Friday, January 10, 2014

“When all the mud has been flung..."

In an exchange with the evolutionary biologist and Marxist J.B.S. Haldane, C.S. Lewis found his motivations under assault. Lewis offered this marvelous reply:
The Professor has his own explanation…he thinks that I am unconsciously motivated by the fact that I “stand to lose by social change.” And indeed it would be hard for me to welcome a change which might well consign me to a concentration camp. I might add that it would likewise be easy for the Professor to welcome a change which might place him in the highest rank of an omnicompetent oligarchy. That is why the motive game is so uninteresting. Each side can go on playing ad nauseam, but when all the mud has been flung every man’s views still remain to be considered on their merits. I decline the motive game and resume the discussion.
...[I]n the context Lewis is describing–public debates over public matters–he’s quite right. Impugning the motivations of those whom we disagree with should be kept to a minimum. For one thing, it’s hard enough to honestly assess our own motivations, let alone those of others. Every human heart is divided against itself, tainted to one degree or another. Altruism and pride, selflessness and selfishness, mix like salt and water in the ocean. They are nearly impossible to separate out.

In addition, the tendency to focus on motivations can be a sign of intellectual laziness. It’s just much easier to attack other people’s motivations than it is to answer their arguments (especially when the arguments are difficult to refute). .... [more]
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