EAI OnOpenmindedness

In the summer of 1998, a cousin of mine, with whom I strongly disagreed on religious and ethical matters, told me I was narrow-minded. Now, did I ask her, what is open-mindedness? Is it in any way compatible with having any significantly "strong" opinions, particularly opinions opposing to hers? Should someone open-minded have to always agree with her? Or have to only have weak opinions not suited to any decision-making, if at all? Assuming she be not narrow-minded enough herself to claim that all open-minded people would have to agree with her, would it be required for open-minded people to be without opinion, without taste, without moral commitment? My cousin chose to stop the discussion, so unless she reads this article, she won't know what I think open-mindedness is.

To me, open-mindedness cannot and does not reside in absence of opinions and commitment, since opinions and commitment are necessary to thought and life themselves. Being open-minded is a matter of taking into account existing arguments for and against one's opinion, of not refusing to learn new arguments, and even seeking them when in doubt. It's remembering these arguments, evaluating how they are or not consistent with one's opinions, and being ready to modify one's opinions to comply with valid objections that may be brought by such arguments.

Remembering arguments and counter-arguments also means that they should not be taken in consideration everytime they are repeated, but only once, the first time they are heard about; their relevance in the opinion-making process may thereupon be affected by other arguments, but not by the repeated utterance of same argument. Repetition does not make an opinion truer or an argument more valid; at best, it may make that opinion or argument better known or better understood, assuming it was unknown or misunderstood. Thus, it is an error to believe that someone is not open-minded just because one's opinion wasn't moved at all by your argument the first time you propose it: indeed, one may already have heard about the same argument as yours from someone else before, and duly rejected it.

Open-mindedness is a matter of being ready to drop one's prejudices (a priori opinions) in favor of postjudices (a posteriori opinions). Of course, one cannot ever know "all" the arguments concerning any particular topic, so any opinion is forcibly a prejudice, as compared as what it could be with more information; however, it needs not be a complete prejudice either, and might as well try to integrate as much of known arguments as possible, and be open to more arguments. All in all, the question is not and cannot be about being prejudiced or not; it is about acknowledging one's prejudices as such, that is, about remembering which arguments were or were not taken into account while making any particular opinion, and being ready to move on to a different opinion, if some valid counter-argument whatsoever is found. Open-mindedness is thus in the process of making and modifying one's opinion, and not in the opinion themselves or their strength (which is a meta-opinion).

Open-mindedness in this regard is but the scientific spirit as applied to the whole generalized field of knowledge: open-mindedness is rational thinking. Or rather, it could be said, Science is but rational thinking as applied to some domain where it fits particularly well, with visible, shared, positive results.

This page is linked from: Ethics and Information