The Ideal of the Open Mind

The ideal of the open mind

Nate Meyvis, Ph.D.

Boston College, Fall 2021

What is it to have an open mind? Why could an open mind be an ideal? We will address these questions by looking at a broad variety of historical and contemporary ways of thinking about epistemology.

With thinkers from classical Greece through the American pragmatists, and by examining practices in contemporary fields including medicine and artificial intelligence, we will aim at a better understanding of epistemic ideals: When we are in our best cognitive states, what exactly do we achieve? What barriers must we overcome to get there? Different candidate answers to this question will lead to different understandings of open-mindedness and different motivations for achieving it (or not).

In each case, after studying ideas in epistemology and the philosophy of mind, we will  examine how they notions play out in the world of contemporary data and media. In particular, we will examine their manifestations in media and communication platforms and texts.

Plato will be our guide: we will read his Theaetetus over the course of the seminar. This wide-ranging and lively text is also essential intellectual background (more and less directly) for our other readings. The course will be conducted entirely in English. Students with training in Greek and/or epistemology can use the assignments and my office hours to apply and extend that training. Students more interested in contemporary issues will be expected to read the text carefully but will be able to focus their coursework less historically.

A few of our readings are long; many are short. Where we sacrifice depth for breadth, notes and other guidance will be available.


  • 10%: Attendance and participation
  • 20%: Quizzes (see below)
  • 45%: Three short response papers
  • 25%: One longer final paper


8 to 10 classes will begin with very short quizzes evaluating retention of fundamentals of assigned readings. They are intended to reward proper preparation of the material and to allow for immediate correction of common errors. They will consist of roughly 5 questions and should take 5 minutes or less to complete.

Low scores will be dropped. Quizzes for which a student has an excused absence will be dropped without penalty.

Quizzes will be available online for students who are forced to participate remotely.

Short response papers

Students will write three short papers in which the task is to clearly explain some aspect of the assigned material. Topics will be available every week. Students must turn in at least one of these papers by the fourth week of class and at least two by the eighth week of class.

Other policies

Masks: Please wear masks.

Late work: Unexcused late work will be graded to a higher standard during its grading. The increase in standard will be roughly proportional to how late the work is.

Academic integrity: Please refer to University and Communication Department policies. When you submit work, you submit that it is your work. Do not let confusion about university policy or citation procedure lead you into a breach of academic integrity. You will not be marked down for using the wrong format for a citation.

Zoom: As per University policy, this is an in-person and not a hybrid course. A Zoom link will be provided for students who must attend remotely. The meeting ID is 453 323 1682. Students attending remotely must submit documentation of its necessity.

Week 1: The project of defining knowledge
Week 2: Socrates the epistemic midwife
Week 3: The claim that knowledge is perception
Week 4: The claim that knowledge is perception, continued
  • What do we want from knowledge? What should we get from knowledge? And what does this have to do with open-mindedness?
  • Theaetetus 160e4-164c2
  • Agnes Callard, The Emotion Police
  • Agnes Callard, Thoughts and Prayers
  • Rene Descartes, Second Meditation
  • Rene Girard, "The Plague in Literature and Myth"
Week 5: The claim that knowledge is perception and the public sphere
Week 6: The inquisitive temperament
Week 7: The existence of authority and socially embedded knowledge
Week 8: Open-mindedness and rationality in a world of flux:
Week 9: Applications to current events

In case it's useful, Wikipedia has a useful overview of the idea of a metaverse.

Week 10: Applications to current events, continued
Week 11: Negotiating over meaning
Week 12: Socratic politics

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