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The Table Video

Robert C. Roberts

Snobbery (And How to Avoid It) [From the Table #11 / Robert C. Roberts]

Professor of Ethics and Emotion Theory at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues
November 20, 2014

Snobbery is nasty intellectual character trait. And it’s deeply inconsistent with a Christian understanding of a well-formed mind, not to mention totally inconsistent with the idea that all people, regardless of their intelligence or education, bear the image of God. In this episode of From the Table, philosopher Robert C. Roberts explains the vice of snobbery and suggests 3 ways to avoid it.


The best way to think about humility, the virtue of humility, is to think about the vices that are contrary to it, pretentiousness, snobbishness, smugness, envy, arrogance, vanity, conceit. And so, for example, we might analyze the notion of snobbery. Enjoying the glory of being a member of some superior group. What one is feeling there is a kind of triumph or a kind of joy about one’s superiority through being a member of this elite group.

That goes against a Christian notion of humility, our existence as being given to us by God, being given to us in such a way that we are all ultimately equals in his sight. And when we’re snobbish, we are in a way denying the equality that we have with others. We’re denying that they are just as valuable in God’s sight as we are, thinking about other human beings as inferior to ourselves. The virtue of humility, in this case it would be a matter of not being snobbish, of looking at other people and not feeling anything particular about the differences between their social group, their university or their lack of a university education, and our own.

Well, first, you could learn to recognize this tendency in yourself, and to recognize moments when you’re feeling this kind of joy and superiority, or you’re sharing, perhaps, your superiority with other members of your elite group. That would be a first step, just to recognize the existence and the nastiness of this tendency in yourself. But then once you’ve recognized it, you can combat it by reminding yourself of everybody’s creation in the image of God, and the fact that God respects all of us equally, just in so far as we are his children.

We are expressing humility when we sincerely admire another person, when we look at that other person and we see the excellent qualities that he has, perhaps excellent qualities that we lack. One can actually practice admiration. One can undertake a discipline of admiring qualities in people. And so if there’s somebody you feel superior to in some way, you can counter that tendency or that feeling by making yourself stop and asking yourself, “What qualities does this person have “that are admirable, perhaps qualities that I lack?”

Maybe this person is fresh and enthusiastic, whereas I have become kind of cynical and negative. Perhaps the person is creative in spontaneous ways that I am not. Perhaps I am a kind of stiff person. If I’m feeling my snobbish way, I may not like to acknowledge the excellent qualities of this person. And yet there probably are excellent qualities.

And if I were just to focus my mind on them and pay attention, I would see them. And I think that when we do that, when we see the excellence in another person, we’re in combat then against our own vice of pride.