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Alan Gomes on the Historian’s Task

The objective habits of mind that characterize skilled historiography are consubstantial, as it were, with those of the … skilled apologist. Whether the issue is dished up by an ancient or modern protagonist, the apologist must know truly what he or she is up against. We do well to attend carefully to the admonition of that great medievalist Etienne Gilson, who said that it is much easier to refute an opponent than it is to understand him. To this I would add that to thoroughly refute an error, one must understand it as well as the one who holds it. To get into the head of someone who thinks quite differently from us requires the cultivation of an objective frame of mind. This mode of thinking is as necessary for … the apologist as it is for the historian, the former typically dealing with a contemporary opponent, the later examining advocates long dead.

It will not do to misrepresent an opponent, living or dead, however much we may wish to justify it by some greater good. None of us appreciates being misunderstood or deliberately misrepresented and we must take care to treat otheres with the same respect. We can do nothing less as lovers of the truth.