Saturday, February 7, 2015

"are the beliefs themselves 'honest'"?

“It is easy enough to be sincere on the surface, that is, to act honestly according to one’s beliefs; the question is, however, are the beliefs themselves ‘honest,’ that is, can they lead to a consonant outcome.  Any contradiction between outcome and intention should lead us, not to throw the blame on outward reality, but to investigate the objective conditions and sources of the beliefs themselves, and to excise from them what is inherently deceitful or illusory.”

     Roy Pascal, reviewing Here I stand, by Roland Bainton, Past and present no. 2 (November 1952):  62 (60-62).  The sentences immediately preceding are the following:
As long as he remained within the sphere of his Order, he did not have to face up to the social implications of his beliefs; when he was forced to consider their impact on the secular, institutional world, he was often pained at the results, and yet he was only discovering their implications.  He remained confused, even resentful, about they way in which the world interpreted his efforts; but it is the duty of the biographer to see more deeply. . . .  
And from p. 60:
A historical personality is such not because of his intentions, but because of his achievement; what is important is not the idea that moved him, but the objective outcome.  Our earliest historical philosophers, Adam Smith, Turgot, Herder, were struck above all by the contradiction between human intention and result, and one might say that this observation is at the very base of historical thought altogether, since it distinguishes social change, the main object of historical study, from the illusions that have accompanied it.  These ‘illusions’ are not meaningless, for they provide, in the mind of the individual, his driving force.  But they too have to be seen as socially produced, as the product of a particular objective situation; and if an outcome seems to contradict an intention, we cannot consider this to be an accident or misfortune, but, by analyzing the origin of the intention and its relation to the objective world, we can go further to understand the deeper unity between the intention and the outcome, their deeper mutual dependence.

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