On open- vs. closed-mindedness

This little rant is predicated on a discussion my wife and I had this morning concerning heaven and a pamphlet she wanted me to read on it. I was accused of being closed-minded, and I dispute that charge.

I am a firm believer in moderation and reasonable balance in beliefs (see here for an example). It has been my honest opinion that most of the problems that come about in life are the result of excess or deficiency, and that goes for ideologies as well as other aspects (such as socioeconomics).

This applies to one’s attitude toward assimilating new beliefs as well. The most common terms that are used regarding this are “open-mindedness” and “closed-mindedness” (and the latter should not be referred to as “close-mindedness,” which can imply a wholly different concept). We generally define these as “an willingness to consider new beliefs or ideas” and “an unwillingness to consider new beliefs or ideas.” For my purposes, these definitions will suffice.

It is common to hear the adjective “closed-minded” used pejoratively with others, and this carries with it the cultural presumption that openness to new ideas is preferable because not to be open in this way is to promote ignorance and hinder intellectual progress. I do not disagree with this presumption, although I recognize that it is largely assumed.

There is also a small segment that use the adjective “open-minded” in a similar way, although it is much less frequent. The best way I can think of summing these points up are in two adapted versions of the same pithy quip: 1) “You’re so closed-minded that your brain died from lack of oxygen;” 2) “You’re so open-minded your brain fell out.”

So even though I am in favor of general open-mindedness over closed-mindedness, there are a few caveats:

  1. Open-mindedness is to be an attitude of consideration. To be open-minded is not to be credulous; rather, it is not to be too incredulous as never to consider any new ideas.
  2. Closed-mindedness is sometimes useful to temper the “open mind.” What I mean by this is that one always carries presuppositional baggage when considering new ideas, and those must be used in some senses to test new ideas. Presumptions do change, and so new ideas can also be used to challenge those assumptions; it would not, however, be a challenge if one simply abandoned all of their typical presumptions when confronting with a new idea. Besides assumptions testing ideas and ideas challenging assumptions, one must always be aware of one set of presumptions – logic and reason – that can be used to filter both new ideas and general presumptions.

Here is the balance: Be open to the notion of new ideas but cautious of the content. If you can find that balance, then you will have a healthy attitude toward your intellect and toward reality.

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