Openness Part 1
Granted, many people have not been taught how to think critically. It is far more difficult to avoid fallacious reasoning and logical fallacies if you are not even aware of what they are and the need to avoid them. This problem can be corrected through education. However, there is another more significant problem which can not be eliminated by education alone.
This problem occurs when one is simply not teachable.
Everyone has their opinions and believes that they have good reasons for the opinions they hold. Yet while some are open to considering differing points of view, there are others that simply are not. When someone is not open to changing their mind, it can often result in that individual not taking their opponent’s argument seriously.
After all, if someone has already made up his mind and will not consider changing it, he may not go to the trouble of offering good reasons for rejecting someone else’s position. It is important to give good reasons for one’s beliefs and opinions. If a person won’t consider the possibility that he could be wrong, that person may not even be motivated to learn how to defend his own beliefs. Being overly-confident in one’s position therefore could lead to logical fallacies. On the other hand, someone who is open to changing their mind will be willing to look at what challenges them.
Most people are not going to state bluntly that they won’t even consider the possibility that they could be mistaken, and more often, they will make statements that imply that they are not willing to change their minds. Consider the following two examples:
Sara says, “I think that Tom has a good argument in favor of limited government as opposed to big government. We need to listen to and evaluate what Tom says.”
Jack responds, “Look, Tom is a Republican. We are Democrats and have always been Democrats, as were our parents and grandparents. What could we possibly learn from the Republicans?”
In this example, it is apparent that Jack believes he has nothing to learn from Republicans. Jack’s statement is another way of saying that he is not open to considering the possibility that a Republican may believe something correct, and that he himself might believe something that is incorrect. Thus, it should come as no surprise that his statement is a classical appeal to tradition fallacy—that is, saying something is true because many have always believed it to be true.
To see this how this works in religious circles, substitute Catholics for Republicans and Baptists for Democrats. In this case, Jack would be saying that Baptists have already got the correct beliefs and that those beliefs have passed the test of time to the point that Baptists have nothing at all to learn from Catholics. Not being willing to change one’s mind indeed can make one more likely to commit logical fallacies.
Mitch says, “I think there are good philosophical and scientific arguments in support of the theory that there are multiple universes. I know those who believe otherwise have their reasons, but I think the philosophical and scientific arguments in support of multiple universes are much more powerful.”
Barbara says, “I don’t want to discuss this. I have heard all of these arguments before, and they have all been rebutted. I certainly am not very interested in hearing them again.”
The problem here is that Barbara mistakenly thinks that because the previous arguments in favor of multiple universes have been rebutted, she does not need to take give the theory any more consideration. Barbara seems to have closed her mind to new input. However, the fact remains that history has shown that many scientific theories initially were not accepted but later were embraced.
Take heliocentrism and continental drift as two examples. In the time of Plato, it was a given that geocentrism was true. Likewise, scientists at one point believed that the theory of continental drift was incredible. Nevertheless, both heliocentrism and continental drift were later proven true. So is it a mistake to refuse to look at and consider new scientific data because past arguments for a theory have been refuted. The same can be said for philosophical arguments.
Ultimately, being closed to new input is a mistake because if someone holds a belief that is, in fact, true, then their belief can always survive criticism and scrutiny. When someone is unwilling to subject their beliefs to scrutiny and to consider the possibility that they could be mistaken, it is difficult to have an open dialogue with them.
The bottom line here is that we must all be open to changing our minds.