I stumbled across this quotation recently, and I think it’s cute but terribly wrong:
When a man who is honestly mistaken hears the truth, he will either cease to be mistaken or cease to be honest.
It’s ridiculous to say those are the only possible outcomes of hearing the truth. I can think of at least four others:
- The man is insane
- The man doesn’t agree that what he heard is the truth
- The truth was so badly or offensively presented that it is impossible for him to see that it is the truth
- The truth in view is one that must be received by faith rather than demonstrated by reason
Once upon a time I was arrogant enough to say that (on at least some subjects anyway) there were only two possibilities for explaining error: stupidity or evil. The quotation above is similarly wrong in suggesting that the only possible alternatives are accepting the truth or dishonesty. but those just aren’t all the possibilities. Sometimes people are just wrong without being stupid or insane or evil. He can be wrong because he isn’t convinced. He can remain unconvinced because a poor argument for the truth was offered—poor in the strength of the argument, or rhetorically poor, or ill-suited to his abilities to comprehend.
Arriving at truth is hard work. It isn’t made easier by people who substitute silly misleading platitudes for charity.