One of the most difficult things about being ethical is knowing what you are doing, and then proceeding to do it anyway. It is one thing to not know what you're doing; there's divine forgiveness for such things. But knowing what you're doing is another thing altogether. Especially in cases where you know better.
There are three ways to read a text. They are as follow:
A neutral reading. The reading begins at the start all through to the end, and the reader tries to take the text for what it is.
Benevolent reading. The reader tries to understand what the text wants to say, and forgives those cases when the argument is weaker than it ought to be. If there are passages that can be interpreted in different ways, the most charitable interpretation is chosen.
Hostile reading. The reader begins with an intent to find flaws and weaknesses. If anything is less than 100% irrefutable, it will be refuted. If there are passages that can be interpreted in different ways, the least charitable interpretation is chosen.
It goes without saying that a text changes depending on how it is read. That which according to a benevolent reading is a minor mistake, is an active act of ill intent according to a hostile reading. The reader provides as much information as the text itself, and depending on how the reader reads, the text can be either this or that. The fact that we can choose which reading to employ does not change this.
Thus. There are three ways to read a text, and we can choose which reading to employ.
Remember that first paragraph? The one about ethical dimensions in knowing what you are doing, and the inescapable ethical weight of knowing what you are doing yet proceeding to do it anyway?
From this point on, you will always know if you choose to read something in a particular fashion. Especially if you choose to read someone in particular in a hostile fashion. You will never again be able to claim that you do not know what you're doing, because you from now on explicitly know exactly what you are doing. Because you are choosing to do it.
Welcome to your new, more ethical life.
Originally published April 23, 2015