Changing One’s Mind

“If someone is able to show me that what I think or do is not right, I will happily change, for I seek the truth, by which no one was ever truly harmed. It is the person who continues in his self-deception and ignorance who is harmed.” – Marcus Aurelius

The most noble pursuit of human life is the search for truth. The difficulty is that the truth is never likely to be found by anyone. Thus, someone that seeks the truth is often put into the situation of having to change their mind on something. This is difficult and uncomfortable. It is uncomfortable because if one changes their mind on something, like some bit of morality, can create guilt about actions taken before the change of mind occurred. Thus, people that are open-minded must always be self-forgiving. The best way to atone for past wrongs is to speak out in favor of the new mindset one has and to do what that new mindset demands.

However, there is a limit to open-mindedness. As Christopher Hitchens put it, “The problem with open-mindedness is that it can become empty-mindedness.” The reason for this is that in matters of principle changing one’s mind too often shows that one has no principles. Certainly, changing one’s mind based on a new argument or, especially, new evidence is important. However, if one has a principle that one views as true and that matches up with the facts one should, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “stand like a rock.”

Perhaps, this shows a semantic difficulty here. It might be that so-called “open-mindedness” means in some people’s minds a simple absence of principle. Therefore, it is dangerous and ruinous to reason. Whereas, to others (including myself), “open-mindedness” means a sort of skepticism towards all ideas. A skepticism that looks at an idea and judges it against reason and against empirical facts. This skepticism is one of the healthiest abilities for the rational actor. To quote Hitchens again, “The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.”

Reason is the chief means by which one can seek the truth. Occasionally, seeking the truth requires abandoning old beliefs that were incorrect. This open-mindedness, or skepticism, is healthy, important, and, at times, painful. Live, learn, reconsider, forgive yourself, seek the truth.

“The only person who is educated is the one who has learned how to learn and change.” – Carl Rogers