General Question

DominicX's avatar

How far does being "open-minded" go?

Asked by DominicX (28762points) August 30th, 2010

Where do you draw the line between open-mindedness and foolishness?

Essentially, this question was inspired by me being accused of being close-minded because I don’t believe people who believe they are part animal actually are. “Just be more open-minded” I’m told.

In order to be “open-minded” are we to reject scientific principles and accept things that lack evidence? Are we just supposed to accept everyone’s experiences and interpretations of those experiences fact because they said so? Where is the line drawn?

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47 Answers

iamthemob's avatar

I don’t think there’s a need to commit to their way of thinking in order to be open minded. I’m more than happy to use the “assuming that’s true” tactic if I can’t agree with what someone’s saying in order to figure out where their thought processes are coming from. If they keep on showing you that they’re unwilling to provide you with explanations for their assumptions, and refuse to accept any propositions on your part…well…I just get tired, and that’s how far it goes with me.

Coloma's avatar

As far as it can without involving anything illegal, immoral or harmful to others.

Take money for an example….between myself and 3 friends we have each chosen to spend a lot of money on different things in different ways.
I chose to take a two year life sabbatical and travel, another chose to ‘invest’ in cosmetic surgeries, another chose to buy a luxury car.

No right or wrong dichotomy, just different strokes for different folks.

All of us have our opinions about the others choices but remain open minded as who the hell is anyone to ever determine whats really right or wrong for another, minus the aforementioned criteria.

Disc2021's avatar

It definitely has it’s limitations – to me, someone who is closed-minded is someone who is locked into one way of thinking (self-righteous) and quick to write off people who are different then them as insane, backwards or somehow inferior. Being open-minded would be the opposite – you generally don’t judge people too critically and you dont regard yourself as some sort of higher power, “all knowing” figure.

No, it doesn’t mean you have to abandon scientific principles or common, basic logic or any of your own intelligent viewpoints. I think someone who doesn’t have an opinion or a mindless drone who goes along with whatever they’re told is more foolish than “open-minded”.

iamthemob's avatar

It’s kind of funny, though, that the question here and the posts so far are arguably based on the premise that in situations where we are dealing with these people, they’re wrong about us.

Isn’t that kind of closed-minded? :-)

Response moderated (Unhelpful)
Hawaii_Jake's avatar

My dictionary says that a synonym for open-minded is unprejudiced. It’s quite possible to be unprejudiced while still holding to a set of principles. I can be open-minded about the treatment people in prison should receive and at the same time believe that lawbreakers should be sent to prison.

Open-mindedness does not mean I believe in total relativity of all morals. Some things are wrong. Murder is wrong. Rape is wrong. As a society, we have a set of laws to govern many varieties of behavior. On the whole, this is a good thing.

We also have laws which protect the less fortunate, the under-represented, and those unable to articulate for themselves. These are allowed because of open-mindedness.

Open-mindedness arises from principles such as freedom of speech and religion.

I want to write more, but I’ve got to move on with my day and do other things.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

My mind is open up until the point I think something is more harm than good.

Coloma's avatar

It’s all about challenging beliefs, which are nothing more than programming, conditioning. As long as one is able to look at WHY they believe what they believe, whether it is in the financial realm, sexual realm, lifestyle realm, religious/spiritual realm, whatever…the ability to entertain, at the very least, that there are infinite ways of doing things, lifestyle choices, and that very little is truly able to be segregated into black & white polarities.

DrBill's avatar

Open-minded is not the same as go for anything, open minded is being open to new ideas, not that you have to accept them.

no one can be part animal, as the DNA is not compatable and will not create offspring.

phoebusg's avatar

My sense for open-minded, or the way I am open-minded…

It is to consider a position and view-point truthfully. Walk up to it, without emotional attachments to your favorite viewpoints. See if you can see what they see from where it leads you. The thoughts leading up to it. So you’ve truly considered it – does it compute? If no, it’s not being any less open-minded if you cannot share that view or find the calculation otherwise than someone else.

Positions have a lot of underlying structures. Each of which has its own. Often there’s is many differences in the underlying structures and the path that lead one to that point. Can you see the viewpoint? If not, can you emulate some of the positions so at least you can see how they got to see it?

You don’t have to share it—so long you are able to see it.

iamthemob's avatar

@phoebusg version of open-mindedness is a strategic approach. First, you try to determine how they came to believe what they believe. Then, you can determine whether you accept that as a solid premise and see how it affects your position. If it’s unsound, if you feel that the position is dangerous (e.g., leads to some form of religious fanaticism), you already know which structures to start attacking to make it all fall down.

Fyrius's avatar

I think you’re approaching the issue the wrong way. Open-mindedness is a property of your methods to arrive at a conclusion, it’s not a property of conclusions.
The idea is that you start out with an open mind, which is to say being objective and disregarding preconceptions; you gather information and evidence and evaluate the ideas, and then eventually it leads you to conclude that furries are wankers who take themselves too seriously. If you follow that approach honestly, you can end up with the same ideas and yet no one can accuse you of being closed-minded. Except unfoundedly.

So, to answer your question: you should initially be open-minded about anything, until you’ve gathered enough information to reach a conclusion. This is not dependent on the subject.

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iamthemob's avatar


I don’t know if what you propose is even possible. When are you sure that you have enough information to make your conclusion? Considering that the issues that require an open-minded approach (I’m talking about the more metaphysical ones) aren’t really going to have objectively provable right answers, it seems that this approach would just lead to unending information gathering. We have to come to conclusions in these scenarios…we also, however, should be open to changing the conclusion when presented with new evidence…

Fyrius's avatar

Dang, you beat me to it. Hahaha.
Well, partially. Our main points are the same, I think.

A note of caution, though: if you look mostly at what reasons people have for believing what they believe, you’re at risk of falling prey to the ad hominem fallacy. That is to say, this approach tends to make people conclude “person A believes P for reason R, but reason R is wrong, therefore P is (probably) false.” You’d need to carefully remember that people can also be right for the wrong reasons.

Fyrius's avatar

You’re right; you’d need to make an ubiased judgement about when you have enough information, and it’s difficult to be unbiased about that.
Well, no one said being rational was easy. ;)

As for the irresolvability of metaphysical issues: I don’t know about that, it often isn’t as impossible to find a right answer as it seems, if you take a scientific-pragmatic approach rather than a classical philosophical one. I think.
Anyway, this thread is about evaluating fringe and crackpot beliefs, beliefs that are just new and unknown and not necessarily so complicated that centuries’ worth of philosophers have already broken their brains over it. That’s what I wrote about.

Changing conclusions when presented with new evidence is good, but if the new evidence is sufficiently similar to the old evidence not to surprise you, which it usually is, then it won’t be necessary. If the new evidence is really something completely unexpected instead, then it’s time to consider changing your mind.
And for that, the same method might be useful; to erase the conclusion, add the new evidence to the old and evaluate the lot again, and then see where that ends you up.

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iamthemob's avatar


I feel like I’m getting semantic about this…but I don’t think you can say the scientific approach brings you to the right answer….I think it can generate the best answer, but such answer can be infinitely refined. Of course, practically, the difference between the “best” and “right” answers, if the best is really good enough, may not be observable.

phoebusg's avatar

@iamthemob I mostly agree. But given the often limited understanding of the observers, there can be simultaneous best answers. Each holding within bits of the right answer. Which is only – to most things an ideation and something to strive for.

iamthemob's avatar

Which is why I think figuring out how to be appropriately open minded matters! More information, presented in the appropriate way…is the only way to get enough info to get this best answer, right?

Katexyz's avatar

Open mindedness does not mean agreement, it means a willingness to listen and truly consider the information. While naturally not everyone will think the same way or agree on the all points, everyone can, and should, honestly listen to and consider what someone is saying before determining what they will say, believe, or do.

Fyrius's avatar

I suppose that’s also a fair point. Perhaps I shouldn’t say “the right answer”. (Although it would certainly be easier to know whether or not there is a right answer if I knew what sort of subject you have in mind.)
Nonetheless, just knowing which possibility is most likely to be true given what we know at present seems like a good enough criterion for deciding what to believe, what to take seriously and what to point and laugh and make weird faces at.

Ben_Dover's avatar

You are right. People are not part animal. We are completely animals.

There are only animal, mineral and vegetables…as such, people are animals. Unless you are a vegetable.

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laureth's avatar

Open-minded: Considering the ideas of others without prejudice.
Foolish: Accepting them automatically as true (or false, or good, or bad) without prejudice.

RomanExpert's avatar

Anything that is illegal, immoral, or harmful to others is clearly out of the context of “open mindedness”. @DominicX Tell ‘em to smoke another one.

iamthemob's avatar


I’m not sure what you’re saying – but I don’t think that illegality negates open mindedness, and immorality requires an objective moral field for everyone…so…what exactly are you referring to here.

YARNLADY's avatar

To me, open minded means willing to consider all the possibilities.
Foolish means willing to accept information or actions as having positive or negative value without considering the possibilities and consequences.

It’s getting harder and harder to be open minded in respect to free speech. I recently read that a false accusation would be allowed to stand because it is a ‘free speech’ issue. A similar response has been made for speech that is potentially harmful or detrimental, yet allowed under the ‘free speech’ clause.

cookieman's avatar

My open-mindedness ends where the facts begin. When someone eschews logic and known fact and demands I “just believe” I tend to check-out.

If they’re polite about it, I’ll simply say, “It’s great that you believe that, I just have a hard time with it.”

However, if they insist I believe or see it their way or criticize my lack of belief, I have no problem saying, “I think your perspective is insane. Now drop the subject.”

LostInParadise's avatar

Just out of curiosity, what do these people mean when they say they are part animal? Certainly they do not mean this in a literal sense. There are some who say there was cross breeding between humans and Neanderthals, but that is about the limit of our ability to do interspecies breeding.

laureth's avatar

@LostInParadise – It means they see the animal kingdom as inclusive of human animals, I believe. Idon’t know where the “part” comes from.

@YARNLADY: Re: Free speech – the way the First Amendment is worded, Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech. It doesn’t mean that anyone can just say any old thing anytime and anyplace with no fear of reprisal. No matter what you say, there are still repercussions.

As Benjamin Franklin said,

But since so much has been written and published on the federal Constitution, and the necessity of checks in all other parts of good government has been so clearly and learnedly explained, I find myself so far enlightened as to suspect some check may be proper in this part also; but I have been at a loss to imagine any that may not be construed an infringement of the sacred liberty of the press. At length, however, I think I have found one that, instead of diminishing general liberty, shall augment it; which is, by restoring to the people a species of liberty, of which they have been deprived by our laws, I mean the liberty of the cudgel. In the rude state of society prior to the existence of laws, if one man gave another ill language, the affronted person would return it by a box on the ear, and, if repeated, by a good drubbing; and this without offending against any law. But now the right of making such returns is denied, and they are punished as breaches of the peace; while the right of abusing seems to remain in full force, the laws made against it being rendered ineffectual by the liberty of the press.

My proposal then is, to leave the liberty of the press untouched, to be exercised in its full extent, force, and vigor; but to permit the liberty of the cudgel to go with it pari passu. Thus, my fellow-citizens, if an impudent writer attacks your reputation, dearer to you perhaps than your life, and puts his name to the charge, you may go to him as openly and break his head. If he conceals himself behind the printer, and you can nevertheless discover who he is, you may in like manner way-lay him in the night, attack him behind, and give him a good drubbing. Thus far goes my project as to private resentment and retribution. But if the public should ever happen to be affronted, as it ought to be, with the conduct of such writers, I would not advise proceeding immediately to these extremities; but that we should in moderation content ourselves with tarring and feathering, and tossing them in a blanket. (Source)

In other words, if someone uses his Freedom of Speech or of the Press to spread lies about you, you ought to have the “Liberty of the Cudgel” to show him what repercussion means. ;)

Nullo's avatar

I take open-mindedness to mean that I’ll listen to what you have to say, and consider it, and weigh it against my own values, beliefs, tendencies, etc. but ultimately use my own judgment.

More often than not, people who accuse you of being closed-minded are, in fact, complaining that you don’t think like they do.

My most recent bout with open-mindedness led me to the realization that there is a pretty good case for dividing humanity into races on the basis of gross phenotypical differences, much as we do cats and dogs and cows and horses and chickens and ducks and geese and so on.

@DominicX Welcome, by the way, to the Discriminator’s Club! We’re very discriminating. :P

Dewey420's avatar

@iamthemob re: @RomanExpert “Anything that is illegal, immoral, or harmful to others is clearly out of the context of “open mindedness”.

I think that’s what he was saying.. like cocaine used to be legal and now it’s banned.. pots illegal and will be legal again one day (hopefully). That is being “closed minded” about a thing. Homosexuality is considered immoral by some. also closed minded (out of the context of open minded-ness).. and just for the sake of talking about pot again.. weed is considered “harmful” also, gateway drug and what-knot..but to a cancer patient it could be the only thing between living a happy life and dieing miserably.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

Fact from fiction, truth from diction. I think open-mindedness goes as deep as the logic it can support. I would not down shoot any ideal if it has a logical ability to be plausible if not possible. I try my best to rule my leaning off logic and not emotion even stuff I really fine to my agreement. in any side there is a bottom core of logic than cannot be disputed no matter who likes it or not. Many times open-mindedness can run afoul of religion, but so long as you know you are leaning or distancing yourself by that criteria, then that is what it is. To shoot something down because you simply don’t like it is not great or the way to view things.

Dewey420's avatar

I’m very open-minded, until something effects me negatively.

Seek's avatar

I’m a late-comer to the conversation but…

“There is such a thing as being so open-minded your brains drop out.” – Richard Dawkins.

I’d say I have an open mind, with a protective sieve covering, to filter out the bullshit. People referring to themselves as “part dolphin” would indeed not pass the bullshit filter.

TexasDude's avatar

Like @Seek_Kolinahr, I ascribe to the belief that it is possible to be so open minded your brains fall out. I believe that I am open minded, yet principled. I am extremely un-authoritarian, but that doesn’t mean that I will accept anyone and everyone’s behavior. For instance, I am not going to be “open minded” and say something like “pedophiles are just misunderstood!” or “if someone hugged a terrorist, they would stop being a terrorist!”

I think a better way of putting this is that I’m open minded about anything that I have deemed and my value system has deemed to be harmless. I’ll gladly embrace people of all sexualities (that involve consent), all races, and all religions, and even political backgrounds as long as they leave me alone and don’t directly harm anyone else. That said, I’ll still stand by my personal principles and values, and that’s the sum of my level of “open mindedness.”

Nullo's avatar

@Seek_Kolinahr You think the dolphin thing is wacky? Check out otherkin.

Dewey420's avatar

Since dolphins are supposedly smarter than humans..I wonder if anyone ever says “They’re smart as a dolphin.”

TexasDude's avatar

@Dewey420, dolphins aren’t quantifiably smarter than humans.

Seek's avatar


I probably could have been considered as one of those whackos while I was in high school, though it was more an alter-ego than a true identification. I do know one person (a friend of my husband’s) who took too much acid, never came down, and now literally lives Dungeons and Dragons.

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

In the case you present, the plea for open-mindedness is simply one for acceptance. You don’t have to think people who believe they’re part-animals are correct, but you do have to let them believe so about themselves because that’s what they chose to believe. You don’t expect me as an atheist to think all religious people fools, do you? Then you can’t think the same of others.

iamthemob's avatar


I think that’s actually a more dangerous way of putting it (re: I’m open minded about anything that I have deemed and my value system has deemed to be harmless), if you’re saying that’s what it SHOULD be and not what it GENERALLY IS. If you’re saying that that’s what it generally comes down to, though, then I think you’re spot on.

If that’s an idealized framework, though, I feel that’s the opposite of open-mindedness. The stop point of it is where your value system puts it. However, the more important aspect of open-mindedness is that it allows contrary viewpoints of information in to determine whether your value system has brought you to the correct conclusions. If it does, you can incorporate it. If not, you need to reevaluate your system and its assumptions.

I’ll use an extreme example, and start off by emphasizing that I do not support pedopilia. However, I need to incorporate pedophiliac’s arguments into my system in order to see if I’m disapproving in the right way or if it’s correct at all. Therefore, I consider that historically, it was accepted in ancient times. However, so was a lot of stuff, so that’s really a non-starter unless you determine WHY it was accepted, and WHETHER that was beneficial. Also, arguments against homosexuality derived from the bible are actually regarding pederasty (older men, younger boys), and often as it was associated with ritualistic temple behavior. Therefore, cultures have also considered it historically harmful.

However, they argue that the boys are willing participants. Can I say this is wrong? I can’t. Why not? It’s not because of how they would argue it – and I think they would bring in the child’s sexual desire. A standard value-based argument against that is that children need to be protected from sexual predators because they don’t know and shouldn’t be exposed to sexual behavior. Partial truth. But it’s dangerous…because children ARE sexual. I know this because I remember having sexual desires when I was young (and I think that I wasn’t the only one “playing doctor” at an early age). The standard position protects children from SEX. Rather, let’s admit that they are hedonistic, and teach them what that is, what it means, and when it’s appropriate…

…therefore, I say that I think pedophilia is a morally corrupt practice because the POWER dynamic between partners is harmful. It is too dangerous because the influence the adult has over the child will not allow the child to stand up for their own rights. And the physical danger is extreme. So we take it out of the “desire is sick” sphere and put it in the “relationship is harmful” sphere. You can’t get to this unless you start looking, and analyzing or assuming true, some of the viewpoints from the counter-party.

TexasDude's avatar

@iamthemob, I should have probably added what my actual value system is to my previous answer to clarify: I believe that you should be able to do what ever the hell you want as long as all parties consent, are capable of consent, and you don’t infringe upon the rights of others to do the same. Make sense now?

iamthemob's avatar


Personally, I like that (it gets rid of a lot of U.S. laws regarding morality that deal with only how one or two consenting adults deal with themselves). It’s how I approach it, and generally have.

Though I don’t think you should have said that first, since I think you made a valid point above about how people generally behave and think of it as open mindedness. I just wasn’t sure if you ascribed to that belief. :-)

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

@iamthemob I’ll use an extreme example, and start off by emphasizing that I do not support pedopilia. However, I need to incorporate pedophiliac’s arguments into my system in order to see if I’m disapproving in the right way or if it’s correct at all. I think your whole answer had a lot of iron in it though most would not get it I feel. I think people confuse open-mindedness with tolerance, since in many ways you have to be open-minded to something to even be tolerant of it. Pedophiles and pedophilia being one of those areas where people tow the community line even though many have no ideal what it really is or how it works because all they ever see of it is TV dramas or the news. So they think it is more of a total menace to society than drunk drivers. I would put general knowledge of it with what people know of Wicca, Voodoo, B&D, S&M, or savantism; they go much by what is portrayed in media.

A standard value-based argument against that is that children need to be protected from sexual predators because they don’t know and shouldn’t be exposed to sexual behavior. Yet strangely enough they are exposed to sexual behavior in the 3rd party by TV, music, boobs, and friends. Sex is used to sell everything from bum, breath mint, eye classes, to burgers. Kids at a young age learn that if you are someone you get sex, if you are some unpopular geek you hope for a slow dance where you cream your pants. It boils down to not if they are exposed to sexuality just the type and by whom.

And the physical danger is extreme. So we take it out of the “desire is sick” sphere and put it in the “relationship is harmful” sphere. You can’t get to this unless you start looking, and analyzing or assuming true, some of the viewpoints from the counter-party. The physical danger to a child is great concerning alcohol and the road, and not just the child but the child’s whole family. But most tend not to see this danger as a whole because they don’t want to expand their mind far enough to see that logical conclusion. Many people want to drink because they feel it will enhance whatever experience. No one wants to take the fun away so they will be more open to alcohol even if it is a de facto danger to people who had nothing to do with the drinker. Because many feel they will lose their freedom to go drink or get drunk they tolerate the mayhem that comes by way of alcohol and vehicles. By default they (who support drinking or who drink) have to be more open-minded to it before they can be tolerant of it.

To be truly open-minded to anything you have to be willing to see it as plausible even if it is not always possible, especially in areas where it might be theory or conjecture and there is no hard evidence of it or the logic (based on known physics) is not stretched too far as to be fantasy.

If people really embraced what you said with an open-mind then they can see the logic in most of what you said, even if they could never tolerate it.

iamthemob's avatar


Do you mean irony? If so, I don’t know…there was actually more earnesty I think, given your responses…but let’s see if we’re on the same page and I’m misreading you. I TOTALLY agree on the confusion between “open-mindedness” and “tolerance” though…so if you’re saying THAT’S where the irony is…then yeah…well put.

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