In Case of Difference

Mr. Lewis is a retired minister living in Dur­ham, New Hampshire.

I’ve never had a sudden burst of illumination which revealed The Truth to me completely, once and for all. But after consulting many contributions made to the world’s store of knowledge and wisdom by more gifted minds than mine, I have tried to figure out some fundamental and correlative truths in certain areas, with the result that I have embraced a set of con­victions which I call my own. I have sought to eliminate error, insofar as possible, by ironing the inconsistencies out of my beliefs and squaring them with the facts. For I conceive that truthfulness consists in two sorts of relationships: internally, my beliefs should harmonize one with the other; and externally, my beliefs should harmonize with the relevant por­tions of reality. Any bundle of propositions which meets these tests may join the set of convic­tions which I have made mine, and this is equivalent to saying that I reject as error whatever I regard as contrary to my convic­tions. All of which seems simple and self-evident.

Every so often I get into a dis­cussion on various matters and naturally I advance arguments on behalf of my convictions. The crit­ical rejoinder is sometimes made, "You think that everybody who disagrees with you is wrong." But, of course! Why shouldn’t I? This is a gross and innocuous ad homi­nem. If I thought that adverse views were right, I would endorse them! But if I believe that the earth is round, how can I hold to my belief without deeming to be in error "everybody" who con­tends that it is flat?

In argument, I expect any sin­cere opponent, initially, to think that I am wrong.

With respect to issues upon which one has no firm conviction, he may say, "I feel this way about the matter; but those who have views to the contrary, may be right." But when one has reached a careful and considered judgment in a matter, it is only logical that he should think conclusions to the contrary to be wrong. I believe that 2 and 2 make 4. If anyone would say that 2 and 2 make 3, or 7, he would be in disagreement with me, and I would think that he is wrong. There are certain other matters about which, after careful thought and study, I have come to hold equally strong convictions. Should I be considered some kind of miscreant or malefactor for thinking those who disagree with me are wrong?

A person who thinks that those who disagree with him upon a certain matter are wrong, is a person of strong convictions. In his conclusions, he may be right or he may be wrong. If I can show that his conclusions are based upon false premises or result from faulty reasoning, I may undertake to do so. But I shall not condemn or censure him for holding to his honest convictions. And I shall not criticize him for thinking that everybody who disagrees with him is wrong.

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