The “Hubris-Humility Index”

(Spectrumbot) #1

The Bible is pretty clear about the staggering toll assessed against the proud, the arrogant, the boastful. Legal, prophetic, wisdom, song, story, and apocalyptic literature in both testaments regularly embed sentiments which dog the steps of those who think themselves special, better, advantaged. Consider passages like “How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn” (Isa 14:12); “How the mighty have fallen…” (2 Sam 1); “Pride goes before destruction …” (Prov 16:18); “I have need of nothing … you are wretched …” (Rev 3:15-22).

The Bible is also clear about the highly valued traits of humility, deference, confession: “Walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8); “You have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol” (Ps 86:13); “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land …” (Zeph 2:3); “I have not learned wisdom” (Prov 30:3); “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matt 5:3); “… in humility count others better than yourselves” (Phil 2:3).

Biblical battle lines have long been drawn between hubris and humility. Between pride and arrogance on the one hand, and self-effacing modesty on the other. In fact some have argued that the very nature of transgression in the original meaning of the term, depicts a haughty arrogance that rebels against and defies divine directions, thinking less of God and God’s advice than of themselves. And that “salvation” is the humble recognition that we cannot do this on our own and need God in order to accomplish anything in life.

I have become intrigued, however, with another take on these freighted terms. A practical take in an educational setting; after all, Proverbs is all about the practicality of wisdom. A take informed by political science. My introduction to this new idea came from a short online piece by Nuno Monteiro,[i] who was trying to understand why some university students were more successful than others. He referred to a concept he picked up from his major professor, with applications to life lived off campus in the real world too.

John J. Meirsheimer, a widely published political scientist (and Monteiro’s professor) at the University of Chicago, in his Aims of Education address in 1997, referred to his collaboration with Massachusetts Institute of Technology political scientist Stephen Van Evera in creating an assessment tool for evaluating success among university students. They called it the “hubris-humility index.” Simply put, they recommended that to make lasting and worthwhile contributions to the life of the mind and to the common good, students should have high scores in both hubris and humility. In his words:

… in teaching you to think critically, we encourage you to acquire both hubris and humility. These two qualities are somewhat contradictory, but nevertheless it is important that you have large doses of both. Let me explain. We promote hubris simply by encouraging you to be bold. We urge you to ask big questions, to challenge prevailing truths when you think they are wrong, and to offer your own views on important subjects. We want you to stand up when the time is right and say that the emperor has no clothes. That requires a certain amount of hubris. At the same time, however, we promote humility by encouraging you to recognize that your thinking about a particular issue may be wrong. The line of argument you are pushing might not cut the mustard and might not be worth pursuing, while someone else may have an argument that is ultimately more convincing than yours. Therefore, it is especially important to listen carefully when others criticize your argument and avoid getting locked into defending your own position when the evidence tilts against you. In short, it is important to be thoughtful.

… The index is designed to measure the amount of hubris and humility packed into any individual. To get a high score on the hubris-humility index, which is desirable, it is essential to have large quotients of both hubris and humility. If an individual has an abundance of one quality, but a shortage of the other, then he or she gets a low score. A lot of hubris cannot compensate for a lack of humility, and vice versa. In short, you need hubris and humility if you are to be a first-rate thinker….

… For example, if you are a doctor, you will frequently be called upon to offer your opinion on what ails the patient. The available information or evidence about the patient’s ills will sometimes allow for different diagnoses. You will have to offer your own assessment and then listen carefully to different assessments by other doctors. Since doctors sometimes deal with life and death situations, it takes real hubris to make judgements [sic] that might be the wrong ones, which is why it is important to be humble as well as bold.[ii]

While biblical broadsides against hubris and doxologies in celebration of humility offer tried and true principles, especially in wisdom literature like Proverbs 30, there exists in the life of individuals and communities the practical need to balance the two for success. On a very pragmatic level, something the book of Proverbs embeds and exudes, without boldness and the pride of accomplishment, very little of value gets done. On the other hand, without humility, openness, and some self-doubt, very little gets done well.


[ii] The University of Chicago | The College

Aims of Education Address 1997, September 23

Presented by: John J. Mearsheimer. R. Wendell Harrison Distinguished Service Professor of Political Science, Co-Director of the Program on International Security Policy

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at


“there exists in the life of individuals and communities the practical need to balance the two for success.”

I challenge your statement.

  1. The definition of hubris and humility needs more thorough examination.
  2. The motivation related to initiative needs analysis.
  3. Kohlberg’s stages of moral development is helpful.
  4. Jesus experience countering the religious leaders is a model.

I would say Meirsheimer and Van Evera are in need of greater insight regarding psychology/sociology and altruism/compassion.

(k_Lutz) #3

Do I read you right, Gideon, that Jesus’ example refutes such a Hubris-Humility concept?

Please clarify.

Trust God.

(Elmer Cupino) #4

A physician who “takes real hubris to make judgement” never last. They end up in court or in jail for malpractice but not before being evaluated by a psychiatrist for personality disorders. Physicians are trained to consider differential diagnoses not for the purpose of “hubris and being bold.” They consider differential diagnoses to rule out the worse case scenarios, among other things and for treatment planning.

However in theology and religion, because no one in reality has ever met and talked to God, “hubris and being bold” may be allowed because most believers are susceptible to “sales talks.” Sales talk should never have a place in medicine.

(jeremy) #5

one thing to consider is that neither hubris nor humility may be diagnosed correctly…what may pass for hubris may in fact be courage and conviction borne from unusual experience…and what may pass for humility may really be a sad combination of cowardice, a lack of knowledge and conviction and a genetically induced phlegmatic personality steeped in mediocrity…

(Elmer Cupino) #6

That is, until a pattern has been established, then it’s easy sailing to a diagnosis. As in Jeremiah 13:23, an inspired biblical psychoanalyst, “Can an Ethiopian change his skin or a leopard its spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil.”

(jeremy) #7

and what if someone is indeed an optimum mixture of both hubris and humility, what then…can “in the eye of the beholder” have diagnostic or prognostic value in such a circumstance…

(Elmer Cupino) #8

Then he earns both diagnostic criteria, just like someone can have both diagnostic criteria of anti-social and passive-aggressive traits.

(Marianne Faust) #9

the Christian worldview fits best: made in the image of the one and only God, but a sinner in need of grace.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #10

hubris means over confident, self centered, highly opinionated. The attribute to be cultivated is to listen, to ponder, to verity, to make rational considered judgement without I told you so attitude. hubris is (grave consequences) A classic example of hubris is the style of the Israeli prime minister. Tom Z



Please clarify why you don’t.

(k_Lutz) #12

Out there, humility doesn’t work.

The league leading Dodgers were playing the cellar-dwelling Giants. After winning the game Dodger manager Durocher was taunting the Giants. A sportscaster asked why he couldn’t be nice. [quote]Look over there. Do you know a nicer guy than [Giant’s manager] Mel Ott? Or any of the other Giants? Why, they’re the nicest guys in the world! And where are they? In seventh place![/quote]
From whence we get the infamous aphorism "Nice guys finish last." It seems to fit right in with the false premise of survival of the fittest by which the top one percent assume control of our bodily functions.

Trust The Process.

(jeremy) #13

but the article is suggesting that an equal mixture of hubris and humility are desirable, not a double disorder…

(Thomas J Zwemer) #14

wouldn’t candid be a better term? Jesus was neither humble or given to hubris, but He was direct and candid. Tom Z

(Andrew) #15

What then?.. He’s a success, according to the article.

(Andrew) #16

Sounds like the id versus ego to me.

(Andrew) #17

Exactly, the nice guy doesn’t get the girl.

(Andrew) #18

Some occasions call for hubris. Winston Churchill didn’t surrender to the Nazis, even though just about all of his cabinet were in favour of a deal. It was his shear force of will that enabled him to take the country with him.

Of course, Hitler had a copious amount of hubris also.

Consider William Lane Craig v Christopher Hitchens, not much humility there.

Maybe we could put Paul v Peter in the same category, although, I admit, I am now treading into an area outside my expertise.

(Steve Mga) #19

I would think [after being at mission stations in mexico, central america, guam, palau, taiwan, japan] that it takes an equal amount of each for a missionary to be successful.
Successful 1st Century A.D., Successful 21st Century A.D.
I would think that BOTH have to be learned. Have to be Caught.

(Andrew) #20

You are talking about a lot of different cultures and eras.