An excellent meditation on intellectual humility as an essential tool in the philosopher's toolbox, and how valuable it is to us when people poke holes in our favorite ideas. Excerpts:

These days I regularly wander outside the gates of philosophy, and it is remarkable to me how often I receive applause for doing what comes absolutely as a matter of course within our discipline. Those praising me seem to imagine that I am constantly lashing myself with the painful whip of intellectual morality.

The encounter with the mind of a person who is determined to let you get away with absolutely nothing, and who has been extensively trained to succeed at precisely that task—I can’t decide whether that is like stepping in front of a firing squad, or stepping into a cathedral.

[M]y students are somehow already equipped with opinions, which, if I’m doing my job right, will in short order get launched at me in the form of questions, objections, and counterexamples. Philosophical questions, at least those that matter most to us, show up in the mind already answered. We recognize these questions, they spark of familiarity, because they lie at the foundation of what we’ve been doing all along, and how we have been thinking all along...

Given where my students start—which is not nowhere, but already somewhere—I can’t be in the business of telling them what to think. Rather, I’m forced to be in the business of inviting them to fight me. This is not true in other disciplines. A physics or Greek teacher can safely assume they are either starting with a clean slate, or working with a solid shared foundation. Either way, they’re on level ground, building upwards. The philosophy teacher looks out a landscape that is already full, and not entirely in a good way. In philosophy we don’t build up, at least not without tearing down. Our starting point is not the barren wastes of ignorance, but the clutter of falsity. Philosophy begins in error.

Realizing you need [your critics] means realizing that they are the ones doing you a favor, that you had better make arguing with you not just palatable, but ideally so pleasant as for them to find it downright delightful. And so yes of course you are going to be a paragon of cheerfulness when they raise their objections, you will be “generous” with criticism, and “fair” to your critics, trying to extract every bit of help from their comments. They hold all the cards, and you hold none. You need them, they don’t need you.

[N]orms that govern how people behave when they realize they truly need one another cannot be described as “intellectual” in any restricted sense. Philosophical honesty is a tool to that allows a person to lean on the minds of those around her; it makes a person socially adept.  Philosophers are the socializers par excellence, our skills are social skills.  And I want to use these skills all the time, in all my socializing. Not because that kind of behavior is more virtuous, or generous, or disciplined, but because what I see in the classroom, I see everywhere.

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