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We could not even understand, let alone live with, people for whom our belief were of no significance. And we can say this, even while admitting that in principle some of our cherished principles were wrong.

Why do you think the 'were' in bold is the past form?
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Comments  
It's just the normal past tense. The author is writing about things that happened, or were true, in the past.
Are you sure?

For your information, here is the original text:

http://books.google.com/books?id=rm9rMAJFihkC&pg=PA20&lpg=PA20&dq=%22even+while+admitting+that+in...

As you can see there, it's not really about the past event, or is it?
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Well, that changes things completely. I see what you mean.

I'm wondering if it's meant as a subjunctive, but it doesn't seem to naturally follow "We can ...". The previous sentence has "We could ... were", which seems OK, so perhaps something just went slightly wonky with the parallel structures? I'm not entirely sure.
TakaWhy do you think the 'were' in bold is the past form?
There's a conditional-like structure hiding in there.

We could not (=would not be able to) understand [them] even while [=~if] our principles were wrong.

It's a rather odd passage.

CJ
I would agree that it's subjunctive in intent:

1. We could not even understand people for whom our belief might be [ or "would be"] of no significance.

This kind of subjunctive was more common in older texts (pre-19th century); you find similar things in consciously archaic or mannered writers, such as those of the 1890s.

(When it turns up in a modern text, it sometimes gives the impression that the writer feels he has found a particularly elegant turn of phrase.)

Best wishes,

MrP
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P, that's not the one I'm asking about. I'm asking about the second 'were' in bold. Do you still think it gives the same impression as the first one?

And Jim, strictly it's not 'even while our principles were wrong'; it's 'even while admitting that our principles were wrong=even while we admit that our principles were wrong (i.e the 'were' is in the that-clause of 'admit(ting)).
Mr WordyI'm wondering if it's meant as a subjunctive, but it doesn't seem to naturally follow "We can ...". The previous sentence has "We could ... were", which seems OK

I agree, MrW.
TakaAnd Jim, strictly it's not 'even while our principles were wrong'; it's 'even while admitting that our principles were wrong=even while we admit that our principles were wrong (i.e the 'were' is in the that-clause of 'admit(ting)).
But you can easily add that to the paraphrase:

even while/if our principles, by our own admission, were wrong

You could also paraphrase it as

even while we admitted that our principles were wrong

if you wanted to preserve that subjunctive idea throughout.

CJ
I have not completely read through the texts. But could it be possible that "were" referred to the "principles", or "beliefs" of time gone by?
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