Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Right and Wrong

The other day I was giving someone a ride and needed directions.
"Do I turn left here?" I asked.
"Right," my passenger replied. "I mean left. That's right, you should turn left."
English is an amazing language. Because we've 'borrowed' words from so many other languages ours is rich in synonyms, but sometimes it can still be confusing. The word, 'right' has two meanings that have nothing to do with each other and I won't even get into the political meaning.
Another word with two unrelated meanings is "wrong." That word can mean either inaccurate or immoral and confusing the two sometimes causes worse problems than turning right instead of left.
If I didn't believe my beliefs were right (ie. correct) I wouldn't believe them, so obviously I consider beliefs that differ from my own to be wrong. But I mean 'wrong' in the sense of inaccurate rather than immoral. Unfortunately many people consider those whose beliefs are different from their own to be wrong in both senses, and that has caused a lot of hostility.
Of course some beliefs actually are immoral. For instance I would consider a religion that encouraged human sacrifice or a government that encouraged slavery to be morally wrong. However many of our religious and political differences are a matter of disagreeing about accuracy, not morality, and we could prevent a lot of hostility if we distinguished between the two meanings of that word more carefully.

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