The Humility Heuristic or: People Worth Trusting Admit to What They Don't Know

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People don’t always speak the truth. When they don’t, we do better not to trust them. Unfortunately, that’s often easier said than done. People don’t usually wear a ‘Not to be trusted!’ badge on their sleeves, which lights up every time they depart from the truth. Given this, what can we do to figure out whom to trust, and whom not? Here I attempt to provide part of the answer. I propose a simple heuristic—I call it the “Humility Heuristic”—which is meant to help guide our search for trustworthy advisors. In slogan form, the heuristic says: people worth trusting admit to what they don’t know . I give this heuristic a probabilistic interpretation, provide a Bayesian argument for it, and demonstrate its practical worth by showing how it can help address a number of familiar challenges in the relationship between experts and laypeople. The hope is that the paper will make it a little easier for all of us to separate the truthtellers from the bunch; and, in the course of doing so, teach the epistemologists among us a lesson or two about the normative role of epistemic humility in our testimonial practices.
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First archival date: 2020-04-01
Latest version: 2 (2020-04-01)
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