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I may be very wrong

Daniel N Robinson, at the end of a lecture about psychology and the witch hunts in early modern Europe:

What is the moral tale that I hope to have conveyed with this story about minds possessed?
First, theories come quite easily to us when we seek to explain the aberrant or eccentric behavior of others. Secondly, we tend to describe those who are different from ourselves not in the neutral terms of merely different but in the evaluative terms of sick, diseased, sinful. Thirdly, sometimes in our solicitude we take out after those to cure them of diseases that exist only in our theories, and not in them. Fourthly, as reasonable and judicious people, when we set out to do this we want to be sure that we’re using the right kind of method, that we have the right kind of data, that indeed–if there’s something actually juridical or adjudicative going on–that we even have settled and defensible trial procedures.
I’ve rehearsed the witch panic for you–I shouldn’t call it a panic; it went on for over three centuries–to say that all these consideration were operative at the time, that the motives by and large were probably salutary and even laudable motives, and that the conduct was deplorable, the victims numerous and savaged, the complacency enduring for the better part of three hundred years.
The moral tale is: once you’re absolutely sure what makes Smith tick, you know everything about him you would care to know, look in the mirror and say three times, “I may be wrong, I may be very wrong, I may be hopelessly wrong”, and you’ll probably be right.

Filed by shaun at September 3rd, 2009 under indifferenthonest

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