If we want to understand others…

‘Whether we like it or not, if we want to understand others, we must regard them as right in most matters.’

The logician N. L. Wilson has argued that a critic who confronts an alien body of texts must apply the “principle of charity.” He or she must seek the interpretation, which “in light of what it knows of the facts, will maximise truth among the sentences of the corpus.” The linguist Donald Davidson maintains that “making sense of the utterance and behaviour of others, even their most aberrant behaviour, requires you to find a great deal of truth and reason in them.” Even though their beliefs may be very different from your own, “you have to assume that the alien is very much the same as you are,” otherwise you are in danger of denying their humanity. “Charity is forced upon us,” Davidson concludes. “Whether we like it or not, if we want to understand others, we must regard them as right in most matters.”

Karen Armstrong