Saturday, 2 September 2006

Minds locked shut?

"I have an open mind." "You have a closed mind."

Do those epithets we hear so often mean anything. I mean, really? Do they? What do they refer to in reality? Does anyone really have a mind so open than anything is welcome? Or (outside religious cults and university philosophy departments) so locked shut it's impervious to logic, persuasion or new ideas?

Aren't these just nasty little catch phrases signifying nothing? Who really wants someone with the "wide open mind" of some politicians? As Howard Devoto used to sing, "My mind, it ain't so open that anything can crawl right in." But neither is it closed to reason or sound argument or new experiences (at least, so I'd like to think.)

The real distinction that the use of these two catch-phrases obscures is not between minds that are either open or closed, but between minds that are either active or passive. That is a real distinction that's worth observing.

For the passive mind, everything new or challenging is a threat. But to the active mind, a mind as Ayn Rand says, "able and eagerly willing to examine ideas, but to examine them critically," every challenge is an opportunity either to discover something new, or to strengthen your convictions by clarifying and rejecting false ideas.

Wouldn't we all like to say we have an active mind? Wouldn't we?

LINK: 'The Active Mind' - originally from the article 'Philosophic Detection' in the book Philosophy: Who Needs It?, and excerpted at this link.

RELATED: Ethics, Blog, Objectivism, Philosophy


  1. Of course. It's just another lame line of "argument" used to bash people with a differing opinion. If I don't give credence to some whackadoo notion that aliens from Jupiter were behind 9/11, then I'm "closed-minded."

  2. "For the passive mind, everything new or challenging is a threat."


    Here's a guy who's got to be, what? 6'1", 6'2 -- He's not someone who is getting pushed around in bars, and yet any opinion which differs from his own sends him straight to the fainting couch.

    Good irony this post. Well done that man.

  3. Yeah. I just have a closed mind, I guess. ;^)

  4. One's mind can be "actively" dogmatic and uncritical. So I'm sticking with the term "open-minded", as explicated here in terms of being open to new reasons/evidence. (I certainly do agree with you that there's nothing to be said for being open to nonsense, i.e. "open-mindlessness".)

    But what's with the silly dig at "university philosophy departments"? My previous comments should have convinced you that you've been misinformed about them. Your continued low opinion of them seems to indicate a close-mindedness (or intellectual "passivity", if you prefer) of the damnable kind.


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