Epistemic humility

by Ingrid Robeyns on November 7, 2013

A colleague who lost his teenage son due to a traffic accident 3 years ago, told us about the ‘black halo’ which remains above his head, and which only others who have lost a child are able to see. I do not doubt for a second that this is the case – that people who have not lost a child are, perhaps a very few exceptions aside, not able to truly understand what it means to lose a child, and how it changes the person you are. It reminds me of a friend who lost her father about a year after I lost mine. She had been very supportive when my father was terminally ill and died, but told me after her father died that she had no idea how hard it was until she experienced it herself. Good intentions are simply not enough to understand certain experiences.

I think it’s not just with experiences, but also with varieties of ‘differences’ and with social practices, being ill, and other features of human life. It is not just the death of someone near and dear that we have a hard time to understand if we haven’t experienced it ourselves; or what it means to have autism, or to live with and/or care for someone who has autism (in my experience, most people don’t understand, despite what they believe themselves about their understanding); or what it is to be constantly subjected to racism. I am confident that I have no clue what it means to grow up in abject poverty, or to live through a civil war, or to be the victim of domestic abuse.

My worry is that this category of experiences, differences, practices, and other features of human life that we cannot understand without first-person experience, is much larger than we generally tend to assume. And that as a consequence, we believe that we know much more than we actually do know. And, as a further consequence, that we too often are wrong in our judgements of aspects of the lives of people significantly different than ourselves.

Somehow it strikes me as wise, and possibly even as a precondition for social justice, if we would rehabilitate epistemic humility at the core of our educational and social practices.



Gorgon Zola 11.07.13 at 10:23 pm

I’ll try to remember this next time I suggest that someone check his privilege. How can I know how much privilege another has? And if I assume based on that person’s race or gender, doesn’t that assumption make me something of a racist/sexist? Maybe better to never make such a presumptuous suggestion in the first place.


Lynne 11.07.13 at 10:41 pm

Ingrid, I am sure you are right that there are many experiences you have to undergo in order to understand them. I am not sure what you mean by your last sentence (I am not an academic) but I think that if we have the humility not to assume we understand, then we can do the next best thing, which is to believe what people tell us about their experiences.

I had my children late in life and it was quite wonderful how many conversations came back to me that I’d had over the years with friends who had children. I had listened with interest and no judgement and no opinion, since I didn’t have children myself, and it was quite fun to have my friends’ experiences come to me when I could relate to them, even though their children were grown by then.

Of course, that is a fun example. I have had experiences myself that are not fun at all and that have been made much more difficult by the lack of understanding of those around me. Hmm, too bland a statement but I can’t write more now. Certainly a little humility when we deal with each other would be a good thing.


CaptFamous 11.07.13 at 10:46 pm

The first thing that came to mind reading this is whether there’s value in considering differences between person A’s innate experiences (e.g. racism, sexism) where just as much as person B doesn’t know what it’s like to experience it, person A has never not experienced it (aware or not), and their discrete experiences (e.g. the loss of a child, catastrophic injury) where person A may remember a time when they were more like person B. I have no idea whether this would be the case.

My second thought was this category is essentially boundless. There is a fair body of evidence to suggest that one’s quality of life is greatly affected by common variations in height or perceived attractiveness by others. If you assume this (essentially, an idea of complete uniqueness), then than question could be phrased more along the lines of “In trying to relate to this person right now, at what point does our affiliation overcome our differences (or vice versa)?”

Then I thought about Fundamental Attribution Error and Actor/Observer Bias, and at that point I decided I was off topic.


Rakesh Bhandari 11.07.13 at 11:16 pm

Well put. I’ve been reading some sections of José Medina’s new book The Epistemology of Resistance. In many ways Medina draws out a point that Shannon Sullivan may have made earlier–ignorance is an active process, it’s a matter of ignoring much of what we could understand and, in some cases, perhaps the gaps in what we can understand. I appreciate your reminder “to mind the gap”, to use the phrase in a different way.


BrendanH 11.07.13 at 11:20 pm

This is why novels are more important than monographs. They won’t necessarily give you access to real experiences, but they can have the potential to grant some sort of imaginative empathy.


James Camien McGuiggan 11.07.13 at 11:41 pm

I think this is quite right; I also think it’s very close to L. A. Paul’s recent paper, ‘What You Can’t Expect When You’re Expecting’ that did the rounds on the philosophers’ internet a few months ago. One of the reasons it did the rounds, instead of being ignored, and the reason also why it was (to my mind rightly) praised to the skies was just because the epistemic poverty we are necessarily in, which it highlighted, has been, as you say, underacknowledged. (The other reason it was praised to the skies was because it’s just a brilliant paper.)

Link to the paper: http://www.resphilosophica.org/resphil.2015.92.2.1/


Robin Marie 11.08.13 at 12:09 am

This post touches on a such a compelling problem to me, which is how do we encourage this kind of humility – which I agree, we need so much more of – while still being able to make judgments for the sake of politics?

The very first comment gets at this. Almost certainly, your average white male babyboomer has no idea what it is like to deal with racism on a daily basis. Yet I, as a white female born into privilege in 1983, also have no idea what it was like for that white male babyboomer to experience becoming a “self-made” man. I might know intellectually – indeed I can amass a huge amount of historical knowledge that also critiques the very idea that he was, in reality, so self-made – but I will never know in the deeper sense being evoked here.

So I owe it to him, I think, to acknowledge this and do my best to keep this in mind so that I might remain empathic to all people, even when I wildly disagree with them. But there’s the rub. At the end of the day, I still want to say to this person: thank you for sharing your experience, but I still think your views are more informed by racism and sexism than you realize, and that’s not a good thing. At which point they would just blink back at me, tell me I don’t know what I am talking about, and the conversation would be over.

So, in other words, how do we cultivate humility and encourage empathy while still holding everyone accountable to a larger social responsibility; ie, how do we justify saying, I theoretically understand how insulted you felt by those lazy, shallow hippies you lived with while you worked your way through college, BUT, this is still not a good reason to vote for conservatives who destroy the welfare state?


Phil 11.08.13 at 12:21 am

No you can’t know but you can feel the other person’s sorrow and tell them very simply that you will do what you can to support them in every way. The best way is practical. My son beame very ill a few years ago and spent a month in the ICU fighting for his life. I still remember the friends wo brought food over so we wouldn’t have to worry about shopping and cooking. It was a practical benefit and it told us that people really cared.
BTW, something I don’t understand: How can Lynn claim ignorance concerning the meaning of a wors while she is posting to the internet. Can’t she just look it up?


QS 11.08.13 at 3:00 am

This post touches on a such a compelling problem to me, which is how do we encourage this kind of humility – which I agree, we need so much more of – while still being able to make judgments for the sake of politics?

Political theorists are wont to argue that studying historical political thought helps us do this. Certainly studying Gadamer, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Edward Said can teach us about our epistemic limits and how those limits are enforced by our past (i.e. hermeneutics) and our immediate surroundings, both physical (phenomenology) and discursive (language, ideology). Although I will quibble with your phrasing “judgement for the sake of politics” because it presents judgment as neutral, when judgment is always already political.


Witt 11.08.13 at 3:59 am

I wonder if there is any way in which having experienced something profound — often a loss, as in the example of your friend — awakens or alerts one to the depth of not-knowing that one might have about other losses or joys.

I know that I listen to miscarriage stories differently since my mother’s death. She never had a miscarriage (to the best of my knowledge), nor did her illness have anything to do with pregnancy. But having experienced the death of a parent, and how qualitatively different my life felt before versus after that event, it feels easier somehow to imagine my way into other kinds of life-altering events. Bearing in mind that there are always going to be significant things that I don’t/can’t know, of course.


ZM 11.08.13 at 4:34 am

Ingrid Robeyns: “Somehow it strikes me as wise, and possibly even as a precondition for social justice, if we would rehabilitate epistemic humility at the core of our educational and social practices.”

I don’t entirely understand why some social sciences seem (from an outsiders perspective – maybe this is not the case if you are within the disciplines and read articles and books regularly, so I could be leaping to conclusions) to have not gone through the concern with othering people (especially those who might have less power), authorial etc self-reflexivity, or the linguistic turn and that sort of thing? Although I did ask an economics professor who taught part of a required subject I took and he said epistemology was more of a concern of economics as a discipline in the 1980s, I’m not sure if this is right?

In terms of expressing humility to others, it is possibly more about words and gestures and so forth. Although I don’t know that you would want to or be able to be humble consistently, because you might find yourself cross, or wanting to come to the defense of something, or to contradict someone, as other commenters have said. Although I’m not sure that you mean humility like being meek and mild, or humility as a sort of responsiveness to the realities of others?

When you say we don’t know as much as we might assume we know do you mean we shouldn’t present as a nominally objective/distanced observer “I live in the World rather as a spectator of Mankind, than as one of the Species” – Joseph Addison. The Australian historian Greg Dening wrote about those that assumed the position of observer in the Enlightenment era:

“Irony was the enlightened’s trope. It allowed the response to any romantic idea of the South Seas to be one of ribald laughter. The theatre of native Tahiti was the theatre of the grotesque in which native ‘queens’ with ‘sunburnt bums’ and ‘tattooed breeches’ did not get it quite right in their mimicry of the truly civilised….
The theatre of the grotesque is more hegemonic than that, though. It screens the violence of the encounter.”

But in writing that about “the enlightened” he wasn’t adopting a position of humility towards them. So, I think you must be discriminating to some degree, not simply humble towards all and sundry, unless you happen to be genuinely like that naturally (but I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever known like that all the time myself) – sometimes you would prefer to show you disapprove of something.


CM 11.08.13 at 5:14 am

True. But we don’t know exactly what it’s like to be a Wall Street banker, CEO, senator, or lobbyist either.


Mao Cheng Ji 11.08.13 at 8:25 am

Death in the family is an extremely dramatic and (typically) rare event. I wouldn’t generalize from that to more common phenomena; most of everybody knows what it’s like to feel like an outsider, or be treated unfairly. The normal empathy works well there.

Another thing is that experiencing something doesn’t always help; you have to be able to relate to the person, to their state of mind. I used to be a teenager, but I don’t understand them now, it’s hard to relate.


Llama 11.08.13 at 8:48 am

What a fascinating issue to raise. I don’t believe I know what precisely what it’s like to lose a parent, or lose a child or raise a child with autism–or have any of these first person experiences. I’ve had too many experiences now that I had thought I would understand from a distance and it turned out I was dead wrong. So now I try very hard to not assume very much about what it’s like for other people.

It’s important to have humility but there’s this problem where we also need to give sympathy to those people whose experiences we can’t fully imagine. There is the problem of detaching emotionally because one doesn’t know what they are going through–so this is partly why people run away from the person who has the loss or suffering. Or why they seem to become other to us and they may be isolated. So it’s a tricky area. How do we fail to understand but still acknowledge what the person may be experiencing as it seems we should?

I’d love to know what you think the real problem of a lack of humility is. Surely it is simply annoying to have people’s views of one’s experience imposed upon oneself. But I would think one big problem is that the person who lacks the humility also thinks ‘if I went through that I would…[fill in the blank with something wise and strong that the person imagines erases the other person’s struggles and sorrows]. The lack of humility taking this form with racial oppression and poverty is especially evident to me (and galling) but I’m sure it happens with other experiences. (Although I can’t imagine anyone thinking this about losing a child. Maybe I go too much the other way and assume I’d curl up and die but that’s wrong as well.)

Most of the things you describe are difficult–what we know about them is that they are hard. I wonder about good experiences and whether they have the same feature. I think they do. Consider falling in love, for example.

I also think it is wrong to assume that you know what it’s like for another person when they have roughly the same experience you have–or at least superficially. Divorce utterly guts some people and others sail through without much damage, for example. I imagine there are many experiences that vary and it would seem not terribly humble to assume that our loss of a parent is precisely the same as another’s loss of a parent.


Gareth Wilson 11.08.13 at 9:37 am

Caring for an autistic child is a unfortunate example, because it’s also a situation where epistemic humility is exploited to push an agenda. Why do we care what some model without a college degree thinks about the causes of autism? Because she has an autistic child. How dare you contradict her about something you have no experience of?


Ronan(rf) 11.08.13 at 10:36 am

My parents lost a child, but I dont think it changed them in any significant way, maybe in some very specific (relatively minor) ways, but there was no fork in the road, so to speak.
I agree that we need to recognise (in general) that ‘good intentions are simply not enough to understand certain experiences’, but I’d add (to my mind) that good intentions are always enough reason to cut somebody some slack when they insert themselves clumsily into your life/grief etc
There’s not enough generosity given to people who might be curious, and mean well, but just lack tact (or grey matter!) imo. As much as there needs to be epistemic humility from the person who hasnt experienced X, there needs to be generosity towards those who are trying to understand, from the person who has(which isnt always possible, of course)


Collin Street 11.08.13 at 11:04 am

How dare you contradict her about something you have no experience of?

True. I mean, I’ve never had a degree in developmental neurochemistry, so I make a point not to contradict people who have had one about the insight that experience offers them into the human condition.


Amman 11.08.13 at 11:53 am

I have to write this under a pseudonym, I’m afraid.

I think there are some rather unfortunate gaps in how much “epistemic humility” we are afforded. Both that some get too little, and some get too much, in other words their experiences are accepted as truth about the world, not just about the experience itself.

I picked up my son from school recently. Due to scheduled activities, he usually does his homework when he’s with me. But this time, he had done some of them a day ahead of time and left an important book at home with his mom. “Can’t you just go and pick it up?”, I ask. It’s very close to the school. “Um”, says my son: “OK, but you stay here. Mom doesn’t like it when you wait outside.” Sinking feeling. “What?” “She says she’s afraid of you”. More horrible feeling. I know I probably shouldn’t be talking to my son about this. Or maybe I should, but then I have no idea what to say. I try to smile, and say “Heh. She has no reason to. But never mind, I’ll wait here, you go fetch your book”.

It feels like an eternity until he comes back.

What can I say? Not only am I completely non-violent, but since the divorce, or since quite a bit before the divorce, I did everything in my power to not do or say anything she could interpret as a threat. It went so far that the previous two addresses she lived I never even saw the front door of.

But that doesn’t matter. I know that to most, her experience of fear is what matters. It’s not as if she’s deliberately lying either, no, she probably has convinced herself quite earnestly that I’m dangerous. For being a man, and an ex-husband, I’m a legitimate object of fear. She, and also new boyfriends, in-laws, grandparents, common friends, are entitled to be afraid. The facts be damned. I’m expected to accommodate that fear by society, even indirectly by my little son who knows how unjustified that fear is. And of course I do accommodate it. I don’t dare not to.

I lack the words to explain what it feels like. Maybe people who are feared and reviled because of racism or similar things feel some of the same, I don’t know. Yet, at least they can complain, and non-racists would take it seriously. If I complained under a full name that would make it immediately worse. Man, divorced and angry? Yeah, that’d look good. It would aggravate relations with my ex-wife, and both me and my son would suffer for it.

I don’t dare talk to anyone but my closest family. Oh, and thank God for the internet and anonymity.

Anonymous, on the net, I’ve met those in similar positions. Not always pleasant company. Angry, loud and “hijacking” comment threads… Many are very bitter and angry at feminists, who they see as codifying a hierarchy of oppression, and corresponding hierarchies of who’s deserving of epistemic humility and who are legitimate objects of fear. I’m not, exactly, because through contacts with therapists, courts and child protective services my experience is not nearly as bad as it could have been. But I can’t deny the general problem, either. Thankfully people can be better in practice than their academic theories.


Bruce Baugh 11.08.13 at 12:51 pm

It seems very odd to me to think of a death in the family as somehow rare. Most people will outlive their parents, and will live to see other relatives die too – it’s one of the most common experiences of humans and many other animals, I’d think. Not that I didn’t already know that Mao’s a character from Robert Charles Wilson’s Mysterium and the alternate Earth therein.

My own approach is two-fold:

#1. Make sure I’m taking time to listen to people whose lives are significantly different from mine. Not to “talk to” them, or talk at them, just to pay attention to how they talk about the big and small events of these lives with aspects mine doesn’t have.

#2. Keep checking the policies I support to make them as un-dependent as I can on epistemic assumptions from my own kind of life.

And that’s about it. It’s an ongoing thing.


Mao Cheng Ji 11.08.13 at 1:10 pm

It’s a rare event in the lives of the people I know. Some live for many decades without losing a parent, not to mention a child. But yes, on your Earth it might be different.


Belle Waring 11.08.13 at 1:36 pm

I agree that describing death in the family as a dramatic and relatively rare event is strange. Certainly, suffering the death of your child is awful and relatively rare, but in families generally? What else does the very eldest generation do? Your great-grand-parents, your grandparents? I was with my grandmother when she died, my father’s mother. I got to be with her for a little while by myself after my dad drove my brother home to rest and before the people from the hospice came, maybe 4 o’clock in the morning, or 4:30 by then. It was strange. It was nice! She smelled like herself, powdery. She was even smaller than before, after she left, like a little bird tangled up in the covers, just skin and bones. Not a scary thing. I laid across her and cried, and even then I thought, we should see death more. She chose to die at home. She wanted what we all want: no tubes and wires; no loud machines; no drip; no smell of piss and Lysol. We should help people die like that if that’s what they want, and see their bodies. For death to be a rare thing in a family is very wonderful! I wish it may last you a long time. But it is strange, too. I hope it will last me, too, a long while now.


Belle Waring 11.08.13 at 1:41 pm

Gorgon Zola: I wasn’t going to sully the memory of the late Mrs. Henrietta Drewry Callaway Waring by mentioning your name (which is not that of the cheese precisely, for she was decidedly fond of the cheese) in her company. But: 2/10. Would not troll again.


Lynne 11.08.13 at 1:54 pm

Phil @ 8

>>How can Lynn claim ignorance concerning the meaning of a wors while she is posting to the internet. Can’t she just look it up?<>Somehow it strikes me as wise, and possibly even as a precondition for social justice, if we would rehabilitate epistemic humility at the core of our educational and social practices.<<

I assume social practices means our interactions with each other (which I addressed in my comment) and maybe our social institutions. But "epistemic humility at the core of our educational practices"—teach philosophy students to be more humble in thinking they know something?" I don't know how that would look in practice unless it was endless epistemological (and therefore, surely, moral) relativism.

Maybe this is simpler than I think it is, coming as I do from the outside. Maybe —maybe!—it means stop being so patriarchal in our dealings with each other, both as individuals and socio-politically. Those in power thinking they know what's best for everyone, and acting accordingly.


Mao Cheng Ji 11.08.13 at 1:55 pm

Some people I know have been profoundly affected by the death of a parent, a sibling in one case, or something that happened to their child (a severe drug addiction – the story I heard recently from a friend), and yes, every time I thought that the empathy I felt was not quite adequate. But I don’t think I know anyone profoundly affected by the death of a grandparent. YMMV.


Theophylact 11.08.13 at 2:09 pm

You don’t know people who were raised by their grandmothers — a common thing in modern Black America.


a.y.mous 11.08.13 at 2:30 pm

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. True.


ZM 11.08.13 at 2:31 pm

Lynne @22

“teach philosophy students to be more humble in thinking they know something?” I don’t know how that would look in practice unless it was endless epistemological (and therefore, surely, moral) relativism.”

It is hard to imagine it exactly in practice, yes, but on the otherhand philosophers would not as often be working with what they so often present as beng a certain sort of unworldly all knowing philosophical actor – a writing device which is curiously old fashioned. Perhaps a more humble philosophy that accepts it is part of the thing it seeks to study and influence would be refreshing.


Mao Cheng Ji 11.08.13 at 2:35 pm

Theophylact, I was raised by my grandmother; two working parents. Then she died. She was old, I was young, it didn’t register. I’m not saying that I’m a typical case or anything like that, but this seems to be a discussion of what people feel and don’t feel, and that’s my humble contribution. Same goes for my attempt to generalize, earlier: purely subjective (and surprisingly controversial).


ZM 11.08.13 at 3:16 pm

@ZM “But in writing that about “the enlightened” he wasn’t adopting a position of humility towards them”

To be fair, “the enlightened” are not entirely diminished/destroyed in the piece either – but they are ‘seen’ as subjects through their legacy of observations, as much as those they observed, and both are made part of Dening’s performance:

“‘Savages speak to us, if at all, ventriloquially – in our own words’, [Rennie] writes in his brief preface. This is no expression of a post-colonial angst…. The fact, fetched and found, is that these strangers – Rennie’s ventriloquists – saw more than their own reflections in the otherness they described. True, they saw the native peoples ‘through a glass darkly’. Yet there was, and is, still much to be seen: of how these islanders peopled their ‘Ocean of Islands’… before they were ‘discovered’…..Two hundred years of translating what these islanders said of themselves in somebody else’s transcription of their language is too much of an idea of the South Seas to throw away.”


Theophylact 11.08.13 at 3:28 pm

Mao Cheng Ji, the experience of many African Americans is that their grandparents aren’t old.


Theophylact 11.08.13 at 3:35 pm

For that matter, I have a friend (white, incidentally) who at 67 is already a great-grandfather twice over. His daughter was pregnant at 17; her daughter at the same age. He may well be a great-great-grandfather the way things are going.


Ronan(rf) 11.08.13 at 3:53 pm


But is this still relatively rare? Google tells me 13% or so of African American families are headed by grandparents, and this shrinks when taking into consideration caveats of why parents arent involved/for how long etc..and although your grandparent might not be old when youre young, they will (preferably) be old when they die, and you (generally, not specifically ) will be middle aged etc
So I dont doubt there are circumstanes where a GP’s death can have a long lasting, profound effect but I wouldnt imagine it’s the norm
Is it even the norm amongst African Americans, would you say?


zbs 11.08.13 at 4:42 pm

14: I also think it is wrong to assume that you know what it’s like for another person when they have roughly the same experience you have–or at least superficially. Divorce utterly guts some people and others sail through without much damage, for example. I imagine there are many experiences that vary and it would seem not terribly humble to assume that our loss of a parent is precisely the same as another’s loss of a parent.

Yes, although really the strong version of this goes all the way to an uncomfortable solipsism: there’s no way to know what anything is like for someone else. Humility about the limitations of one’s own perception as it relates to others, as has been suggested in other comments here, ought to extend to beyond things for which we adopt categories we culturally conceive of as equivalent.


mud man 11.08.13 at 4:52 pm

Nobody gets what it’s like to have your mother die and not care that much one way or the other, either. Nobody thinks that’s OK, as far as I can tell. If you’re saying everybody should just get over themselves, that sounds like a good idea to me.


Alan Mayer 11.08.13 at 4:52 pm

A while back, I had cancer. Seven and a half months of chemo, during which my wife took care of me and everything else. After it was over, we talked about it. In the end, we concluded that I had no idea what it was like to take care of someone you loved who had cancer and she had now idea what it was like to have cancer. We both saw what was happening to the other, but we didn’t know what it *felt* like. While it’s happening, whatever *it* is, what matters is what’s happening. After it’s over, what matters is how you *felt* about it. And only you know that.


Ronan(rf) 11.08.13 at 5:10 pm

I think people should be allowed to react to grief in whatever way they do, including not caring one way or the other, but I don’t really think it’s reasonable to expect that ‘everybody just get over themselves’


bianca steele 11.08.13 at 5:51 pm

Not sure if this is on topic, but though my daughter almost certainly isn’t on the autism spectrum, she does have very mild sensory processing issues, of the type that when they’re more severe are associated with autism. She also has a few personality traits that might lead an untrained person to wonder if she is on the spectrum. So there are things she doesn’t like to touch–when she was younger, would not touch, sometimes didn’t want to look at. I’ve been surprised that in several years, every teacher she’s had has just assumed she doesn’t like to get messy, in a finicky feminine way, (and probably that I don’t like her to get messy) even though there are a few other situations (food dislikes, etc., though fewer over the years) where the same issue also shows up. This affects, I think, how they are going to deal with her refusal to do things–whether to encourage her to try to touch new things, or whether they’re going to let it slide.


godoggo 11.08.13 at 6:51 pm

“everybody should just get over themselves” makes me think of that Eagles song. I guess it would be unrealistic to assume that everybody here hates the fucking Eagles, but I should hope that most people here hate the fucking Eagles.


MPAVictoria 11.08.13 at 7:28 pm

“I should hope that most people here hate the fucking Eagles.”

I like the Eagles….

In response to the OP, I have a lot more understanding for people dealing with mental illness since I have started suffering from acute anxiety. It really makes a big difference in your perspective.


Theophylact 11.08.13 at 8:20 pm

“Not the norm” ≠ “uncommon”.

(Please enable preview!)


Ronan(rf) 11.08.13 at 8:30 pm


fwiw, reading back my 31 reads a little pedantic, rather than curious (which was how I meant it), sorry if that was how it came across!


Bloix 11.08.13 at 9:07 pm

Not long ago almost everyone with children had experienced the death of a child – or several children. Go to any 18th or 19th century graveyard and see how many stones you can read without tears coming to your eyes. And now parents who have lost a child are surrounded by others who can’t have any idea of the depth of their suffering. I think this is the greatest difference between us and our great-grandparents, and all the human beings that lived before them: our children don’t die.


ZM 11.08.13 at 9:37 pm

In the blame utilitarianism thread another commenter criticised me (i think?) for bringing up Peter Singer’s demeanour, rather than concentrating on his writing. But demeanour etc, if you want to call it that, I think discloses something about us that writing doesn’t necessarily (although this of course works in reverse as well) directly address. If I am suffering badly from insomnia it affects my writing etc, but I wouldn’t necessarily directly disclose that (although my demeanour at the time i think expresses it more). I hope your anxiety resolves itself soon.


Ingrid Robeyns 11.08.13 at 9:44 pm

BrendanH @ 5: yes, yes, yes!

Bruce Baugh @ 19: your two-fold approach is wonderful. I guess that’s a better phrasing of what I tried to express. Thank you.


MPAVictoria 11.08.13 at 9:48 pm

“I hope your anxiety resolves itself soon.”
Thank you ZM. I hope your insomnia lets up as well.


js. 11.08.13 at 9:55 pm

So, there’s of course something deeply right about this, but at the same time I hesitate. Going a bit further than what some others have suggested or implied (I think), I want my epistemic humility to be a hefty side to what’s still a main course of social power-structures analysis. Otherwise you’re in danger of getting G. Zola-style reductios, or perhaps more relevantly, a proto-solipsistic picture (as zbs notes).


Mao Cheng Ji 11.08.13 at 10:21 pm

“my 31 reads a little pedantic”

That’s probably because Theophylact’s stereotyping was a little weird. African-Americans are raised by their grandparents? African-Americans have young grandparents? WTF was that all about?


bad Jim 11.09.13 at 7:14 am

People who care for an older parent, and particularly one suffering from dementia, do form a community from which those who don’t share such an experience are excluded. People mean well when they say “I’ll pray for her” or call me a saint, but I can only share my feelings with people who’ve been through it.

I wish I could say that sometimes adversity makes one a worse person, but that isn’t right either; perhaps there are no universal conclusions available. Nonetheless, if all you know about someone else is that they are in this same impossible situation you know, if not everything, then certainly a great deal about their emotional condition, and everyone else is outside the circle.

My mother is pretty near the end of her time, and during a recent cycle through the hospital various professionals suggested that they’d understand if I chose to forgo treatment. I’ve got the paperwork done, the rules are Do Not Resuscitate/Allow Natural Death, but so long as she still wants ice cream, who am I to deny her?

(She’s home and eating salmon and occasionally making sense. Tough old bird.)


Belle Waring 11.09.13 at 7:23 am

Mao Cheng Ji et al: If you happen to have read it, you might remember there’s this time when Proust (OK his gauzily fictionalized protagonist) is at the summer hotel and he thinks for a moment that his grandmother is in the adjoining room, where she always used to sleep, and then he realizes that’s she’s not there–that she’ll never be there, not ever again? And suddenly his mind coalesces around the idea that his mother has been living–truly living–with this awful, blank gap in the fabric of life for almost two years already? While he, who has gone to the damn funeral, and made murmuring sympathetic noises to his mother, has never understood, until now, in a moment of anxiety in which he wishes to be able to open that door and find her there, that his grandmother has been dropped from the warp and weft of time like an unneeded stitch, and all the rest weaves on seamlessly without her, as if she never was? That it is only his panicked reaching out for her, his failure to grasp her infinitely soothing hand, that remains to show she ever was? Yeah, well, um, remember it. Or, just read what I told you. Which might be pretty mangled, really, because I read it a long time ago. Also, this isn’t a battle rap and not everyone needs to read Proust, I hasten to add. I am not actually trolling my own blog right this very second. It’s just very poignant to me and when I think of it I do feel tears in my eyes.

I read Remembrance of Things Past two years before my grandmother died, and she was a Francophile who had lived in Paris before her life-long palsy reeled the line slowly in and drew her life into a spiral, tighter and tighter. For six years before she died she was in her bed all day and all night, and for ten before that she got up and got dressed perfectly, every day, with jewelry and perfume and a scarf and all that was lovely, and was helped to a chaise in her living room, where she stayed until dinner, and then back to the bedroom twelve feet away. And I had so much fun talking with her about it! (She had read it in French, naturally. Actually, she and my maternal grandmother were two classes apart at Vassar. And their families even had homes only a few miles apart in Darien, CT when they were young! Not, like, full-time homes, but. It’s a small world! Ha ha ha. Ha. I mean, it would be a small world if the US were ruled by some sort of self-perpetuating oligarchy, but that’s impossible, so this is just a happy coincidence.) I am ill now, but not as ill as she, I’m grateful; I am typing this on the tray I use to eat on in bed, having just had some pineapple and a soda water. I think of her every day. I was ill before too, but not like this. When I get upset and snap at my family because I’m in pain I think of how serene she was, of how badly she suffered, how brave she was. Sometimes I wake up at night and think of things I did or said to her that weren’t kind, or were manipulative, or unpleasant. I want to take everything back. I want to have her just for ten minutes, just to tell her how sorry I am, how I messed things up, how I always loved her. I want to show her my daughters. She would have loved them so, so much. Especially Zoe. Well, no one can help loving Violet, she’s the most cheerful, funny, kind sweet, full of love person I’ve every met. But Zoe can be gloomy. But Zoe would sit quietly with my grandmother and draw or paint; my grandmother would love that best of all things. I still dream about her all the time. Once I had a wonderful dream that she and I were lying in bed side by side, in the two narrow beds punctuated by an English two-drawer dresser and a table lamp with a wobbly shade that are the Form of the Guest Room. We were watching television and I said we should turn it off, so we did, and then she got up! She said we should go outside, and so we did, into the country but not in Georgia, in Darien. She was faster than me and she was running up a little hill in front of me. I was chasing her but partly I was just laughing that she was running like that, like a little child. It was springtime, and the grass was green but the dirt was cold, and there were daffodills, and narcissus. We were barefoot. When I got to the top of the hill it was so beautiful, everything white and palest pink. She said it was the pear orchard she used to play in when she was a child in Darien, and right next to the dirt road where her butler taught her how to drive. She said that James was here, that it was the one thing she worried about most, the thing she was afraid of, but he was. I got to hug her and kiss her and really feel her and really smell her. I told her I was sorry it was only a dream but she said it was one of the best things about dreams–we can see the people we have lost again. I didn’t want to lose her in the dark trunks and snowdrifts of petals but of course I did. It doesn’t matter though. She was strong, and young, and happy. Everything springtime. A small part of me–no, that’s a lie, a really huge part of me wants that to be real: her healthy and happy, and James alive, and the black dirt cold, and the wind snatching the white-pink petals up away into the sky. Forever.


Belle Waring 11.09.13 at 7:49 am

James was one of her two brothers, two years older than her–he died in a car accident when he was only 19.


js. 11.09.13 at 7:53 am

Belle Waring, why? You just made me well up. Like, before this, it was just Henri D. Mao, and v easy to ignore!

My grandmother is pretty much who I spent every day with growing up—because both my parents worked full-time jobs. When she died, I was continents away and couldn’t go back (tho maybe also I didn’t want to). When I was back in the old country a few months later though, I cried almost every day.

(Also though, I need to make clear that my grandmother rocked seriously way hard, and not necessarily in the traditional ways.)


ZM 11.09.13 at 8:52 am

Thank you Belle, you’ve made me cry and remember. My mother’s mother, Mary, was unwell sometimes, and I don’t remember her as a living woman. She died when I was two. She gave me before she died a little gold coin in a box with a message “for making me smile”. Careless as a teenager I lost it. But she used to write me cards a lot as well, and I know her from these. They were sometimes short, sometimes long and telling me about her day, or how she and my grandfather had been enjoying the wholemeal carrot cake my mother had made and the beautiful Jonquils she had picked from our garden to give them, which had had the same perfume as Harbingers of Spring which she used to find at the farm she grew up on at Sea Lake. Or how she had seen the Tree of Wooden Clogs, about a man who stole from a tree.

She wrote these ketters although I couldn’t have read them yet. One undated birthday card reads “”I’ve loved writing to you Z – for another year, Dear One” “Poppa is a bit cross with me for writing to you.” “Forgive, Dear one”” I’m always very grateful that my mum pasted them all into a scrapbook with other cards for me, and I would often go to them when I had learned to read and was feeling low and lonely. I don’t know who was with my grandmother when she died.

My mother’s father, Jock, died much later, and his waxy lifeless body was the first dead human body I had seen. My Aunty Cathy was staying over at his house, and was with him as he passed away. He would have been glad he had done so at his home and with her. A few years later my Aunty Cathy’s son, younger than me, died of some sort of an overdose alone. That was the second dead human body I had seen, and much much worse. His friends were at the funeral and I found out I had known so little about his life, things had been so skated over, and I had not felt close enough to him or known enough to care to ask.

My grandfather had been a soldier in WW2, and come back shell shocked by the things that happened, then gone back again to fight again. He was awarded. He skated over what happened. I lived a year with him, the first year I tried university and found the city wanting and unbearable. He shouted out almost every night in his sleep, as if he was still there. I didn’t ask about that either, and then he was gone, and is gone, and he never wrote cards for me to be able to know him later when I would be ready to read them.


Saurs 11.09.13 at 9:20 am

Thank you, Belle. That was wonderful.


Maria 11.09.13 at 9:02 pm

Now we’re all crying. That is some powerful epistemic humility you’ve got there , Belle.

I dream about my maternal grandmother’s death every couple of months and usually wake up as inconsolable as when it happened over a decade ago. Your beautiful dream is a treasure.


Ed Herdman 11.09.13 at 11:05 pm

A quick question – what is the difference (conceptual, emotive – I am looking mainly for a concrete value, as far as that is possible) between “epistemic humility” and “checking your privilege?” In both cases it seems that we’re making demands of people; I would hope it’s because of some kind of value that we can grasp.

About Belle’s post above – it illustrates the point of the original post that not only is this kind of story opaque and dense for some of us, like a curtain of abandoned spider’s web black with age and care, which you have no intention of pushing through. Sometimes the fights of those others, since gone, also still provoke righteous indignation even though we don’t know what they were going through – impenetrable, but severe and even unjust. My literary allusion would be to the simultaneous sorrow and anger the monk Fushou, from “The Roof Tile of Tempyo,” feels after a reminder of the pressure exerted by a withered, fanatical monk they encountered trying to transport his life’s work, copied Buddhist scrolls, from China back to Japan – when the net result of all those years of care is a vision in the night for Fusho of the ship carrying the monk and his scrolls cracking in two, the scrolls sinking to the bottom of the ocean; a lifetime for naught. And this on top of the fact that our monk Fusho and his companions had spent decades on the repeated attempts to return from China to Japan, losing friends to disease, and opportunities to the force of worry for the original mission. Nobody, it seems, is completely isolated from futility.

I have always been raised to feel that some stories should be private, and the rationale for that is especially clear when you feel you can’t share the stories of grandparents whose battles provoke not tears of sympathy and joy, but the feeling of staring at a narrow void under the stairs, inhabited by strangers, caught up in battles separating them from you, by what seemed to be choice, in a way that certainly evoked no sense of epistemic humility for your good. When can we ever condemn anybody? At this point, the reality of a family internally divided has provoked in me a kind of resignation and a determination to do what is right by myself, and to let others choose their own course.

So as a postscript to all of this, I’ll just say that epistemic humility does not (to me) seem to guarantee feelings of respect or loving loss. I wonder if it’s just a matter of common sense to discern between epistemic humility and what is elsewhere called moral relativism. Thanks for your thoughts, everyone.


godoggo 11.09.13 at 11:26 pm

Correction: I should hope that most people here hate the fucking Eagles, man.

I forgot to say “man.”


Ed Herdman 11.10.13 at 2:00 am

Yeah, well, that’s just like my opinion, man.


Belle Waring 11.10.13 at 3:34 am

Ed Herdman: lots of people have horrible abusive grandparents or parents. If a parent or grandparent dies and the son or daughter (grand- etc. but let’s be briefer) is like “fuck this” and doesn’t even want to go to the funeral, my thoughts incline to the idea that the parent was a complete asshole, or even an evil person. Maybe the other children say “oh my god, I can’t believe he’s acting like that, she was a wonderful person etc.” I think, OK, maybe the son is an asshole. But probably not! Probably the other children have made themselves believe that all that suffering was OK, because they can’t have it be that they’re damaged people now. They recoil from the idea that they might ever say aloud “I grew up in an abusive household.” They would say, ‘she never hit anyone!’ (BTW, everyone reading, this is the 100% give-away that shit was straight fucked up in your friend/loved one’s home. No normal family uses this as a defense. Ever. It wouldn’t cross their minds even, think about it.) Yeah, well, your mom can fillet your soul without hitting you, and that’s a fact. Ain’t nobody knows where to put the knife in like your own mom. Suddenly, out of the blue, when you have been lulled into a false sense of security by days, even weeks of apparently sane behavior, and then: the silent parting of flesh and your automatic gasp, up under your armpit, as she pierces you between the ribs, with a motherfucking upholstery needle as big as your hand.

So, no, it’s perfectly legit to be even actively happy when someone dies, because you hate the fuck out of them. And it’s also OK to feel indifferent because you just weren’t that emotionally attached to them, even though society insists that you must be, that you are obliged to be, that you are a bad person if you are not–unless they whupped your ass night and day when you were little in which case you get a note from the doctor and are excused. But what if the person was decent to you, but cold and withdrawn because that was his personality, and it is likewise your personality–inheritance being as such it is, and so you do not particularly care when your father or grandfather dies, even though he never tanned your hide on the regular, or made it his life priority to drive you mad with constant criticism about every single decision you made in your life, down to the amount of sugar you put in your coffee (don’t ask me how I know this). He was fine to you, and maybe he even seemed to love you as far as he could, but you don’t feel that much is missing now that there is a gap in the world he used to fill. That’s fine too. I personally would still think you were a stand-up guy if you were my friend. I would think it was a little weird, I guess? But only because your family was cold and distant and so different from my family, not because you were somehow a bad person. My family is crazy and doing soap opera crazy things all the time but we are very close-knit so when people are not particularly close to their siblings–I don’t, even?

And if your grandparents are separated from you and from all the world by the intensity of their battle, like the yin and yang symbol, actually! Fenced in by having all their emotional energy directed towards one another, so that none remains for you or your parents–again, if you can’t even get at’em to love’em, well, there’s no shame in feeling nothing when they die. They were in an impermeable bubble. I wouldn’t think there would think there would be any shame in that.


js. 11.10.13 at 7:13 am

I should hope that most people here hate the fucking Eagles, man.

Man, I show no epistemic humility to people who do not hate the Eagles.


js. 11.10.13 at 7:24 am

More seriously though:

Somehow it strikes me as wise, and possibly even as a precondition for social justice, if we would rehabilitate epistemic humility at the core of our educational and social practices.

This is the bit that I was originally caught by, and I was wondering if it’s somewhat separable from the family death discourse (which, as I’ve already said, touches me deeply).

Because I still find this partly right, but also possibly problematic. One, I’m wondering what it means to have epistemic humility as a precondition of social justice. Two, I’m most struck by the fact that members of different groups hold different power positions in society qua their relevant group (or “class”) membership. Should they all practice epistemic humility? In the same sorts of ways? Maybe I have too much of a sorta-romantic liking for solidarity/fuck-the-Man discourse, but even beyond that, a general recommendation for epistemic humility in a society riven by social power imbalances strikes me as deeply problematic. And I take it that all existing societies are riven by social power imbalances.


Ingrid Robeyns 11.10.13 at 1:38 pm

Thanks for the many very valuable comments on this post – Belle’s in particular.

I owe you answers to a few questions. I’m not pretending that I have answers to all the questions raised. But here’s an attempt. (I’ll lift out some quotes in what follows, but these points have been phrased sometimes slightly differently by several people participating in this tread).

Ed Herdman @ 55: “A quick question – what is the difference (conceptual, emotive – I am looking mainly for a concrete value, as far as that is possible) between “epistemic humility” and “checking your privilege?”

(and this question came back in those of you who wondered whether one ought to have ‘epistemic humility’ towards those who are generally powerful.)

While in practice many cases of ‘epistemic humility’ will be especially needed for those who are in a privileged position (and hence ‘epistemic humility’ and ‘checking your privilege’ will overlap), I do think that there can be cases where we ought to practice ‘epistemic humility’ towards people who are relatively privileged too.

Here’s an example (a real-life one, but I’ll try to deform it a bit to protect someone’s privacy here). Suppose there is a very famous, rich, successful person in your profession. Suppose this is in academia and we’re hence talking about one of those star-scientists. However, this scientist acts like a prima donna. He’s behaving egocentrically, never really listening to others, and when you invite him as a keynote speaker at a conference, he’s imposing a range of very extraordinary demands on the organizers (not in terms of money, but rather on terms on what to eat when and with whom, conditions of traveling and accommodation, etc.). He’s a person who’se disliked by many for his character, and many are quick to judge him for his non virtuous behavior. But those who know that person well and are sufficiently knowledgable in autism, have very good reasons to endorse the hypothesis that he has undiagnosed Asperger’s. If that is the case, the behavior which is seen as troublesome, suddenly becomes very easy to understand, and the judgement that people make of this person change radically. Rather than judging this person harshly, one starts to become understandable for the demands, and feeling much more sympathetic towards that person.

I know a case that is very close to this, and I know that many people who were judging negatively of this person’s character changed their judgment quite radically when I asked them whether their judgement would change if this person really did have Asperger’s.

I think there are many cases of undiagnosed autism. A number of these people will be considered ‘privileged’ and seen as being ‘difficult’ or not very social people, but many of those people would be judged much milder if people were to judge them as begin a person with Asperger’s trying to navigate the neurotypical world.

I am not sure whether this the best possible example for my claim that ‘practicing epistemic humility’ and ‘checking your privilege’ are not the same, but I think there are cases of people who are privileged and are viewed or judged in a certain way, simply because people *assume* that they know all the relevant facts. We shouldn’t assume too quickly. Put differently, we should practice epistemic humility.

js @ 60: “I’m wondering what it means to have epistemic humility as a precondition of social justice.”

Social justice requires not just certain material policies, but also respect for people as they are, for their social identities and their ‘dimensions of difference’. There’s a large political theory/philosophy literature on this claim, which started with scholars like Nancy Fraser saying that social justice is not just a matter of (material) redistribution, but also recognition. If you are very confident that you know what the lives of the disadvantaged really look like (that is: you don’t practice/have much epistemic humility), then you won’t be able to really provide recognition for their situation. One can see this point clearly in cases of race-based, gender-based and disability-based disadvantage, where a large part of the injustices people are faced with, is not that they don’t get the material preconditions of justice, but rather that people run the world or act as if these elements of race, gender or disability do not exist (I think this also extents to other social categories like class, but I am more confident in defending my claim for those area’s).


Janet Randle 11.10.13 at 2:49 pm

“The only feeling that anyone can have about an event he does not experience is the feeling aroused by his mental image of that event. That is why until we know what others think they know, we cannot truly understand their acts.” Walter Lippman, Public Opinion


AJ 11.10.13 at 6:07 pm

Breaking news- the world is being taken over a new technocracy. And I, for one, welcome our new technocratic overlords.:)

> Somehow it strikes me as wise, and possibly even as a precondition for social justice,
> if we would rehabilitate epistemic humility at the core of our educational and
> social practices.

This makes sense. Except that it does not apply to me. This is because this argument does not apply to two categories : (a) people of Jewish origin (because they are already humble in so many ways that while it is clear that being humble may increase social welfare, it is not clear that being humble in specific contexts C1, C2,… , Cn is socially optimal) and (b) people with 150 plus IQs. Because there may be a real value for these people to -not- be humble because with that type of intelligence, it may be socially optimal to have these people actually say things even if they are not being humble while saying it . Also, it is impossible for these people to be truly humble because they know so much more than others and so that would simply be ‘giving false evidence’ in its own way. And we know ‘giving false evidence’ is verboten.

I will let you decide whether I belong to category (a) or category (b). Or both ;) A related question- should one be humble on Crooked Timber? I am not sure anyone can prove that the answer to this is ‘Yes’.

It is important to show epistemic humility in day-to-day life, of course. Otherwise, one would be completely insufferable.


AJ 11.10.13 at 6:14 pm

What I am saying is that stating one’s own superior intellectual achievements is okay as long as it is part of a strategy of foiling one’s intellectual opponents who are making ‘ad hominem’ attacks against you on Internet fora. It is indeed an optimal strategy, game theoretically speaking.

Intent is important.


Ed Herdman 11.10.13 at 7:47 pm

Thank you for the nice responses, everyone. I didn’t mean to give the impression above that I have had it rough. I’m able to look on this whole business with a kind of bemusement, and I have said many times that “it’s been an education.”

I agree wholeheartedly with AJ’s comment that intent is important. At the same time, intent from others is something that seems to be completely mysterious to us. (After all, philosophers often stipulate that solipsism is not a serious area of discussion, for the sake of discussion). A related factor is what the law calls the “reasonable person” test – every person’s own natural reaction to a situation being assumed good. Personally, I probably err too much on the side of assuming good intent on the part of others, but on the other hand I can’t say that I am very often in situations where my “reasonable person’s view” is challenged so much that I have trouble controlling myself. It must also be very uncommon for somebody to naturally assume that their own reactions to events are unreasonable – if they relate such a feeling to others, they will be counseled to have trust in themselves, typically (sociopaths are one of the cases that break this from being a universal model, again). We have lots of inklings, but there’s no universally accepted models along these lines. Perhaps it’s supposed to be only “good enough.”

I am a bit mystified about AJ’s escape clauses (a) and (b). Two general types of situations come to mind here: One is being in the position of a learner. The other situation is being in the position of a judge of others. There’s a definition I think is implied intended by Belle Waring’s and Ingrid Robeyns’ responses, which is that epistemic humility is concerned with the motives of others, in addition to describing what sorts of things they could know.

Perhaps where AJ’s comment breaks into the discussion is that mention of game theory. So how far does probability get us? Certainly, mathematics (and related things) seem to have some different relationship to the truth than do relatively questionable matters of phenomena to be decided empirically.

If I understand it correctly, AJ’s suggestion is that in some cases you can recast the question from being one of “how accurate am I likely to be?” (which is actually still a probabilistic one) to “how worthwhile is my contribution going to be?”

Hopefully I can say, and have it understood in good humor, that one’s particular ancestry and heritage actually locks one into a way of thinking, and that is far from the privileged viewpoint from “outside and above” the universe that a person would need to be able to claim to escape the criticism of improper perspective. Hopefully that is just obvious.


Ed Herdman 11.10.13 at 7:50 pm

Excuse me, my statement “how worthwhile is my contribution going to be” is a misstatement born in a moment of mental fatigue. I think that would be better read as “what is the benefit of acceding to the stated wishes of others, as I understand them?” I should note that one of the interesting things that arises from mentioning game theory is that it should be clear to each person what is good for them – but doing that universal utilitarian calculus, even on behalf of another person, is something else entirely. So perhaps we don’t escape the concerns of empistemic humility after all.


ZM 11.10.13 at 8:15 pm

Ingrid “I think there are many cases of undiagnosed autism. A number of these people will be considered ‘privileged’ and seen as being ‘difficult’ or not very social people, but many of those people would be judged much milder if people were to judge them as begin a person with Asperger’s trying to navigate the neurotypical world.”

The example you cited was of a conference etc, where people were of equal or equalish standing I presume. Perhaps socially these people should be kind to the academic in question (tho this makes me think of d2 recent exchanges with David graeber, wherein he told him to the effect that people would sidle away from graeber at cocktail parties).

But I don’t think being kind to people socially is the same as being able to evaluate the merit of their work. If say a professor with Asbergers recommended eugenics or something, I think the other professors ought to denounce that call, regardless of having sympathy for the Aspergers.


ZM 11.10.13 at 9:44 pm

js. @59
“js. 11.10.13 at 7:13 am
“I should hope that most people here hate the fucking Eagles, man.”

Man, I show no epistemic humility to people who do not hate the Eagles.”

I know you were sort of joking (?) – but there s a kind of visible disconnect (to me) in the idea of “here” being a place which should exclude “the sort of people who like the Eagles” and the idea of “here” as a place to discuss issues of liberalism, fairness, open access etc

Don’t you think?


godoggo 11.10.13 at 10:34 pm

It was a reference to The Big Lebowski. It was funny.


ZM 11.10.13 at 10:51 pm

Well, I have seen that movie, but I dsn’t think it was as great as some people i now, so I can’t remember the lines. I looked it up, and the Dude just says he hates the @&$ eagles, not that he didn’t respect people who liked the eagles, or wished that such people were not “here”. They were interpolations by commenters, which I don’t see as being entirely funny myself. But if the joke is going over my head, you could explain it to me?


godoggo 11.10.13 at 11:03 pm

I actually haven’t seen it either, but I’ve read about it, and the scene is on youtube. The standard reason for hating the Eagles is that as their songs make clear, lyrically and otherwise, they’re a bunch of douchebags. The song to which I alluded, which is entitled “Get Over It,” is, I think, the prime example of this, and is, I think, their worst song, among those I’ve heard on the radio. If one does not grasp the funniness of a joke, no amount of explanation will rectify the problem; in fact it will be counterproductive.

Now I’m going to go outside and see if I can figure out where this “connection box” might be.


godoggo 11.10.13 at 11:09 pm

OK, found it.


godoggo 11.10.13 at 11:13 pm

There’s also a song called Glenn Frey Must Die. It, too, is funny.


ZM 11.10.13 at 11:19 pm

I don’t get the last comment, it’s probably a joke that goes over my head too.

My objection is not to you hating the Eagles. It is to hoping most people “here” hate the Eagles, which is a gated community approach.

i think death metal bands are pretty awful myself, but my opinion of death metal bands are not the same as my opinions of people who like death metal bands or, say, teenagers who want to be in death metal bands. So I like the song The Best Ever Death Metal Band Out Of Denton.


godoggo 11.10.13 at 11:24 pm

OK, now this whole conversation is getting funny.


godoggo 11.10.13 at 11:27 pm

I actually kind of like You Can’t Hide Your Lyin’ Eyes, if that makes you feel any better.


godoggo 11.10.13 at 11:32 pm

And Glenn Frey himself one supposedly jumped onstage and joined in on a performance of Glenn Frey Must Die, so that’s one non-douchebag point for him.


ZM 11.10.13 at 11:36 pm

That is pretty funny.


godoggo 11.11.13 at 12:02 am

Correction: Don Henley.


Main Street Muse 11.11.13 at 1:57 am

When was epistemic humility ever taught? Just wondering…

“Good intentions are simply not enough to understand certain experiences.”

No – but that’s because what was once widespread (death, mourning, grief), has become isolated and strange thanks to remarkable advances in medicine and labor and delivery practices.

I lost both parents to cancer by the time I was 22 (and they were the significant losses in a decade where my family shed people like trees shed leaves in autumn.) As a child growing up, I knew very few people who had lost a parent to death. We were the odd family (some of the mothers in the neighborhood thought we were dangerous for their children to hang around and urged their children – our friends – to avoid us – their children decided against that advice.)

I have friends today (many, many years later) who have yet to experience the loss of a parent. They will never understand what I experienced. The kinder friends were able to offer sympathy and a shoulder to lean on. The others wondered when I’d “get over it.” One of the most precious gifts any friend ever gave me was cleaning out my fridge months after my father died. No judgment – just tossing out really moldy food. I was incapable of such practicality at that time. Grief is the most monstrous emotion. My friend had yet to experience that emotion – but she was able to just be a good friend in a moment where I needed that.

[Shifting topics – I was THE very best parent… until I became one myself. Full of advice that I later realized was not quite set in stone, given all the variables of children, personalities, individual stresses, etc.]


Main Street Muse 11.11.13 at 2:03 am

“I laid across her and cried, and even then I thought, we should see death more.”

To Belle, My husband’s grandmother’s death was like your grandmother’s – inspiring. But very different than the deaths I experienced with my parents. I think perhaps we should witness the deaths of old people more. But having watched both my parents struggle and die of cancer when relatively young, I cannot agree that “we should see death more.”


Main Street Muse 11.11.13 at 2:05 am

Now I am wondering how “epistemic humility” has led us to the Eagles. [I am fond of Desperado.]


PaulB 11.11.13 at 7:01 pm

My wife died of cancer last year, aged 49. Since then I’ve found that I share a special understanding with similar widows and widowers. Many other people have been kind, but it’s much better if they say “I can’t imagine how you feel” than “I know how you feel”.

Comments on this entry are closed.