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What Does Fair-Mindedness Require?

First, the basic concept:

Fair-mindedness entails a consciousness of the need to treat all viewpoints alike, without reference to one's own feelings or selfish interests, or the feelings or selfish interests of one's friends, company, community, or nation. It implies adherence to intellectual standards (such as accuracy and sound logic), uninfluenced by one's own advantage or the advantage of one's group.

To be fair-minded is to strive to treat every viewpoint relevant to a situation in an unbiased, unprejudiced way. It entails a consciousness of the fact that we, by nature, tend to prejudge the views of others, placing them into "favorable" (agrees with us) and "unfavorable" (disagrees with us) categories. We tend to give less weight to contrary views than to our own. This is especially true when we have selfish reasons for opposing views. For example, the manufacturers of asbestos advocated its use in homes and schools, and made large profits on its use, even though they knew for many years that the product was carcinogenic. They ignored the viewpoint and welfare of the innocent users of their product. If we can ignore the potentially harmful effects of a product we manufacture, we can reap the benefits that come with large profits without experiencing pangs of conscience. Thus, fair-mindedness is especially important when the situation calls on us to consider the point of view of those who welfare is in conflict with our short-term vested interest.

The opposite of fair-mindedness is intellectual self-centeredness. It is demonstrated by the failure of thinkers to treat points of view that differ significantly from their own by the same standards that they treat their own.

Achieving a truly fair-minded state of mind is challenging. It requires us to simultaneously become intellectually humble, intellectually courageous, intellectually empathetic, intellectually honest, intellectually perseverant, confident in reason (as a tool of discovery and learning), and intellectually autonomous.

Without this family of traits in an integrated constellation, there is no true fair-mindedness. But these traits, singly and in combination, are not commonly discussed in everyday life, and are rarely taught. They are not discussed on television. Your friends and colleagues will not ask you questions about them.

In truth, because they are largely unrecognized, these traits are not commonly valued. Yet each of them is essential to fair-mindedness and the development of critical thinking. Let us see how and why this is so.

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