intervention: short of a universal prescription for personality-changing therapy, how does one increase intellectual humility in inquiry?
Our project seeks to enhance research on IH by shifting the focus from characteristics of a person to characteristics of activities, processes, tasks, social contexts, social and epistemic norms, and organizational structures that foster humility in inquiry (HI), conceptualized as a state of open-minded consideration of diverse ideas or points of view. HI is a state or stance available to inquirers in some situations rather than a stable trait across situations. Which aspects of a task foster or discourage HI? How do social context and organizational structures encourage or discourage HI? Can one influence HI through instructions or the way tasks are framed? Are there procedures that make HI more or less likely? Which epistemic and social norms could influence HI? How do incentives influence HI? What is the relationship between HI and stable traits of intellectual character such as IH? Answering these questions has the potential to improve education, scientific practice, and public discourse by highlighting concrete interventions which can make people more intellectually humble.
We will welcome proposals for projects in three areas:
- Applying Epistemic Ideals
- Science and Organizations
- Mindsets and Metacognitive Perspectives
Applying Epistemic Ideals
Many philosophers have argued people need to be more modest about how much they know and more open-minded toward opposing views. What we can call “humble ideals” are meant to help us better understand the scope of our knowledge and the limits of our capacities as knowers. For example, some principles tell us how we should react to learning that other people disagree with us; other principles tell us how to respond to information about the origins of our beliefs, including our cognitive biases and cultural influences. Some possible questions teams could explore include:
- Which ideals could support humble, open-minded inquiry in real-world settings?
- What are the prospects and difficulties of applying humble ideals to actual inquiry?
- What are the models for teaching people to apply ideals?
- Can humble ideals be taught and implemented in significant contexts, such as disagreements over fundamental questions and truth-aimed inquiry?
- How does motivation to follow ideals play a role here?
- How are humble ideals transmitted through institutions and culture, and how do they evolve?
The issues here suggest new opportunities for collaboration between researchers, bringing insights from philosophy and psychology to bear on the understanding of humility in inquiry.
Science and Organizations
Researchers have studied intellectual humility in some specific contexts, including religion and politics, but little work has considered humility in group inquiry and in science. Some potential questions teams could explore include:
- What is the role of humble, open-minded thinking in scientific training and investigation?
- How does scientific training and practice encourage or discourage humility in inquiry?
- What do perspectives from the epistemology of science, the history of science, and the sociology of scientific knowledge suggest about the importance of humility and open-minded thinking for the practice of science?
- Some successful scientists appear to be more arrogant than humble: does this indicate that, in science, arrogance is more valuable in inquiry than humility?
- Can a group of researchers collectively manifest something sensibly called “humility” that’s distinct from notions of humility normally attributed to individual thinkers?
- Which social norms, group dynamics, organizational structures, and incentives discourage humility in inquiry? Which ones encourage it?
Making sense of humility within science is a topic that invites empirical and conceptual investigation, revealing a space for new collaboration between philosophers and scientists.
Mindsets and Metacognitive Perspectives
Researchers have made various claims about the nature of intellectual humility. One influential idea in humility research is that intellectual humility is a “mindset” that has metacognitive aspects: it is a way of thinking about one’s knowledge and one’s capacities as a knower. According to this idea, a mindset is one’s lay theory about personal epistemological methods and prospects for inquiry. Alternatively, humble mindsets can be conceptualized as sets of metacognitive practices that are elicited by task characteristics and contextual influences without necessarily being reflected in one’s lay epistemological theory. There are important conceptual and empirical questions about mindsets that need further development. Some questions that teams could investigate include:
- What are the (dis)advantages of conceptualizing humble mindsets as enduring lay theories vs. contextually elicited metacognitive practices?
- Are lay theories of humble inquiry domain specific, focusing on specific items of knowledge, or do they concern one’s knowledge quite broadly?
- How can humble mindsets or practices be taught and learned? When do people engage in humble mindsets or practices?
- How are humble mindsets or practices elicited or inhibited in religious, political, or other broad contexts?
- How are humble mindsets or practices influenced by specific contextual factors, such as task characteristics, incentives, goals, identities, and group dynamics?
- Can research on metacognitive practices in particular domains (religious meditation, mindfulness, judgmental debiasing, etc.) illuminate humble mindsets?
- Can research on perspective-taking and wisdom help us better understand humble practices?
- How is the ability to remain in a state of doubt useful for understanding humble mindsets or practices?
- What type of metacognition and perspective-taking encourage humble reasoning styles?
- What is the relationship between humble mindsets or practices and successful outcomes in inquiry, such as avoiding errors?
Mindsets are a popular way to think about a trait of intellectual humility, but there are significant, unsettled conceptual and empirical questions that call for attention from philosophers and scientists.