Thursday, January 18, 2018

Great Thoughts: What People Believe

I read the following in an old commentary by Albert Barnes on the Book of Job (Job 22) and thought how helpful Barnes' comments could be to today's political discourse. Here it is, slightly edited:

How common it is to charge a man with holding an opinion that we infer - from something which he has advanced - he must hold, and then to proceed to argue as if he actually held that opinion.

The philosophy of this is plain. He advances a certain opinion. We infer at once that he can hold that only on certain grounds, or that if he holds that he must hold something else also. We can see that if we held that opinion, we should also, for the sake of consistency, be compelled to hold something which seems to follow from it, and we cannot see how this can be avoided, and we at once charge him with holding it. But the truth may be, that he has not seen that such consequences follow, or that he has some other way of accounting for the fact than we have; or that he may hold to the fact and yet deny wholly the consequences which legitimately follow from it. Now we have a right to show him by argument that his opinions, if he would follow them out, would lead to dangerous consequences, but we only have a right to charge him with holding an opinion that he professes to hold. He is not answerable for our inferences; and we have no right to charge them on him as being his real opinions.

Every man has a right to avow what he actually believes, and to be regarded as holding that, and that only.

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