On Institutional Epistemic Humility and Arrogance

Alena Bleicher’s reply to our article, Building a Ship while Sailing It.’ Epistemic Humility and the Temporality of Non-knowledge in Political Decision-making on COVID-19“, published in the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective (SERRC) is an insightful opening that maps out the terrain of non-knowledge and epistemic humility in political decision-making. Bleicher proposes, among other things, that the discussion of epistemic humility would benefit from a comparison of the concepts of humility and arrogance. She reminds us that epistemic humility should not be associated with the characteristics of the individual.

In our response, we extend the discussion of epistemic humility in a crisis to further clarify institutional aspects behind epistemic humility and arrogance. This is motivated by our observation that the epistemic concept of humility has become increasingly applicable in a variety of expert situations without any societal framework. Based on our observations of governmental decision-making and political discussion in Finland and in some other countries over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we propose other relational conditions that presumably facilitate the adoption of epistemic humility in crisis situations. Thus, we suggest that epistemic humility is constituted by social and legal institutions, and is not reducible to individual or even collective features. Stressing here the institutional perspective, the role of social and legal structures should be considered more carefully when analysing epistemic resources in responding to crises.