Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Quotation for Today

When I was writing my February 5th post about ideological conformity I had a quotation in the back of my mind. It did not make the final cut, and perhaps that means that it is worth its own post.

The quote is from Aristotle: "It is the mark of an educated mind to entertain a thought without accepting it."

When faced with a new thought, an educated mind will show it full consideration and respect. The same would apply to thoughts that contradict deeply held beliefs.

An educated mind does not dismiss certain thoughts as heresy or blasphemy. It does not launch ad hominem attacks on the person who has presented the thoughts.

But what does it mean to entertain a thought? I would guess that it means the same thing as to entertain a person.

You invite a thought over for drinks, you engage it in conversation, you listen attentively to its argument, and then you decide whether you want it to stay for dinner or even to sleep over.

Before you decide to disagree, you show the thought the proper hospitality.

If you do not, then you have an arrogant and grandiose confidence in your own mind. For Aristotle this would have classed you among the uneducated.

Without respect for differing opinions you cannot have a "free trade in ideas."

As its author, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes defined this concept: "But when men have realized that time has upset many fighting faiths, they may come to believe ... that the ultimate good desired is best reached by the free trade in ideas... that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market...."

If we have decided to oppose protectionist trade policies, we should also oppose protectionism when it concerns the free trade in ideas. If you need to protect your ideas from competition, they are probably not worth their keep.

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