Many would say that the close-minded individual is one who is not willing to consider different ideas or opinions. Dictionary definitions denote close-mindedness as being firmly and stubbornly unreceptive to new ideas or arguments, hard to convince, rigid in opinion, narrow in outlook, and not tolerant of the beliefs or opinions of others. Some would suggest that, with this in mind, we are all close-minded to a degree because at least some of these traits could be applied to ourselves. It is unlikely that we could ever be fully neutral and objective in our analysis of claims, evidence, and arguments. It is also unlikely that we could ever fully free ourselves of our biases which often influence our decisions. With this definition in mind, it is possible to outline several sure signs that we are in fact being close-minded:
1. Unwilling to provide a fair representation of an opponent’s ideological views
When one fails to exercise fairness and charity when critiquing the beliefs of ideological opponents it can often be a sign of one of two things. On one hand it could be that one is ignorant of the ideology he or she attempts to critique, and wrongly attributes beliefs to proponent’s of the ideology in question. A good rule of thumb is learn first, critique later, after all, one can make himself look foolish if he or she ignorantly critiques an ideology only to come up against a well verse proponent of the ideology in question. On the other hand, it can be a sign of dishonesty. Where the latter is concerned, the individual renders a caricature of an opponent’s beliefs. Why? Often because caricatures are easier to dismantle than the actual belief itself, and because the individual has no intention of being fair. He or she might possess such a motivation or agenda against an ideology that he would use any criticism to undermine it, irrespective of the strengths of the criticism or the thoughtful responses made to the criticisms by proponents of an ideology.
2. Unwilling to admit the challenges to one’s own ideological views
Many would argue that no ideology, philosophy, or theology is without its own set of challenges. By challenge one means a fact about the world that can threaten to undermine the truth claims of an ideology. A challenge is not necessarily a defeater of an ideology, but it can become one if a skeptic can formulate the challenge into an argument with a conclusion that logically follows. If a proponent of an ideology wishes to show why the challenge is not a defeater of his view he is required to respond to the argument. Nonetheless, an openness to admitting the challenges to one’s own ideology is a sign that she is open to dialogue and following evidence where it leads. Being transparent about these challenges is also more amenable to dialogue and interaction with others. Few people want to have a discussion with a closed minded person.
3. Unwilling to change, alter, or reject previously held beliefs in hindsight of new evidence
A belief should be proportionate to the evidence in favour of it, or, at minimum, people should consider evidence when forming beliefs. The problem is that some individuals have insulated their ideological views to such an extent that it becomes immune to evidence. Someone might even selectively choose evidence to support their views while ignoring swaths of counter evidence which suggests otherwise. There also might have been a time when a belief could be sustained because no current evidence had contradicted it. However, if one is really in pursuit of truth then one should value evidence and reject, alter, or change beliefs accordingly. Individuals who follow the evidence where it leads and often at a great cost (which may result in them changing worldviews and facing alienation or persecution from those who they initially sided with ideologically) are those who show promising signs of being open-minded. This is not necessarily always the case but it often the sign that it is.
4. Becoming angry and agitated when challenged
Close-minded people may become angry and agitated when another individual challenges their views. This might be because they are so committed to their own views that they have elevated them beyond the category of critique and contention. Alternatively, they might even be aware that their deeply held views do not stand up to honest critique and thus when someone does criticize those beliefs the appropriate response is to lash out or threaten the other. To the contrary, people who are open-minded often often see disagreement in a positive light. For example, disagreement can be a thoughtful means of expanding one’s own knowledge and learning about the views of others, and they often admit that they have things to learn. The Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates is a good example. Obviously a gifted in intellect, who many today credit as the founder of western philosophy, Socrates’ method was simply to dialogue on philosophical questions (such as “beauty,” “the good,” and “piety”) with Athenians in public spaces while being fully aware of his own lack of understanding. He did show other Athenians where he thought their views were illogical or absurd through reason but he approached them with a willingness to learn and a humility in what he himself knew. The open-minded individual is thus willing to change his mind when someone else knows something he or she doesn’t.