It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it. – Aristotle

"Look at what I found. I told you it's true. The LOL Cats said so!" Research, you're doing it wrong.

What does that mean?
I’m not sure ‘educated’ is the word I would use (it might be an artifact of the translation), but I would consider it as a measure of how open-minded a person is. Can you think about an idea, roll it around in your head, and consider it? Do you just accept an idea because it sounds interesting, because your friends like it, or someone you trust said it?

In my mind, that is what the quote is about. Someone exposes you to a new idea. Do you reject it out of hand, accept it blindly, or entertain the idea, exploring its strengths, weaknesses, and applicability to the situation? Do you test its merits and adopt it if the new thought works better than your prior thinking?

Why is thoughtful consideration important?  
Have you known people who flit from idea to idea, like butterflies flit from flower to flower? They land briefly, then move on to the next. I’ve known a few, and found it amazing that they wouldn’t (or couldn’t) give each idea a good examination and only adopt those which are more useful than the previous idea.

Perhaps it’s part of the engineering mindset, but I have always tried to see what a new thought, concept, idea, or theory held before jumping on the bandwagon. I try not to approach an idea with pre-conceived notions or prejudices, but to consider the thought on it’s own merits.

In this manner, I hope to find out if the thought is worthy, or just another idea in search of a reason to exist. By examining the thought, one can hope to determine if it makes sense. Sometimes the thought will show itself to be badly flawed or even false, but rarely will we be able to tell if it is true. All that can be done is to test it to the best of our abilities and decide if it is worthy or not.

Where can I apply this in my life?
I don’t know about you, but I try to apply this method to every aspect of my life. Pick a story from the headlines. Does it make sense? What is in the article and what are the facts? Sad to say, but the two are not always the same. Entertain what was written or said, but give it thoughtful consideration.

To do that, I start with some research. If I am familiar with the author, I have an idea what their track record is. I can look for other viewpoints I have grown to trust over the years (either as factually accurate or as having opinions that generally match my own). Then I can start comparing what I presently believe with what my research as found, and adjust my thoughts as indicated.

As an aside, this is part of why I used to love the movie critics Siskel & Ebert. They would review a movie factually, giving the high points and low points. Only at the end would they give their opinions. Being a die-hard action flick aficionado, I would often go to see movies that got two thumbs down, but only because their factual review told me I’d be getting what I desired.

In this manner, their show was a very useful resource for evaluating movies, despite my frequent disagreements with their end valuations. In a similar fashion, I would urge you to develop sources you can trust to get you useful information, even if you disagree with their value call at the end of the day.

The more essential to your beliefs a thought is, the more carefully it should be examined, in my opinion. I was caught off guard a few times in my youth by believing things told to me by (then) trusted people and not doing my own research. Does anyone remember the Global Cooling and coming Ice Age scare of the mid 1970’s?

Since then, I have become a bit more careful about accepting thoughts without first entertaining them for a while (and by that, I mean grilling them mercilessly). Many people, with the advent of the internet, have become a bit more careful to research new ideas. However, that has been counterbalanced by social media, which offers new ideas (and often contradictory ideas) at an astonishingly quick rate.

Only you can decide to accept or reject a new thought or idea. Therefore it is up to you to do the necessary research to confirm the validity of the idea. It also helps in defending the idea later, if you have done your homework, as there will always be people of differing viewpoints.

From: Twitter, @SkepticSheep
confirmed at :
Photo by Barrett.Discovery

On the 7th of March, 322 BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle dies.


About philosiblog

I am a thinker, who is spending some time examining those short twitter quotes in greater detail on my blog.
This entry was posted in belief, contemplation, judgement, question, skepticism, thinking and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.

  1. Bem Kapeace says:

    Good exposition you have here. I’ve been looking for the source of where Aristotle said this – which of his works, and I’ve read quite a bit. Could you be kind enough to refer me to the source (if you have it)?

    • philosiblog says:

      Thanks for reading. I chose quotes that are of interest to me, and can be applied to modern life. My research on the validity of quotes consists mostly of crowd-sourcing via multiple quotes sites. I have not the time, the library, nor the memory to independantly verify each quote. Sorry I cannot be of any more help than that. You might try searching for the qoute (in quotes) along with the word misqoute, and see if anyone has claimed the quote to be from some other source.
      Good luck with your research. And be sure to let us know if it turns out to be from some other source.

      • Bem Kapeace says:

        Thanks … I’ve tried everything! I actually thought of using it in an academic paper, but no success so far. I guess I just have to leave it out. It’s interesting though that no one has said it’s not from him. It could be one of those sayings deduced from something he said.
        Thanks for the reply anyway. I’m grateful

      • philosiblog says:

        It also could be a matter of translation. Perhaps an older version of one of his works, or something translated to some other language before being translated to English.
        Sorry I wasn’t able to help. Have you tried or some of the other crowd-sourcing sites, perhaps someone has a specific citation for you…

      • Bem Kapeace says:

        Someone says it’s in the metaphysics – but I’ve not found it: “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ― Aristotle, Metaphysics.

        Another says it’s also attributed to Vittorio Alfieri besides Aristotle:

        So far, we’ve not made much progress!

    • Hi,

      This is a ‘misquote’. It is not mentioned in any form in any of Aristotle’s survived works. The closest thing resembling this misquote is the following quote from a translation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics:

      “It is the mark of an educated mind to rest satisfied with the degree of precision which the nature of the subject admits and not to seek exactness where only an approximation is possible.”

      The first eight words match the beginning of the spurious quote exactly. In bouncing about the Internet, Aristotle’s own quote has been transmogrified into something quite different that evidently resonates with many people.

      The problem is of course that they don’t mean the same thing.

      • philosiblog says:

        Good catch. I try to do my best to verify or validate a quote before I use it, but plenty have managed to sneak through. The more common misquotes are hardest to debunk, unless you happen to be an expert on the works of that particular person. Thanks for the heads-up.

      • Bem Kapeace says:

        You can’t be too careful … as you rightly said, there is so much! I’m glad you put it up, because now I don’t have to attribute it to Aristotle (“a popular saying” would suffice). On the other hand, I have also come to know that it’s rather quite close (though different) with another saying of Aristotle! Thanks!

      • Bem Kapeace says:

        Immense thanks! I recall that quote in Book I of the Ethics … about people seeking proofs in all things, whereas some subjects do not admit of this. I’m grateful.

  2. Hey! I just wanted to leave a note say I fount it!
    It’s in the third paragraph of the first part of Nicomanchean Ethics.

    The meaning becomes quite different. A very modern interpretation may say “From pure logic you may only get pure logic, and no broader meaning can be got out of it. But from speaking in broader meanings, you cannot get pure logic”

    • philosiblog says:

      Oh well. Such is life. The joy of using ‘accepted’ translations from a century or so ago. Thanks for the info.

    • Bem Kapeace says:

      I’m not sure if what is referred to is different from what Antti Yrjönen pointed out earlier in the discussion … Could you please confirm?

      • philosiblog says:

        I believe that both the comments are about the same passage, but from slightly different translations. The two have slightly different implications, but the original misquote (about which I wrote) bears little resemblance to either. I would imagine if we dug around we could probably find someone who translated the quote into something very close to what I used. Mistranslations happen, and now we are stuck with this one living forever in the inter-webs. Perhaps I will revisit this quote at some point.

        Thanks for asking the question.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s