home

Essays


PRIDE in
Concept Clarifier



HUMILITY in
Concept Clarifier

PRIDE, HUMILITY, & the BIBLE

The Bible causes confusion concerning these concepts, not because the Bible is being interpreted wrongly, but because it is epistemically flawed.  Any rational interpretation of it that attempts to preserve its veracity will pass on the confusion caused by those flaws.  This clarifier is an effort to eliminate that confusion, for the benefit of those who dislike confusion more than they fear the admission that the Bible causes it.

Pride and humility are generally seen as opposites.  But both terms are ambiguous.  The concepts for which they stand are opposites only when seen in relation to the same concept.  e.g.

Assuming pride and humility to be opposites, then in relation to self-evaluation, pride is high self-evaluation  (justified or not);  humility is low self-evaluation  (justified or not).
In relation to behavior, pride is self-exalting behavior; humility is self-deprecating behavior.

But high self-evaluation is not the opposite of self-deprecating behavior, nor is low self-evaluation the opposite of self-exalting behavior.  Self-evaluation and behavior are separate categories.  Self-evaluation pertains to involuntary judgments;  behavior pertains to willful acts.  And it is important to keep them separate in theory, no matter how intermingled they may be in practice.  To do otherwise causes confusion.

It is also important not to confuse self-evaluation with the belief that you deserve reward or punishment, no matter how often these events occur simultaneously.  Belief concerning what is deserved is not the same as belief concerning one's own status relative to a given standard, or relative to the competition.  e.g.

You may believe you deserve payment for your services, even if you also believe you could have done those services better, or even if you did them poorly.
You may believe you don't deserve punishment for your behavior, even if you also believe your behavior is ethically inferior to the competition.
More specifically, you may believe righteous acts deserve reward, and also believe your own acts balance out on the righteous side.  In this case, you will necessarily believe you deserve reward.  But this is a result of your sense of justice, not your self-evaluation, unless you somehow think you deserve greater reward than those whose acts are more righteous than yours.  In this case, pride has corrupted your sense of justice.

In relation to self-evaluation:

Pride and humility are unrelated to truth and falsity after the fact.  e.g.
Suppose you won a contest.  Being proud of it, or humble about it doesn't change the fact.

Pride and humility may affect truth and falsity before the fact.  e.g.
Suppose you are trying to win a contest.  Pride or humility may affect the outcome.
You may be proud or humble about your ability to do X.  If you are proud of it (or humble about it), you may do it better (or worse) than you would have otherwise.  e.g.  You may or may not be the better player in the chess game, the most righteous person in the room, smartest person in the room.  The state of your self-evaluation does not change what you are presently, but it may affect how well you do, and therefore affect what you become in the future.

Pride and humility may affect the truth or falsity of a present state of affairs.
You may or may not be the coolest dude at the party depending on how proud or humble you are about being so.

Pride is an unavoidable side effect of the belief that you are superior.
Humility is an unavoidable side effect of the belief that you are inferior.
Pride is an unavoidable side effect of the belief that you are doing well.
Humility is an unavoidable side effect of the belief that you are doing poorly.

Again, they are opposite only when seen in relation to the same concept.
You may believe you are superior, and also believe that you are doing poorly.
You may believe you are inferior, and also believe that you are doing well.

In relation to behavior:

Pride is generally thought of as boastful or arrogant behavior, but it also includes justified assertion of self-worth, and resistance to unjust treatment.  Humility is generally thought of as polite or proper behavior, but if it is the opposite of pride, then it also includes submissive behavior and toleration of insult.  Extreme humility includes sycophancy and willingness to be treated unjustly.

Are pride and humility related to good and evil?

It depends on how good and evil are defined.  If good and evil are defined as grounds for reward or punishment, then no self-evaluation is related to good and evil.  Only willful choices or actions can be rightly considered grounds for reward or punishment.  Self-exalting acts often, but not always, warrant punishment.  Self-deprecating acts hardly ever do.

If good and evil are defined as states of affairs which are beneficial or detrimental to persons or societies, then pride and humility may be related to good and evil.  Any given instances of pride or humility may be either beneficial or detrimental to any person or society in which it occurs.  Another instance of either pride or humility may have the reverse effect.  e.g.  The humility (self-evaluation or behavior) of a black man in 1950s Alabama may have kept him out of trouble, but that humility also retarded the social equality of all black people in America.  The most that could be argued is that pride is generally detrimental, and humility generally beneficial.  And even that can't be proven.

Regardless of how good and evil are defined, a given category of proud or humble acts may be good or evil.  Obeying orders may be good or evil.  Defying orders may be good or evil.  Declaring the state of your own self-esteem, whether high or low, may be done for good or evil purposes, and may produce good or evil results.  There is no point in even trying to formulate a general statement of the merits of proud vs. humble acts.

Here's how the Bible confuses the issue:

As stated above, pride and humility may be generated by good or evil motives, and may produce good or evil results.  But the Bible attributes good and evil to the nature of the concepts themselves.  It mixes values into a purely epistemological issue.  i.e.  It attributes badness to pride, and goodness to humility.  Therefore anyone who thinks the Bible is necessarily correct perceives a duty to define pride such that it is necessarily bad, and humility such that it is necessarily good.

The following list of Bible verses dealing with humility indicate that humility toward God is always good, and that humility in general is generally good.

The first list refers to humble self-evaluation:
Act 20:19,  Deut 8:2, 16,  Dan 5:22,  Col 3:12

The second list refers to humble behavior:
Ex 10:3,  Lev 26:41,  1K 21:29,  2K 22:19,  2Chr 7:14,  12:6-7,  12:12,  32:26,  34:27,  36:12,  Prov 6:3,  Mic 6:8,  Mat 23:12,  Phil 2:8,  1Pet 5:5-6

The third list makes no clear distinction:
Prov 15:33,  22:4,  Mat 18:4,  Ja 4:10

Mixing values with epistemology causes epistemological retardation, as pride and humility illustrate.  People who try to think within the confines of the Bible tend to think along these lines:

High self-evaluation is not necessarily bad, therefore pride must mean unjustified high self-evaluation.

Low self-evaluation is not necessarily good, therefore humility must mean accurate self-evaluation.

Though self-exaltation is bad, self-deprecation is usually bad also.  But the absence or cessation of self-exaltation is good.  So humility must mean the absence or cessation of self-exaltation.

If pride and humility are opposites, but the opposite of pride is not necessarily good, then the opposite of pride must be the absence or cessation of pride, rather than the negative of pride.  Not only is the Bible-based thinker forced to misunderstand pride and humility, but in order to preserve that misunderstanding he must also misunderstand opposition or else deny that pride and humility are opposites.  The latter position, though not worth refuting here because of tedium, is refuted here.

When opposition is understood correctly, the opposite of high is low, not absence or cessation of high.  The opposite of exaltation is deprecation, not absence or cessation of exaltation.  See essay on opposition.

The error of equating integrity with humility can be illustrated by these questions:
When a person disagrees with what God appears to be saying, and admits his disagreement to God, is that an example of pride or integrity?
When a person disagrees with what God appears to be saying, and pretends not to disagree, because he thinks God wants him to do so, is that an example of integrity or humility?

Pride & humility in relation to correctness:

When pride is seen as a deviation from correct self-evaluation, then humility must also be seen as such, or an error is made.  i.e.  When pride is defined as thinking you are better than you are, then humility must be defined as thinking you are worse than you are, thus leaving a middle ground for thinking you are as you are.  Those who have been taught to see pride as evil and humility as good tend to ignore this fact.  They incorrectly equate humility with right thinking, and pride with wrong thinking, thus erroneously equating correctness with low self-evaluation, or else equating humility with correctness, and denying the existence of incorrect low self-evaluation altogether.

In relation to integrity:

In relation to integrity, pride and humility are both deviations from truth.  Pride, integrity, and humility can all be manifest in self-evaluation and/or behavior.

Manifest in self-evaluation:
Pride is thinking you are greater than you are.
Integrity is thinking you are what you are.
Humility is thinking you are less than you are.

Manifest in behavior:
Pride is pretending to be greater than you are.
Integrity is admitting that you are what you are.
Humility is pretending to be less than you are.

In relation to knowledge:

Pride is:
thinking you know what you don't know.
pretending to know what you don't know.

Integrity is:
thinking that you know only what you know.
admitting that you know only what you know.

Humility is:
thinking you don't know what you do know.
pretending not to know what you do know.

I can't cite examples of the above categories, because some people actually don't know that objective truth exists, and that logic is reliable for determining it.  Though such people are not worth talking to, it would be an error to deny their existence.  A discussion of epistemology would be tangent to this topic.

Humility will influence you to admit that you don't know what you don't know, but integrity will do the same.  Humility will also influence you to pretend not to know what you do know.  Integrity won't do that.

In relation to opinion:

Pride is manifest when you pretend to know your opinion is correct.
Integrity is manifest when you admit that you think what you think, without pretending to know you are correct.
Humility is manifest when you pretend to think what you are told, when you in fact don't.

Humans have an approach-avoidance conflict with knowledge.  We want its benefits, but prefer to avoid the responsibility that comes with those benefits.  If we know something, we can be held accountable for knowing it.  Hence the appeal of both agnosticism and Bible-generated confusion.  Epistemic humility can free us from the responsibility caused by knowing something, but at the cost of retarding our epistemological maturation.

Epistemic pride includes the assertion of knowing what we don't know.  If carefully done, this allows a person to avoid looking dumb, and to operate on levels that require knowledge he doesn't have.  Until confronted by someone who knows you're wrong, and can prove it, you can bullshit anyone who doesn't know as much as you do.  Hence the appeal of dogmatism - especially scripture-licensed dogmatism.  This also retards epistemological maturation.

Pride may teach you how to become a successful bullshitter, and humility may teach you how to become a successful grace-leech, but neither teaches you how to become a responsible adult.  Integrity does that.