Friday, 17 October 2008

Rediscovering humility

On my way to my course I found myself walking along via del Umilità - humility way. This made me smile - humility is not a word others would readily use to describe me I suspect. Walking along what I rather freely translated in my mind as "humble pie path" I also mused that humility is not a modern vitue in a society where we are encouraged to "sell ourselves" and say how good we are.

Then this evening - having taken humility way in the reverse direction (whatever that might be a metaphor for!) I started wondering a bit more and googling of course too and came up with the quote below from a book called The Matrix, by Marilyn Coors, on the ethics of human genetic engineering. Amazing in what direction your matinal musings can take you.

Encompassed in the virtue of practical wisdom is a virtue that is overlooked and particularly unpopular in the modern age. This is humility, the virtue that recognises what is beyond the limits of human wisdom. [Hans] Jonas calls for a revitalisation of the virtue of humility in light of the tremendous power that human genetic technology has the potential to manifest. The virtue that Jonas describes is “a new kind of humility” that correlates with the magnitude of human control over our genome. New humility differs from former interpretations of humility in that it focuses not on the insignificance of human ability but on the extent of our power. Humility in this new role emphasizes “the excess of our power to act over our power to foresee and our power to evaluate and to judge.” The nearly unlimited power to modify our environment and ourselves, coupled with a limited ability to predict the ramifications of our actions, requires the rediscovery of humility.

You can read more of the book here.