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What's the difference in meaning between the following two sentences?

  • Sometimes we look to others to convince us of what we want to believe.

  • Sometimes we look to others to convince ourselves of what we want to believe.

I think that "to convince us" in the first means "for others to convince us" and that "to convince ourselves" in the second means "for us to convince ourselves".

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  • It would help people to answer if you edit to explain what you think the difference might be and what research you have already done.
    – mdewey
    Jul 26, 2021 at 14:57
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    In your context, the reflexive pronoun (ourselves) is just a slightly more emphatic alternative to the "flat" pronoun (us). For even greater emphasis, it could be rephrased as Sometimes we look to others to convince us of what we ourselves want to believe. But for this specific example, it seems to me the same relevant emphasis might be better conveyed by ...to convince us of what we already [want to] believe. Jul 26, 2021 at 15:07
  • Convince yourself is not having someone else convince you.
    – Lambie
    Jan 16, 2023 at 18:38

2 Answers 2

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The first sentence has an extra possible meaning which the second does not have.

Both sentences can mean, "Sometimes we try to convince ourselves of what we already want to believe by looking at other people."

The first sentence can also mean, "Sometimes we get other people to convince us of what we already want to believe."

To "look to someone to [verb]" can mean "expect someone else to [verb]".

When I first read your first sentence, I thought it meant "get other people to convince us" until I read the second.

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I agree with FumbleFingers that the reflexive is being used here as an intensifier. That is a frequent use of reflexive pronouns.

He told me so himself

merely emphasizes that whoever he is is indeed the one who told me.

I see no reason to doubt that “ourselves” here is used an intensifier. As a matter of style, however, I agree with you that it is hard to construe. We did not convince ourselves. That is, a better way to express what was intended is

Sometimes we look to others to convince us of what we already want to believe.

The use of the reflexive just muddies the waters. I am not saying that the use of “ourselves” is ungrammatical or unidiomatic. I am merely saying that I doubt that it expresses the intended thought as clearly as possible.

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