Archives for 6 January 2012

Procol Harum and G. K. C.

Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, ‘Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?’ he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, ‘Why, there is that bookcase… and the coals in the coal-scuttle… and pianos… and policemen.’ The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible.

—G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

My Muse is actually an imp, or perhaps a pooka, and cannot read a passage such as this without taking it as a challenge. I shall accordingly give my reason for preferring civilization, in the form of an example; and I hope to show that the example I give would be utterly impossible except in a state of civilization, and indeed, inconceivable in any civilization but our own. Mr. Chesterton would doubtless be glad to hear that my example does at least include a piano. [Read more…]

Animal rationale

Aristotle (and, later, the Schoolmen) defined man as a rational animal: i.e., the only animal capable of reason. Neither he nor anyone else claimed that men are always rational.

Reason is a technique that we learn; it is no more innate to us than riding a bicycle. If I say that one can get from John o’ Groats to Land’s End by bicycle, the truth of that statement is not altered by the fact that some people will fall off the bicycle on the way, or take a wrong turning; or that some have never learnt to ride at all. Mutatis mutandis, the capacity of reason, as a method, to reach valid consequents given valid premises, is in no way vitiated or impugned by the fact that humans make errors in employing it. Indeed, it is only by the correct application of reason that such faults can even be identified as errors.

More shortly put, it isn’t the hammer’s fault if the carpenter hits his thumb.