Skip to Main Content

UNF professor awarded John Templeton Foundation Grant to Study Epistemic Autonomy

Matheson headshotDr. Jonathan Matheson, University of North Florida philosophy associate professor, has been awarded an exclusive grant from the John Templeton Foundation for collaborative research to study the philosophy and psychology of epistemic autonomy and its relation to intellectual humility.

The $234,000 three-year research grant is a significant project as the developed measure of epistemic autonomy will be the first of its kind within the science of character and virtue. Matheson will work in collaboration with Dr. James Beebe, a University at Buffalo philosophy professor.

“Our goal is to investigate how to balance thinking for yourself and relying on experts,” said Dr. Matheson. “While we live in a specialized world and reliance on experts is necessary, it is important to independently think through issues and not simply outsource all of our intellectual endeavors. We want to find how to best strike a balance.”

The project will explore the difficulty of to how to balance intellectual self-reliance with intellectual humility when navigating our current culture marked by contentious public debates, increasing polarization and massive amounts of misinformation that are disguised as fact.

The research aims to deepen an understanding of how to balance a healthy reliance upon one’s own reasoning and decision-making with an awareness of the potential shortcomings of personal cognitive capacities. One point is that overestimating our intellectual abilities and achievements can lead us to dismiss the testimony of peers and experts when they disagree with us, closing us off to potentially valuable information. However, a contrary point is that focusing too much on our intellectual limitations and weaknesses can result in insufficient self-trust and an excessive deference toward the opinions and reasoning of others.

The research has theoretical significance as while epistemic autonomy appears to be importantly related to intellectual humility, the relationship is not very well understood nor has it received the same amount of attention as other kinds of autonomy, such as moral or political autonomy.

An international conference on intellectual autonomy will be held in 2021 at the University of North Florida as well as a public forum in Buffalo, NY, to engage the public in dialogue about ways that the cultivation of intellectual humility, mutual respect and self-respect can improve public discourse.