The Gateway

Charlotte Hays | Posted on 01/01/10

We often think of humility as groveling or pretending to hide our gifts. Sir John Templeton had a much more bracing and productive idea of what this virtue really is. “Humility,” Sir John said, “is the gateway to greater understanding and opens the doors to progress.”

He thought of humility as admitting (indeed, recognizing) that you don’t have all the answers. Humility is one of the John Templeton Foundation’s core themes, and, if certain moral thinkers are right in regarding humility as the foundation of the other virtues, perhaps it could be described as the core of the core. The Humble Approach Initiative is a signature program of the John Templeton Foundation, bringing together representatives of different disciplines — scholars, scientists, and other thinkers — to discuss everything from moral sentiments from a Darwinian perspective to an exploration of the physics and metaphysics of light. The foundation views the humble approach as “a corrective to parochialism.”

I love that notion of humility as the antidote to parochialism — so original and so true. It conveys an excitement about learning new things. “How little we know, how eager to learn” is how Sir John summed up humility.

We have tried to explore humility from different perspectives in this issue — from that of science, international affairs, philosophy, even the theatre — with the object of humbly learning just a bit more. The great thing about humility is that, despite its unfortunate image, popularized by the ‘umble poseur Uriah Heep, it’s a very exciting virtue. It’s a virtue with an inherent paradox. As Wilfred McClay notes in this issue, humility is always the virtue that is “in danger of subverting itself and turning into its own opposite.” We know you will find fresh insights on humility as you read this issue.

The humility issue, as it happens, is a gateway for In Character. Our first issue, on thrift, came out in the fall of 2004. We’ve covered fourteen virtues and had some of the best writers around doing it. This is the last print issue of In Character, but it is most decidedly not the end of our mission.

In Character will start publishing exclusively online in March at, with new material posted every week. You will still find the same high caliber of writing and argument that we have always published, but we will be more topical, using events of the day as jumping-off points for essays, observations, and blogs. Who knows? We may even address the odd vice. And then this summer, we will become part of an exciting new project of the John Templeton Foundation called Big Questions Online, a “webzine” that will feature character-related issues and much more.

We stand humbly at the gateway of a new era.