The Seven Liberal Arts

The Seven Liberal Arts

Sunday, June 28, 2015

I'm Right, You're Right, I'm Wrong (On Open Mindedness, Part II)

So how exactly does one have an open mind, in the good way? I tried thinking about it for the past three weeks (or avoiding it… mostly avoiding it), and I'm still not entirely clear.

I've seen some say that you have to be willing to consider the possibility that you might be wrong.
But let's be honest. No one wants to do that. No one likes being wrong, and thinking about the possibility too much is enough to throw some of us into panic mode. We feel bad and might lash out, saying that anyone who dares to criticize us is the wrong one. (Notice how "judging" and "shaming" are the only bad things these days, rather than the things that warrant them.) Or we think this sort of thing doesn't apply to us, it should only apply to the people who disagree with us, because of course we're right.

Okay, fine. This method clearly does not work. What other option is there?

I have seen a quote attributed to Aristotle that, although he apparently he didn't say it , still makes a crucial point.

"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
This is quite necessary in intellectual matters. If we believed everything we read or heard, we'd be highly confused. But if we only considered ideas that we already agree with, well… how would we even know if we agreed with it, unless we thought about it? This also avoids the dilemma of whether we should question everything, by questioning one thing (a differing position) while not questioning the other (our own position). It might sound bad to not question our own beliefs, but if we honestly come across something that we recognize as better, we will want to adopt that anyway. It skips the psychological issue where we fear losing our ground. And I don't know about you, but in my own experience, when I grow in understanding and possibly change my mind in the process, it's because I've seen the goodness of another idea, whereas actively trying to first separate myself from my own ideas has only made me want to hold onto them tighter.

Now, when coming across an argument, it should be considered in itself to see whether it is true. And not merely the argument itself, but the position for which the argument is advocating. This is where the 5 rules for a rational discussion come in handy. Even if you are not having a discussion with someone, but are simply coming across a different point of view anywhere, they apply if you want to form an opinion about it. Emotions might cloud your thinking, so put them aside and don't simply react. Inquire into the definitions of the terms being used. Try to find the fundamentals that the position rests on. And use the principle of charity.

The principle of charity is perhaps the most important thing in having an open mind. Seek to understand another point of view and why it makes sense to that person. If you have objections to the reasoning given, ask for the best argument the position has to offer. Whatever you do, do not start off by thinking that the person is entirely wrong and there's nothing you can learn. You can always learn, even if all you learn is that they're a bit mistaken, for reasons x, y, and z. 

So to have an open mind, it is not even necessary that you have to consider the possibility that you are wrong. You just have to consider the possibility that someone else is right.

If they aren't, that's okay. You tried, but have held to the adage that has been attributed to Aristotle and another one that has been attributed to everyone from G. K. Chesterton to Richard Dawkins to some man in the 1800s: "Be open minded, but not so open minded that your brain falls out."

And if they are, and if you care about it enough, you'll figure it out. The mind won't tolerate cognitive dissonance for long.

No comments:

Post a Comment