Saturday 25 August 2012

Thermippos — The Complete Dialogue

The scene is the agora, outside the office of the magistrate. Socrates is on his way to answer charges of impiety. There he meets Thermippos holding forth confidently amidst a gathering of young men. Naturally, since death is on his mind, Socrates seizes the opportunity to discuss the subject with a man who seems certain of everything.

Socrates. You agree, Thermippos, that all men are mortal.
Thermippos. I do.
Socrates. And you agree furthermore that I am a man.
Thermippos. I have no reason to doubt it, Socrates.
Socrates. Surely then you agree that I am mortal.
Thermippos. I didn’t say that. You did. Don’t put words in my mouth.
Socrates. I beg your pardon, Thermippos, but I have simply drawn what follows.
Thermippos. Strawman.
Socrates. But no true reasoner could fail —
Thermippos. Ah, the no-true-Macedonian fallacy.
Socrates. But, Thermippos, given the logical form . . .
Thermippos. Define “logical form”.
Socrates. . . . you must either accept the conclusion or reject at least one of the premises.
Thermippos. False dichotomy.
Socrates. I see, Thermippos. You’re an idiot.
Thermippos. And that’s an ad hominem.

Socrates ad-hominems Thermippos with a brick. The charges of impiety are dropped.

Friday 29 April 2011

Against the Proud Paralytics

“Do not be proud of the fact that your grandmother was shocked at something which you are accustomed to seeing or hearing without being shocked. . . . It may mean that your grandmother was an extremely lively and vital animal; and that you are a paralytic.” 

G.K. Chesterton, “On Dialect and Decency”, Avowals and Denials (New York: Dodd, Mead, & Co., 1935), pp.77-8.

Without Borders

One sometimes hears the following enthymeme: most of nature does not have borders, therefore, mankind should not have borders. [1] The enthymematic form leaves unspoken a premise which the argument must have in the logical form, to which a man who makes the argument is rationally committed, and which in this case stands as follows: mankind should not have that which most of nature does not have, wherefrom it follows that mankind should not have reason, thought, or speech, nor of course the fruits thereof: no philosophy, religion, science, mathematics, good books, half-witted arguments, clothing, tea-kettles, bank-holidays, and so on, given that most of nature does not have these things. Maybe here is the unspoken urge of those who appeal to the “freedom” of non-human nature as the model for human nature: to be lifted of the burden of rational nature and to live without thought or underpants; yet maybe still further, for most of nature is also without life.

[1] As one libertarian clown says: “I am anti borders. Most of nature has no borders. Explain to a European (not African) swallow that it may need a visa to visit the UK and it would laugh.” (Old Holborn, “What Elephant?”, Old Holborn (weblog), 14th April 2011.)

Fewtril no.285

Why shouldn’t novels have in them badly-drawn caricatures of real persons? The world is full of them.

Fewtril no.284

On the dusty and featureless plain of his soul, it is easy for the latter-day man to lose all sense of perspective and direction.

Fewtril no.283

In the fostering of culture and the forming of good taste and character, liberal democracy has been so great a failure that it is believed by most to have been a great success.

Sunday 20 March 2011

Operative Words

Operation Odyssey Dawn: beginning in the middle of things; or the start of a ten-year quest,  with the god of seas and earthquakes against it from the outset, with lotus-eating, cannibalism, a bag of wind, the turning of men into swine, sirens, drownings, cunning speech and disguises to come.

Operation Harmattan: a hot and dusty wind, ends in the middle of March.

Operation Ellamy: anyone’s guess. Anagram: Meally? M[ilitarily] E[fficient] Ally? Short for: Ella . . . my Dear? New-born daughter of a MOD-official? Chosen by computer? The latter, methinks, the spoilsports.

Saturday 19 March 2011

Hie Thee to Hell

It is a shame that the “international community” is too scattered and shadowy a thing to fall to quick and easy air-strikes.


“We cannot make the world sufficient, we can only kill the perception that the world is insufficient.” 

Bruce G. Charlton, “Suffering in the World”, Bruce Charlton’s Miscellany, 12th March 2011.

Fewtril no.282

Religion is the rule-governed search for that which one lacks. Reason, therefore, stands as the religion of the moderns.

Fewtril no.281

A feeling of moral superiority is much too great a pleasure for the morally wretched to forbear. What is this — a cynical word against moral superiority? No: a truthful word against pleasure-seeking wretchedness.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

An Intolerable State of Affairs

Her Majesty’s Government’s Chief Zombifier of Science, otherwise known as its Chief Scientific Adviser, speaks before a troop of “scientific” civil servants:
“We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of racism. We are grossly intolerant, and properly so, of people who [are] anti-homosexuality . . . We are not—and I genuinely think we should think about how we do this—grossly intolerant of pseudo-science, the building up of what purports to be science by the cherry-picking of the facts and the failure to use scientific evidence and the failure to use scientific method.
. . . I’d urge you, and this is a kind of strange message to go out, but go out and be much more intolerant.” [1]
Often the liberal speaks of intolerance as if it were something bad in itself, which of course it is not; yet, when it suits, he speaks fairly reasonably: intolerance is something good when its object is something bad. [2] (Naturally, where the liberal, or anyone else, has wrong ideas of what is bad, so his intolerance is wrong for that reason at least, if not also because of a lack of proportion, but is not wrong by itself.) But with all this honest  talk of intolerance, the advisers and administrators of our liberal-bureaucratic regimes need to be careful: as the confidence of these regimes grows in the service of great lies and political evils, and as they abandon the expedient device of tolerance for those areas where their power formerly could not determine the case, they risk becoming as unsubtle as the old Marxistic regimes, whereof they have been hitherto the more refined brethren.
     An authoritarian (such as I) may take this as a hopeful sign, for it is in greater subtleness that the lasting evil of our regimes has lain: in ever renewing their own images to eschew older, negative ones, hence giving themselves the overall image of getting better, against the reality of becoming more untruthful by new or subtler techniques of beguilement; in striving to seem friendly and approachable, whilst being the most impersonal and anonymous regimes in history; in discouraging the idea of authority, i.e., visible and acknowledged power, whilst building regimes whose vast power is less acknowledged than the power of the old authoritarian regimes which they dwarf; and so on. But, still, although one may take this as a hopeful sign — less subtleness, more sight of reality — one must bear in mind that the latter-day Briton, being a jaded and wanton consumer of one image and sensation after another, a votary of slogans and sound-bites, is less and less able to grasp anything but crudenesses. [3] So, even if Her Majesty’s Government lost all its wits and employed an official to spit in his face and insult his entire heritage, the latter-day Briton might still call it the greatest regime in history in spite of it all. Her Majesty’s Government already does so metaphorically, and he hardly bats an eyelid.

[1] John Beddington, quoted by John Dwyer and Laura Hood, “Beddington goes to war against bad science”, Research Fortnight, 14th February 2011. (Via Delingpole via Mangan.) Prof. Beddington says he does not want to have to “deal with what is politically or morally or religiously motivated nonsense.” (Ibid.) But it seems to have escaped his notice that dealing in politically-motivated nonsense is his job. Indeed, if he did not find that “science” always fell mysteriously on the side of an insane but officially-promoted ideology going by the name of political correctness, he would soon be out of it.
[2] I say “fairly reasonably”, since it would be better to say: intolerance is something good when its object is something bad and when it does not itself lead to something worse than that object. Starkly said: intolerance of nose-picking is something good, but not if it goes so far as state-surveillance of all households for the sake of stamping it out altogether. The reader, I am sure, can think of less silly, and more pressing, examples of wrong intolerance.
     From the psychological-engineering point of view, the liberal’s idea of tolerance is a remarkable one. It encourages him to feel magnanimity in upholding his own beliefs whilst damning all others, with little or no care for the truth or reasonableness thereof, which is to say, it encourages him to feel magnanimity in bigotry. Liberal bigotry is that wonderful state of mind in which one is compelled to call a bigot anyone who stands at odds with it, which is to say, it is bigotry made sublime. Or: the typical liberal is so great a bigot that he feels magnanimous as such.
     There is, to be sure, much trouble with the use of the word “bigot” and its cognates: it has always been a word ripe for abuse, it is often used question-beggingly, and so the word has long been a favourite insult cast by bigots; and now, since it has been redefined in many minds to mean someone who does not hold liberal beliefs, the word has become even more fraught with communicative difficulties. Still, for a fine example in a nutshell of what I dare to call sublime liberal bigotry, the following is hard to beat: “Pictures of adults who’re engaging in consenting acts have no associated moral issues attached, and anyone who says otherwise is a puritan bigot.” (John B, commenting on Charlie Owen, “Pornblocking — Why it Would Have Killed Me”, Liberal Conspiracy, 21st December 2010.) As the example illustrates, the word “puritan” is another word that has also undergone redefinition: it is now often used to mean someone who fails to abet or kindly overlook debauchery and libertinism.)
[3] I suppose the more liberaldom belittles its peoples, biologically, culturally, spiritually, the less subtle it needs to be.

Fewtril no.280

The more primitive, the more real — this is the principle of a reductionistic metaphysics which informs everything from art to science. Perhaps one day we shall become too real to express it.

Fewtril no.279

Logical positivism was more scorn than logical commitment. That might explain its lingering appeal despite its self-refutation.

Fewtril no.278

Whenever men of the West gather to ask why it has fallen, one is sure to get another glimpse of the answer.