The Impact of Epistemic Humility from My Personal Experience

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This paper concerns would be an evaluation of my take on the virtue of epistemic humility in relation to my personal experiences as well as using critical thinking skills to evaluate how far my negative thoughts have crippled me.

The word “epistemic” means, essentially, anything dealing with knowledge. Epistemic humility, then, is being humble with your assumptions about understanding. It is recognizing that you may not know something – may not know a great many things – and that is natural and okay.

Who I am today is partially shaped by my understanding of the world, through my knowledge of fundamental logic as well as my internal library of data and anecdotal memories. The more I learn, the more I have come to recognize that previous assessments about myself and the world were wrong – or at the very least incomplete. For example, entering university have taken the module Business, Government and Society (BGS), I knew beforehand that I have already possessed a certain level of knowledge in this module due to studying business related subjects for the past 4 years. I was very confident in this module as I knew that I had good knowledge about business with the validation of scoring an ‘A’ for my A levels.

My group was tasked to do a presentation on a drug pharmacy, identifying the various stakeholders involved and their implications. Using my business background, I then led majority of the group discussions by listing down the stakeholders and seeing which ones of them fit into our topic. Although I am confident that I have covered majority of the important stakeholders involved, I also recognize the fact that even though I have 4 years of experience in studying business, it is still of a junior college (JC) level, hence, I am very open to listening to my groupmate’s opinions. This is because I feel that different people will have different point of views and thus the weightage and importance of certain stakeholders may vary. Having the output from just one person in a group project can be very dangerous as there will be no one challenging the limitations of my idea. This is when I realized that I have portray the characteristic of epistemic humility. Never overestimating my own strengths, not being arrogant, and listening to feedback with an open-mind.

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And this is seen as a virtue of mine as this concept reminds me that it is alright not to know everything and that it is okay to admit my ignorance to myself and others, and to not feel diminished as a consequence of that admission. I have come to realize that acknowledging my ignorance is actually a step towards learning more, because I am unlikely to pursue what I want to know if I believe I already know it. This allows me to save time and have greater capacity in chasing the things that I am not sure of instead of those that I already know.

The vice that I identified myself to would be Intellectual Laziness. I realize how closely I resonate with the characteristics of this vice as I slowly fall deeper into self-reflection. I compare myself to my peers, their successes, filling the soul of my heart and soul for lies to begin to grow. Thoughts forming up in my head, “You’ll never be as good as them”. Every day I find myself feeding such thoughts to my brain that I subconsciously tell myself that I am not good, and I will never be good enough. Before getting out of bed every morning, I have already given in to complacency with my mantra, “Since I will never be as good as others, I might as well not even try”. Thus, I resort my lifestyle of continued comparison and judgement, resorting to hours on Netflix and Instagram rather than stepping headlong into the challenge of life that lies ahead of me. Now, writing this after attending CTRW, I realized how much these thoughts have crippled me. I chose the easy way out. I chose to give up before even trying. And I realized how detrimental it is to my mental health as well as my future career.

One key critical thinking skills I have taken away would be to analyze and evaluate. Using this set of skills, I will be applying it to my view on life. How I analyze my surroundings and my changed perception of it.

Everyone wants you to believe that the key to a good life is a nicer job, an expensive car, a prettier spouse, a nicer house. The world is constantly telling you that the path to a better life would be to want more and more. To buy more, own more, make more, want more. And while there is nothing wrong with these, the problem is that giving too much attention to such things can be bad for our mental health. It causes one to become overly attached to the superficial and materialistic goods. I realised that the key to good life is not to pay too much attention to the outside world but much rather focus on yourself. Using critical thinking to analyse much rather than just going with the flow, I realised what a fragmented society we are living in. Now here’s the thing, our society today, through the culture of consumerism and “hey-look-my-life-is-cooler-than-yours” social media, has bred a whole new generation of people who believe that having these negative experiences – anxiety, fear, guilt etc is not normal. These cogent thoughts have become borderline epidemic, making us overly stressed, overly neurotic and overly self-loathing.

We complain online about “first world problems”, but truthfully speaking, we really become victims of our own success. Anxiety disorders, stress-related issues, and cases of depression have skyrocketed over the years, despite the fact that everyone has a flat-screen TV and have good paying jobs. Our crisis is no longer material goods; it’s existential, it’s spiritual. Because there is an infinite of things we can now see, do, discover that we don’t measure up, that we’re not good enough, that things aren’t as great as they used to be. This rips us apart inside.

Critical thinking has played a vital role in how I view life now and how detrimental it can be to be blindly following the flow and assuming that if the majority does it, it is right. This becomes prominent to me that it is wrong as it fulfils all the conditions of Appeal to Popularity. I was also once guilty of committing this fallacy. But now, not anymore. I am more aware of my surroundings and am learning to adopt the intellectual virtue of independence of mind so as to prevent myself from being sucked back into the social norm at the expense of my mental health.

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