The Virtue of Humility and Restrained Confidence

The greatest enemy to truth and progress is not ignorance but arrogance. An ignorant person could still be aware of their limitations, and seek to broaden their knowledge. But an arrogant person refuses to question or evaluate their beliefs, or to understand any perspective or data they don’t automatically agree with. The path to knowledge requires a good amount of humility in the face of so many views, ideas, and facts.

Granted, I’m not saying one cannot at once be confident and intelligent , merely that we while we are learning something, we must balance certainty and confidence with a degree of modesty and open-mindedness.  There are too many deeply-held convictions that are predicated on mere pride and self-righteousness; so many people stake their egos on “being right” and remaining true to their beliefs. But a commitment to truth and knowledge means  a willingness to accept how humble we are in the face of this grand and complex universe.

The Malleability of Ethics

There were once laws that legalized slavery. People that broke those laws by freeing slaves were considered criminals and punished as such. Yet today, assuming they acted non-violently, we’d generally consider those people to have been right in their actions. Some of what was once the law of the land is now considered “wrong” and some of what is legal now was once illegal.

The point is, our legal and ethical standards are always progressing. We always attempt to establish a universally acceptable and applicable ethical system – through religion, science, reason, etc – yet so many nuances remain, and with time societies standards change.

Even within systems that claim to be unchanging and “right” we find many nuances in interpretation. We all want to do what is right, but more often than not we cannot come to agree on what is “right” and “wrong” for most things.

Sometimes our laws – both those that are on the books and those imposed by dominate social standards – prevail only through the will of the majority opinion at the time, or by certain groups having the right amount of power at the right amount of time to impose them