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The Intellectual Virtues: Fair-mindedness

Lisa Eekhoff| November 5, 2019

Keep an Open Mind

Sometimes, in order to understand something we must first understand what it is not.  This may be particularly helpful as we consider the intellectual virtue of fair-mindedness.

There is a significant push in modern culture toward the acceptance and validation of every idea and belief.  We often refer to this philosophy as relativism. And though it can present itself as open-minded thinking, it is actually often the exact opposite.  

“A relativistic view of truth can not only hinder learning, but at times make it impossible.  Because this belief assumes that many things are not objectively knowable, searching for truth becomes meaningless.”

A relativistic view of truth can not only hinder learning, but at times make it impossible.  Because this belief assumes that many things are not objectively knowable, searching for truth becomes meaningless.  Not only will students become gullible, falling for each new idea presented without any critical evaluation at all, but they will also fail to recognize truth when it stands in front of them.

One practicing virtuous fair-mindedness, on the other hand, earnestly seeks to know truth and is willing to listen to differing opinions, even when these stand in contrast to one’s own firmly held views on a subject.

In order to put themselves in another’s shoes and see things from a fresh viewpoint, students must necessarily put a desire for the truth above their own egos and opinions. The humility required for this practice is great, but so is the reward.

The one who truly achieves this virtue is able to free himself from the trap of unexamined assumptions.

“Students must put a desire for the truth above their own egos and opinions. The humility required for this practice is great, but so is the reward.”

He is willing to consider several possible explanations for the evidence he finds. He becomes an excellent listener, honoring those he meets through a genuine interest in what the other has to say. And he encourages critique of his work because he understands that when the flaws in his own thinking are revealed, he takes one step closer to the truth.

About the Author: Lisa Eekhoff is the principal at Covenant Classical School in Naperville, IL.

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