Open-mindedness: Living Socratically

I begin to note that, in my experience in academia and beyond, most people are close-minded. It was a marvel to me to discover, and this only very recently, that one can make sense of people by ascertaining whether they are close-minded (the many) or open-minded (the few). The apparent crudeness of the distinction (“There are only two kinds of people…”) should not bely the power of its disclosure. Something in the world, about the world opens up to us as we see other people in this light. Open-minded or close-minded? I observe too that I used to be close-minded (very) and further that the Socratic dispensation, being one that I finally adopted in 2011 and after, absolutely requires, even as it teaches, open-mindedness. It is through the Socratic dispensation and through the way of inquiring daily that I have changed from close-mindedness to open-mindedness. Thus am I able to pick out both.

Further observations are in order before an inquiry into the nature of open-mindedness. How striking is this: that many of those in a spiritual community are close-minded, as are academics, consultants, business leaders, engineers, entrepreneurs, psychologists, and (well) most professionals. Many are the dogmatists who believe that they have all the answers to life, that a particular domain is one that they have mastered, or that everything can be explained in a reductive set of terms, the same set at that. The lingo of “openness” and of “asking good questions” has not pierced the illusion of dogmatism.

With ancient skeptics, I am warranted, I think, in calling most people dogmatists because they go around asserting that something is indubitably true without, of course, being willing it to submit their assertions to systematic questioning. You might find the charge of dogmatism ill-fitting when it comes to academics or even creative leaders, but I have reason to think that it sticks: they are staked to holding onto a body of knowledge and, whatever else may be challenged, that body cannot.

Now that it seems that nearly everyone I’ve met is close-minded and seems to be invested in being so, you might now wonder with me what open-mindedness and close-mindedness actually are. I begin by defining the intellectual virtue of open-mindedness, which I think (though, yes, I could be mistaken) means:

1.) that someone has a fallibilistic view of his beliefs, a view according to which any belief X is such that he believes that X could be wrong.

2.) and that someone is open to considering X (to really mulling it over, turning it over) as well as candidates Y, Z, and so on.

“I hold X right now,” he might say, “but I happily submit it to scrutiny. It is what I believe, yet it may turn out to be wrong. Let us consider whether X is correct. For all I know, Y or Z might turn out to be right. And let us hold onto the best yet–be it X, Y, or Z–until we are shown otherwise.”

Close-mindedness now comes into focus for the close-minded persons insists that (1) a belief he holds must be (or is at least very likely to be) true and (2) that belief is not open to consideration (despite, in some cases, pretentious talk that it is). There is pretense to be sniffed out. Many are those who say that they want to be challenged, but few are those who really would submit their most dearly held beliefs to philosophical inquiry. This is why one rarely hears a close-minded person say: “I wonder whether…,” “I doubt that…,” “I say this, but I want to inquire into it first to see whether…,” “I’m going to claim X but only provisionally and tentatively…,” “I’m not entirely sure…,” “My intuition says, but I’m not convinced that I cant trust my intuition…,” “I’ve often heard X and believed X but now I would like to determine whether X is…,” and so on.

Contrast this picture with that of the open-minded person whose life has been changed. There is a marvelous effect on the disposition of the one who is open-minded through and through. An open-minded person tracks an open-worlded world (to coin a term). He wonders with a world disclosing wonders. He is astonished with the astonishing, amazing by what comes to amaze.

I would like to find my people, these rare open-minded souls.Where are they? Does anyone live Socratically? Do you?

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