Fair Minded Critical Thinking Definition Beliefs

Justice as Fairness Gained Through Wisdom, Truth and Knowledge

Fair-mindedness entails a conscious effort to treat all viewpoints alike, without reference to one’s own feelings or self-interests, or the feelings of others, such as a friend or organization. Fairness is the underlying element of the philosophical concept of justice. Aristotle defined it more than 2,000 years ago: “equals should be treated equally and unequals unequally.” In other words, individuals should be treated the same unless they differ in ways that are relevant to the situation in which they are involved. For example, if two employees are being considered for a promotion, the final decision should be based on merit without introducing any bias or favoritism.

The problem with the standard definition of justice is in determining which criteria are morally relevant to distinguish between those who are equal and those who are not. It can be a difficult theory to apply in business if, for example, the CEO of a company decides to allocate a larger share of resources than warranted (justified), based on the results of operations, to one product line over another to promote that operation because it is judged to have more long-term expansion and income potential.

In such situations, it is important to consider the possible reaction of the manager in charge of the operation getting fewer resources but producing equal or better results. In other words, to walk in the shoes of that manager. She may believe that her operation (herself) has not been treated fairly. On the other hand, it could be said that the other manager deserves to receive a larger share of the resources because of the long-term potential of that other product line. That is, the product lines are not equal; the former deserves more resources because of its greater upside potential.

What does it mean to be intellectually fair-minded? In his book, Virtuous Minds, Philip Dow makes the case that there is a good deal of confusion about this trait. Many people wrongly equate intellectual fair-mindedness with some sort of relativism: fair-mindedness is in the eyes of the beholder.

While it is true that we should be open to new or different ideas and ways of thinking, this is not the same as the belief that all claims are equally valuable or worthy of acceptance. In fact, acceptance of this kind of relativism is antithetical to gaining wisdom through the experience and growth.

A relativistic openness is inconsistent with progress in the intellectual realm. Progress assumes a goal, an end that one is pursuing. In the realm of intellectual life, one might have a goal such as wisdom, truth, or knowledge. But the acceptance of relativism excludes these objective goals.

On the original question, Dow states that to be fair-minded is to “earnestly want to know the truth” and to be willing to listen in an even-handed way to differing opinions on the subject.” For the fair-minded person, the truth is more important than ego, or the views that some individual holds, no matter how cherished.

Becoming a fair-minded thinker involves developing critical thinking skills. The process by which evolving into a fair-minded thinker occurs is by actively learning, reading, and listening. A questioning mind and considering different points of view will ensure that the skills learned help to create a fair-minded thinker. Challenging what is a belief and what is ethical and always searching for the most informed point of view is also a skill of a fair-minded thinker.

It is quite common for people to consider the question of fairness through emotional connections to what one feels and believes. People learn to open minded and fair minded from the choices they make and the resulting actions they follow. Being open minded is important because many of our own positions on issues and beliefs on issues are not especially reasonable but, instead, influenced by opinions provided to us by others, and over time we develop an emotional attachment to them. 

There is no way to eliminate completely one’s preconceived notions about fairness in making “fair-minded” decisions. Each of us brings different experiences to the table in judging what is and is not “fair.” What’s important is intellectual honesty in evaluating different points of view to serve as a check on undue influence in decision-making because of an emotional attachment or valuing the opinions of one group over another at a higher level because of personal relationships. 

Here is a test to determine whether you are a fair-minded person: How would I want others to judge fairness if I was the center of the debate and if my points of view were represented by each side of the argument.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on December 20, 2016. Dr. Mintz is Professor Emeritus from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He also blogs at: www.workplaceethicsadvice.com.

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The posting below examines seven intellectual habits of critical thinkers.  It is taken from  Figure 4.1, Intellectual Habits of Critical Thinkers, from Chapter 4, Removing Barriers to Critical Thinking, in the book, Idea-Based Learning: A Course Design Process to Promote Conceptual Understanding, by Edmund J. Hansen. Published by Stylus Publishing, LLC. 22883 Quicksilver Drive, Sterling, Virginia 20166-2102 www.styluspub.com. Copyright © 2011 Stylus Publishing, LLC.  All rights reserved.  Reprinted with permission.


Rick Reis
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Intellectual Habits of Critical Thinkers
Fair-mindedness entails a consciousness of the need to treat all viewpoints alike, without reference to one's own feelings or selfish interests. It is based on an awareness 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. Fair-mindedness requires us to develop:

1. Intellectual Humility

Awareness of one's biases, one's prejudices, the limitations of one's viewpoint, and the extent of one's ignorance. (e.g., Many U.S. and other Western students consider their ways of life-competition, individualism, materialism, democratic forms of government, nuclear family arrangements, work ethic-superior to non-Western values and living arrangements. Their biases have a profound impact on their understanding of important concepts in the social sciences, the arts, and the humanities.)

2. Intellectual Courage

Consciousness of the need to face and fairly address ideas, beliefs, or viewpoints toward which one has strong negative emotions and to which one has not given a serious hearing; the recognition that ideas that society considers dangerous or absurd are sometimes rationally justified - in whole or in part, (e.g., Any culture has its set of taboos that also affect scientific discourse. Recent examples include stem cell research, gay marriage, Muslim radicalism or any other radicalism for that matter, global warming, atheism, affirmative action, assisted suicide, and pornography. It takes courage to openly investigate any potentiality rational roots for any of these controversial behaviors and beliefs.)

3. Intellectual Empathy

Awareness of the need to imaginatively put oneself in the place of others so as to genuinely understand them. (Old paradigms in the social sciences often treated their research "subjects" as variables that were to be looked at with no emotional involvement in order to guarantee "objectivity." Nowadays, many social scientists are taking a different approach to understanding social environments. To thoroughly understand others' behaviors and intentions, young scholars need to acquire the ability to take their research subjects' perspective, requiring a degree of personal identification previously denounced as a contamination of the research process. Similar abilities have always been considered a precondition for producing and appreciating good literature and other types of art.)

4. Intellectual Integrity

Recognition of the need to be true to one's own thinking and to hold oneself to the same standards one expects others to meet. It also means to honestly admit discrepancies and inconsistencies in one's own thought and action. (e.g., Cutting corners, plagiarizing and cheating have become pervasive not only in college, but also in graduate school and beyond. Society's expectations for accelerated output in every realm of life, including academia, can put tremendous pressure on students to impress with productivity at the expense of academic rigor and relevance. Admitting shortcomings in one's thinking requires just as much courage as fairly addressing viewpoints with which one vehemently disagrees; see point 2.)

5. Intellectual Perseverance

The disposition to work one's way through intellectual complexities despite the frustration inherent in the task. (Many students in our current school system learn to avoid those things that seem too difficult: "Engineering is too tedious," "Math is too hard and "A PhD in Accounting doesn't pay off." Delaying gratification for the fruit of one's labor is as hard for a student as it is for a child to wait for dessert. This applies also to the daily struggle with intellectual tasks. Many students ask for simple answers and are suspicious when their discipline has not yet produced answers to difficult issues, or when those answers remain ambiguous.)

6. Confidence in Reason

The belief that one's own higher interests and those of humankind at large will be best served by giving the freest play to reason, by encouraging people to come to their own conclusions by developing their own rational faculties; faith that, with proper encouragement and cultivation, people can learn to think for themselves. (Confidence in reason is also confidence in others. It is a pedagogical principle that good teachers live by. Students should not be persuaded to adopt their teachers' viewpoints or drilled to approach tasks in one particular way only. Complex understanding needs to be nurtured, not forced. Experiencing the freedom and encouragement to solve problems in one's own way helps create intellectual maturity. This includes the freedom to make one's own mistakes and learn from them.)

7. Intellectual Autonomy

An internal motivation based on the ideal of thinking for oneself; having rational self-authorship of one's beliefs, values, and way of thinking; not being dependent on others for the direction and control of one's thinking. (The traditional teaching paradigm of telling students what to learn through lecture and textbooks turned students into passive recipients of knowledge. Teachers were the experts whom students trusted to always have the right answers. No thinking for oneself was required. The new learning paradigm puts students in control and makes them accountable for their own learning. Learning theory has discovered diverse learning styles, and motivation theory shows that deep understanding is linked with learner autonomy. The more confident students become in finding their own direction, the more likely they are to develop an integrated understanding of the subjects of their study.)


Paul, R., & Elder, L. (2001). Critical thinking: Tools for taking charge of your learning and your life. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

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