To define open mindedness as simply the basis of being receptive to the world is to oversimplify this virtue. Open mindedness is dedication to inquiry, logic and thought. This three-pronged buttress, upon which all reason lies, is essential to human interaction and the avoidance of bigotry.
While there is no real literature on Socratic open mindedness, we can infer his beliefs through his teachings and how he himself lived. He truly lived by example, and lived his truth. William Hare wrote a 12 page paper on Socratic Open Mindedness, from which I adapted a lot of the basis or premise for my virtue on. I focused mainly on the section pertaining to open minded inquiry, though the article was rife with relevant material. Hare defines open mindedness firstly, as being a virtue, of the intellectual assortments, which entails the critical reception to new ideas and to ideas that conflict with one’s prior beliefs. He then goes on to establish what he believes inquiry to entail: the readiness to attend to every subsequent avenue of thought after the initial question that may be relevant to forming a sound judgement or reimagining and revising one’s old stance, view, or take on the matter. These two definitions set the tone for the rest of his essay, as he goes on to clarify the requisites for a true follower of this open minded theory: an aversion to dogmatism and intellectual arrogance, a stress of intellectual humility, the attendance to emerging evidence with equal and fair consideration, etc. Open mindedness is a type of social behaviour in which one makes oneself vulnerable to the critical views of others, often in search of a rational truth. “Open-mindedness is particularly striking and commendable when we overcome resistance within ourselves to certain ideas, when we are prepared to expose our own judgements about what is true to criticism, and when we are determined to abide by the results of an impartial and unprejudiced investigation in the interests of truth (Hare, 2007).”
Later in my essay, I will go on to speak on my own personal experiences with intellectual humility, especially in my home and school environments. Socrates insists- in The Republic, Crito, Charmides and Laches- all written by Plato, that he follows the course of the argument, and that it must be well founded and well argued. In the Republic, Socrates declares his loyalty to the course of the argument: “For I certainly do not yet know myself, but whithersoever the wind, as it were, of the argument blows, there lies our course,” (Plat. Rep. 3.394d). In Crito, he declares loyalty to reason: “So we must examine the question whether we ought to do this or not; for I am not only now but always a man who follows nothing but the reasoning which on consideration seems to me best,” (Plat. Crito 46b). In Charmides and Laches, he makes it clear that arguments are made valuable in their evidence, being well-sourced and not sarcastic in nature: “Give the argument itself your attention, and observe what will become of it under the test of refutation,” (Plat. Charm. 166e.) “So let us ask him to explain more clearly what is in his mind; and if we find that he means something, we will agree with him; if not, we will instruct him,” (Plat. Lach. 196c) “Let me tell you our view of them, and if you do not agree with it, you shall instruct us,” (Plat. Lach. 198b). Also, in digging deeper into the definition of open mindedness, Hare provides his readers with guidelines as to how to open up a conversation, and explore every avenue, in search of the justifiable truth. In order to effectively follow the argument; one must seek and attend to reason, especially those salient to the subject at hand, examine all possibilities equally, fairly and impartially, pay attention to what is being said and all subsequent deductions and resolutions, making sure that all important matters are heeded and to follow through to any ensuing conclusion, no matter what it may be.
Open mindedness was made popular by many, the most famous of which was just discussed, Socrates, through Plato. However, the following men wove the principle of open minded inquiry into their work and research, which culminated eventually into what we now know to be the scientific method. These scientists are Aristotle, Roger Bacon, Galilei Galileo, Bacon, and Descartes. Overall, the scientific method has four parts: observation of an event or situation, the development of a hypothesis about said event, the use of this hypothesis to envision other possible events, and the testing thereof. These tests may take varying forms, but inevitably they come to some conclusion, which may not necessarily agree with the hypothesis formed beforehand. The scientific method may be applied in all facets of life. It is merely a well-organized statement of occurrence, prediction, proof, and replicability. The philosophers mentioned above all contributed in some way, be it directly or indirectly, to the development of this school of thought in their own exploration of their disciplines. By studying some of these men’s works, I can historically track the method and science of educated thought. In comparison, open minded inquiry, as defined by Hare above, is very similar to the scientific method. In both, one follows the argument, to come to some logical conclusion to answer a previously specified query.
We can lastly define open mindedness in terms of symbolism, and how it is indirectly characterized by different symbols that are seemingly unrelated. The dictionary of symbolism has two symbols: the unknown and the transcendent function, which I found to contain some form of open mindedness or inquiry. The Unknown, in reference to Imago Ignota, is a constant payment of homage to the unconscious, in order to extend the boundaries of what is known. It is mentioned that only an attitude of openness can free the individual from his personal confines and limitations, in other words, previous ‘concrete’ conceptions. Furthermore, in transcendence, wisdom lies in the knowledge that one does not know all; instead, one is limited by oneself to truly experience the multitudinous aspect of the universe. These both coalesce with each other. Basically, one must become comfortable in the knowledge that he is not omniscient, and use this to his own benefit, thus learning more about what he does not already know.
I believe that most of who we are comes from who we’re raised around. There is a biological concept, epigenetics, which focuses on parts of who we are (personality, susceptibility to disease etc.) that is not coded for in our genetic codes. A prime example of this would be tending towards tomboy hood if your mother did, without her ever telling you that she did. To carry this further, exposure to differing traits affects us all differently. Many, when exposed to corruption, for example, become themselves corrupt. However, there are many with the same exposure, that become so averse to corruption, it almost becomes their life’s goal. Open mindedness was both a taught and intuitive virtue for me. Growing up, I’d been very inquisitive and asked questions such as “why?” and “how?” I carried this attitude with me wherever I went, making sure to become familiar with the tools and terms the doctors used with me, with the reigning political beliefs of my time, even with the justification of food choices and aversions. I took deep pleasure in reading advanced materials and I had to understand the whole in order to comprehend the part. When faced with situations to work with, such as moral dilemmas in my school and church communities, I made sure to get as much detail as possible before addressing the issue. This inherent thoroughness would prove both useful in life and synonymous to the scientific method; a method of exploration I would have to adhere to for future scholastic events. Furthermore, my parents solidified this means of inquiry by providing sound reasons and rationale for almost everything in our lives. If I were to be punished, I was given an explanation as to what I did wrong and what real-world repercussions for my actions would be once I came of age. Realizing its importance came mainly when I was trying to learn, arguing or engaging in any social interactions. I kept mindful of the fact that the person with whom I was interacting was being affected by a different social construct and had their own process as to why they were in the right. Learning, as I grew older, became more of a struggle as my mind couldn’t fathom moving past a subject without exhausting all its innate possibilities. Thus, there is no definite when for the development of my virtue, instead, it was and continues to be a progressive journey of self discovery and improvement. In a modern sense, open mindedness is almost mandated in society now, in order to avoid offending someone else. Though I do not believe it is done in the way outlined in my history of open mindedness, with a deep and thorough exploration of the possible truth, I think it is a step in the right direction.
I try to incorporate open mindedness into my everyday life. Especially in attending an international school, one has to take care to not assume anything about another’s culture and upbringing. Coming from all walks of life, we bring different expectations, mannerisms, language use (verbally and bodily) and overall socio-economic backgrounds to the table. Open mindedness is almost a social virtue. Many times, in order to explore all avenues and exhaust the elimination process, we must include others. By choosing a diverse group of deep thinkers, one heightens the possibility of reaching a truth that is justified and well-researched. Thinking back, when I was younger, I remember being in an argument with my brother and thinking to myself, “Why is he upset?” This, for me, became part of my self-realization and checking process. In order to not be the aggravator and prolong a painful and ultimately fruitless argument, I instead tried to put myself in his shoes. I asked myself,” how does he, as himself, see me?” I came to the conclusion that in his mind, he’d already justified his side of the discussion, and why he deserved to be upset with me. Thus, I did not get mad and engage him. Instead, I stepped down from the argument, footed the blame and postponed our discussion until he was in a more contemplative and agreeable mood. This tended to work to make all arguments much more amicable, placate my opponents, and still enable both parties to leave with their respect for self and others intact. Knowing that engaging a situation when it is still volatile is not necessarily reflective of my virtue, but it does lead into considerate thought as to the course of the argument, and how and why it should be resolved in the most effective manner. This, is what I’ve been practising all my life, as it has so many more applications than initially seems.
Initially, I believe that everyone suffers from the desire to be right. In some way, we are all susceptible to the charms of being faultless and infallible in logic. I like to relate this to the philosophy of rhetoric. Rhetoric was defined by Plato be “the art of winning the soul by discourse.” The connection between rhetoric and the false sense of unerring logic, and thus closed mindedness is one that I make after close examination as to the thought patterns of those involved. A rhetorician is seen as an orator with the innate skill of persuasion and impression. Protagoras, a well-known sophist, even went to say ‘Man is the measure of all things—of what is, that it is; and of what is not, that it is not,’(J.F. Dobson, The Greek Orators). These men were dedicated to their own truths, and not universal, fairly argued truths. This leads into the sense of being right, even when one is not. If a man does not believe himself to be incomparably right, as a sophist, this is the impression that he gives. Such an impression, which we can only take to be their actual belief, gives off the portrayal of such an individual being closed minded. This is especially if they have not given any reason to not believe such a thing. I try to avoid all three stages that lead oneself onto the path of closed mindedness. Once I find myself thinking I am unimpeachable or arguing without a just cause and to no just end, I take a step back and analyze the situation as needed to redirect myself either onto the path of open mindedness, or quiet; believing that to listen with intent is a higher virtue than to speak with none. Having been nurtured in a very specific culture, I tend to want to paint over every situation with the same brush. I apply my Jamaican tenets to countless situations. This was excusable in the past, when exposure to foreign cultures and precepts was at a minimum, but, having lived in a globalized age, I must know where it is bigoted of me to have these beliefs. I was raised on a very Catholic, conservative platform, and have almost always been justified in making my points based on this fact. This, however, is not in keeping with my virtue, which I have struggled to bring forth and make a custom amongst my fellow Jamaican peoples who were also raised in such a conservative manner, but not always with the background of the trait of open mindedness. In addition to this, people may perceive open mindedness to be submission, yielding or resignation. This is the opposite to what I believe it to be. I find open mindedness to be an unreserved conversation and commitment to truth and logic. I often find myself engaging others in colloquy, if only to get in touch with their own beliefs and opinions. At times, however, I do find myself being closed off from the logical, and straying into the emotional. If I am not careful, my emotional response will turn out to obstruct the part of myself that chooses to listen first and adhere to the principles of open mindedness. This tends to happen when I’m feeling attacked, or when I believe the other party has no interest in being fair, and objective. Thus, I can say that typically, when I do not live up to my virtue, is when I am being defensive, as opposed to noncombatant. When this happens, I do my best to walk away from a situation, and approach it again when I am in a right mind to do so. Otherwise, I accept within myself that this is my flaw, and that I can and must acknowledge it and work on it to the best of my ability.
Since nurture reigns over nature, as per Aristotle, I think people tend to raise their children as their parents did them. The habitual is just as, if not more, effective and built-in than all the help and advice sought from books, friends and other outside influences. My familial influences ingrained this mode of thought within me whenever I approached any situation: Think, Reflect, React /Respond. I would be sure to foster an open and inviting atmosphere with my children. Ensuring that they were aware that questions were made to be asked, just as my mother told me. Just as my parents did for me, I would make sure to provide reasoning and logic for my decisions. I would enact the policy of influential individuals in my children’s lives (the ones I can affect, monitor and control) being rational and channeling the Socratic Method in most areas. Seeing, and being influenced by, a rational adult does wonders for the thought processes of children. A child’s environment molds who they are. Seeing stable or openly emotional adults may encourage them to react and emulate these positive characteristics. In the face of adversity, if they can think logically prior to acting, they are following in my desired footsteps. Remembering that knowing when to act on a whim is also a virtue. In their daily lives, I would make sure to ask them to reflect on their decisions; why they chose to lie, or do something else that is not considered virtuous, as opposed to just doing the right thing, declare why they prefer one thing over another etc. I believe that if I can establish a mindset of attaching reason to action, they will carry this over into every facet of their lives. In addition to this, exposure to different circumstances and cultures would be a big part of our conversations. People learn from the experiences of other people, like-minded or not. I believe by exposing them at an early age to the idea that not everyone is the same, I can nurture the appreciation thereof that this is not only acceptable, but encouraged. They will then be able to approach their respective discourses with an open mind as to what others will bring to the table, and help guide them to think in a more open minded manner.
Overall, I believe that open mindedness is not a one-off virtue that you have or lack entirely. It is a virtue that one must practice to hone, implement to benefit from, and live by example to inspire. To live in such a way is not at all a destination, but a journey that one is capable of inviting others to partake in.
CITATIONS AND SOURCES:
DICTIONARY OF SYMBOLISM by TOM CHETWYND
All Plato quotes from perseus.tufts.edu; for example: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0178%3Atext%3DGorg.%3Asection%3D493b