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Open-Mindedness

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Open-Mindedness

“There exist limitless opportunities in every industry. Where there is an open mind, there will always be a frontier.”

– Charles F. Kettering

What is open-mindedness?


Of the intellectual virtues open-mindedness is probably the most difficult to define because it is very much a moving target. Traditionally, open-mindedness is thought to be possessed when a person sets aside his or her biases so that a judgment can be made free of prior beliefs. For example, if I were to make a judgment about the chances of the St. Louis Cardinals (my favorite baseball team) winning the World Series, in order for me to make this judgment in an open-minded way I would need to try and set aside my thought about the Cardinals.

The difficulty with a view like this one is that contemporary research tells us “setting aside” our biases may be next to impossible (see e.g. Kahneman 2011). It may well turnout to be the case that there is no such thing as being truly “impartial”. All of us view the world through our own unique lenses that have been shaped by experience and nature. Once we acknowledge that our “glasses” are just one pair of many we can be open to the opinions and criticisms of others.

Why is it necessary?

The great American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce cautioned, “Do not block the way of
inquiry.” Pierce knew that a closed mind blocked inquiry. Being dogmatic, inflexible, and overly
confident in the correctness of one’s own opinions are stagnant positions. Gaining openmindedness
needs to be a fundamental goal for someone who wants to be a skilled learner.

The first thing a good student must do is admit that he or she does not know very much, and that what is thought to be known is probably biased by experience. This kind of affirmation swings the
door of inquiry wide-open. The more you admit you do not know, the more information you can
take in. College is about learning to think--to question. This is not something you will be very good at if you think the perspective you have from your early years is good enough.

Someone with an open mind is receptive to the experiences of others. Knowledge will most often come in the aggregate. That is way “crowdsourcing” is now becoming an accepted practice for gathering ideas and other forms of information. With an open-mind, OU can be a constant “crowdsource” for you.