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Philosophy as a Necessary Life Skill: Open-Minded Versus Closed-Minded

Regarding belief, I think there are two strategies we can pursue: being open-minded and being close-minded. Sometimes people get moralistic about this, but there is no need to be. Being close-minded is a a strategy that has a lot of advantages. Being close-minded means you are unwilling to subject some of your beliefs to revision. Revising beliefs takes energy and it can provoke anxiety. Also if you are open-minded it can make you less reliable — you could have made a promise to another person or to other members of a community based on certain beliefs, and if you are open-minded you are more likely to break your promise.

The chief drawback of being close-minded is that it doesn’t make it possible for you to adjust your beliefs to changing circumstances. Your set of beliefs worked for you or for your ancestors, but the world changes, and we gain new information. If you are unwilling to revise your beliefs you can get stuck in a sub-optimal pattern of coping with the world, which may ultimately prove fatal, or otherwise drastically impoverish your life and its possibilities.

But being open-minded has its drawbacks. The chief one is that if your mind is open, and you have an internet connection, other people and entities with try to blast garbage into it. This may be well-meaning garbage, or it may be actively evil, in the sense that it has no concern for your own flourishing but is just intended to advance the interests of someone else –a cult, an advertiser, or a political system.

I think philosophy is a life-skill for being open-minded while maintaining one’s balance. It you compare a person to a cell, philosophy is like the selectively permeable membrane. If you compare a person to a body, philosophy is something like the immune system.

Of course we don’t have to make a sweeping decision to be open-minded or close-minded. We can be open-minded in certain contexts and close-minded in others, and we can have some members of our society specialize in being open-minded and others specialize in being close-minded, taking advantage of the natural distribution of temperaments between those who are open to new stimuli and those who are adverse to new stimuli. But if we are going to do that we will at least have to be open-minded on the question of whether to be open-minded or close-minded, and that requires philosophy too.

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10 thoughts on “Philosophy as a Necessary Life Skill: Open-Minded Versus Closed-Minded

  1. I love this post so very much. I studied philosophy and comparative religions at university on a whim because my social sciences major wouldn’t allow me to take my electives in the arts. I met the best people and fell in love with lasting and deep conversations that only having a philosophical outlook on life grants you. It is mind expanding and introspective all at once. The world needs more philosophy and urban philosophers.

  2. I will quote Benoit again if I may:
    “The value of philosophy — the reason why many “amateurs” study it so fervently — is that it reveals a thoughtful, intelligent, and altogether innovative human perspective which promises to change a man’s life forever if properly understood. The change may not be significant in itself, of course, but each new crack in the fortress of a man’s hubris brings with it the possibility of leveling the monstrosity entirely. If philosophy can be said to have any unified goal at all, that aim would be directed at cultivating an intuitive and intellectual openness in man. True philosophy, after all, endows man with a variety of differing points of view about life and encourages the contemplation of those most important aspects of existence. Otherwise, the “love of wisdom” is exposed as a passion for a peculiar kind of vice — the sins of the intellect.”

  3. Sorry, I use his stuff in correspondence about as much as I use Nietzsche or Emerson, but I forget that people don’t really know about him. Emile Benoit is the writer. I quoted him the other day. He’s written “Essays and Aphorisms on the Higher Man” and “The Artistic Perspective”

  4. Thing is, I’m not sure many people are open minded about the ‘meta’ of open mindedness – ie, when they think they are being open minded, they are perhaps in some way actually closed minded.

    In fact it makes sense that the more close minded you are, the less you would be open minded to the idea that you are close minded. In a Dunning-Kruger effect where the less competent you are, the less competent you are at identifying how incompetent you are. Here, the more close minded you are, the less open you are to the idea you’re incredibly close minded!

    Being so very blind to the point where you are sure you see everything (check out Aton’s syndrome)

    Who thinks, when they feel they are being open minded, that possibly, just possibly, just a thin chance maybe, they are being incredibly tiny minded idiots?

    No one, because it takes a pinch of self lothing to do that. A pinch of salt over the shoulder. Somehow, in regular culture, open mindedness always involves realisations which are flattering to oneself.

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