Changing Your Mind: Virtue or Vice?
Is changing your mind a matter of virtue or vice? Sometimes having intellectual humility comes across as “you shouldn’t have strong beliefs.” But that’s psychologically impossible. Everyone has convictions. But how open are you to carefully and rationally considering contrary beliefs? Are you willing to listen, understand, and even entertain the possibility that what they believe is true?
I like this idea of exploring changing one’s mind. And it really is one of those, perhaps indicators, of intellectual humility. Just how likely are we to entertain positions that are opposed to our own? Whether that comes in the form of perspective taking, or maybe even just entertaining arguments from the other side. I do this exercise with my philosophy students. I say, tell me what you think about issue X and have them discuss it for a little bit amongst themselves. And then I say, okay now stop, negate your own position and argue for the exact opposite. And you just hear these audible groans. [laughter] And rightly so because, well, that’s what we believe. We find ourselves believing a particular thing. Changing one’s mind, though, is seen as a virtue sometimes. Sometimes, especially in politics, it’s seen as a vice. What do you make of this idea of changing one’s mind as an indicator for intellectual humility and how can we help others appropriately be open to this idea of changing one’s mind?
Yeah, well I do include that, so when I assess intellectual humility, I include that as one of the component parts. So I see that as part of the definition of being intellectually humble. You know, we can also think of it as open mindedness in general, which is a similar construct.
Sure, yeah it’s connected, the human–
Yeah, and I think it’s an individual difference. I think that’s something that some people are more prone to doing than other people. And as you mentioned, sometimes we see that as a great strength, but sometimes we see people as being wishy-washy or being weak when they change their minds. But I really think that it is a strength. And that’s an individual difference and that no one is always going to be open to that. And no one is always going to, it can cut both ways, so we gotta see what is someone’s characteristic way of being?
I think that sometimes in our discussion of humility, it can kinda come across as we shouldn’t have strong beliefs. You shouldn’t have convictions about something.
Evan: Yeah, how can we be humble about our convictions?
Yeah, yeah, and I don’t think that humility means that. I think that you still, we have to have beliefs. We have to have convictions in order to make sense of the world. I mean, it’s our lens, it creates coherency to our understanding of the world. This seems to be right. The question is, how open are you if there are compelling arguments, if there are compelling reasons that are justified. Other equally intelligent, maybe even is some cases, more intelligent people who have a different way of understanding and seeing. And how open are you to even considering that? I think that, not that you’ll necessarily change.
But it’s the openness to other information that I think is the key marker or indicator of humility. So, in the area for pastors and other religious individuals, Christians, you have beliefs. And those beliefs drive your faith. Are you not even willing to even listen to somebody who might have a different belief? If you’re in discussion with that person, are you only thinking about what your answer is going to be? And I think that would be an indication of perhaps low humility. Doesn’t mean that you have to be convinced by that other person, but that you are willing to consider.
And it seems like a close mindedness like that can even be an inhibitor to seeking the truth.