On the pestilential habit of hastily attributing motives…

Often, old advice is the best advice, to wit: Judge not, that ye be not judged.  For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? — Matthew 7:1-3, King James Version

Dr. John Lukacs, Historian

“Here is the essential difference between historical and legal evidence ― or between historical and legal thinking.  Law (at least in a state governed by a constitution) can deal only with actuality, not with potentiality.  “The law is a coarse net; and truth is a slippery fish.”  Yes, but the purpose of law has nothing to do with truth: it is the establishment of justice.  Truth and justice are not the same things, even though the pursuit of truth and the pursuit of justice may, on occasion, overlap.  But besides the question (or, rather, the obvious primacy) of truth over justice, there are other important differences between historical and legal evidences and thinking.  One is that law, after all ― inevitably and necessarily ― is a closed system, within its own definite rules and regulations.  For instance, it does not and should not allow multiple jeopardy: a case, when and if properly tried, is decided once and for all.  History (and our memory) is open and never closed; it specializes in multiple jeopardy: its subjects and people are rethought over and over again, and not even necessarily on the basis of newly found evidence. . . .  Another great difference ― I am again referring principally to Anglo-American law ― is the one between motives and purposes.  These two are regrettably confused because of the vocabulary and the practices of twentieth-century psychology and thought, the attribution of motive having become a pestilential habit [my italics].  But we must distinguish between the two.  Motives come from the past; purposes involve the pull of the future.  At its best, Anglo-American law will admit only a “motive” which has been, in one way or another, expressed; in other words, an actuality, not a potentiality.  (As Dr. Johnson said: “Intentions must be gathered from acts.”)  At its worst, unexpressed motives are sometime attributed and accepted in some courts on the basis of psychological characterization and other dubious “expertise.”  A proper comprehension of the essential difference between motives and purposes is an essential condition of the pursuit and of the protection of justice and of truth ― and of all historical thinking and speaking and writing.” ― Remembered Past; On History, Historians, and Historical Knowledge, by John Lukacs, Chapter I, Page 8, edited by Mark G. Malvasi and Jeffrey O. Nelson, ISI Books, Wilmington, Delaware, © 2005 ISI Books.

About Michael

Retired military officer; retired Air Force civil servant; retired executive, DS Information Systems Corporation; writer; researcher; reader and avid yachtsman.
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