Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

for me and really is ugly for you, and there is nothing more to be said —de gustibus nil disputandum. But these words 'beautiful' and ' ugly' and others like them have the same grammatical form as words like 'square' and 'round' which really tell about the thing itself, quite regardless of its relations to the beholder; and this helps to make us ignore the difference between them and assume that somehow or other we can describe the thing itself (as we do with such words as 'round' and ' square'), while at the same time the truth of the description depends (as it does with such words as 'beautiful' and ' ugly ’) upon who it is that gives it.

Somewhat like the statement that something may be true for one person and false for another is the statement that it may be true in one science and false in another. Towards the end of the middle ages the monkish philosophers found themselves reaching conclusions that were quite contrary to the doctrine of the Church which they were bound to accept. So they said that there was a difference between theology and philosophy, that a doctrine might be true in one though false in the other, and that they accepted all the teachings of the Church as true in theology, though they might reject a part of them as false in philosophy. By this subterfuge they tried to give an excuse for continuing their thinking as freely as possible and yet save their heads by remaining in nominal subservience to the Church. Of course this doctrine of a 'double truth' was nothing but a subterfuge, and it disappeared when men gained the right to exercise their own individual judgment in matters of belief.

Since the reality with which all thought is concerned is something different from the thought itself, we have no right to assume without evidence that there is any

Corollary. relation between them beyond the bare relation of knower and object known. We have no right to assume that our thoughts are like things—e.g., that our thought of the moon is round like the moon itself-or that they have the same history or are subject to the same laws. We have no right to assume, for example, that distant events are any more vague than those of the present simply because our ideas of them are more vague, or that things were vague and chaotic before they were definite because our ideas of them

were.

Facts are as independent of our feelings as they are of our ideas. Hence when we are trying to find out what the facts Fact and

'really are we must not ask instead what we feeling

should like them to be and assume that we have answered the first question when we have only answered the second. Yet obvious as this is, the tendency to confuse the · facts as they are with what we should like them to be is exceedingly strong. Indeed it is so strong that hardly any one can overcome it altogether. To do sotto look facts squarely in the face and accept them as they are, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant they may be—is one of the very first conditions of greatness, and it is always a mighty aid to success in any career. Moreover it is something which does not require any unusual mental ability. But it does require intellectual honesty; and because very few of us are willing to be absolutely honest in our thought those who are so often seem heroic. The 'Appeal to Consequences', on the other hand—the argument which really invites one to accept a certain view merely because the view itself or something else that it involves is more pleasant to believe in than the

1 contrary—is thoroughly contemptible, and yet it is something to which we are so accustomed that it takes a strong man with a great love for truth to show us how contemptible it really is.) I quote the following from the account of the discussion of evolution at the Oxford meeting of the British Association in 1860 in the Life of Professor Huxley (vol. i. pp. 197–8): The Bishop spoke thus 'for full half an hour with inimitable spirit, emptiness, and unfairness.' * In a light, scoffing tone, florid and fluent, he assured us there was nothing in the idea of evolution; rock-pigeons were what rock-pigeons had always been.'” Then “he rhetori

[ocr errors]

cally invoked the aid of feeling, and said, “If any one were willing to trace his descent through an ape as his grandfather, would he be willing to trace his descent similarly on the side of his grandmother?.“On this Mr. Huxley slowly and deliberately arose. A slight tall figure, stern and pale, very quiet and very grave, he stood before us and spoke those tremendous words—words which no one seems sure of now, nor, I think, could remember just after they were spoken, for their meaning took away our breath, though it left us in no doubt as to what it was. He was not ashamed to have a monkey for his ancestor; but he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used great gifts to obscure the truth. No one doubted his meaning, and the effect was tremendous. One lady fainted and had to be carried out; I, for one, jumped out of my seat.”

No one can think clearly and reason correctly or be relied upon by others as fair-minded and impartial who believes that any view of things is right if it is not true, or who does not strive with all his might to see things as they really are in spite of all his wishes.

Our feelings tend to influence our judgment not only by making us believe what it is pleasant to believe, but also by making us believe whatever happens to fit in with the emotion of the moment. Leslie Stephen says: 'We are not unhappy because we believe in hell; but we believe in hell because we are unhappy.' When we are despondent the world seems dark and sad, when we are happy it seems bright and glad, when we are in love it is easy to find “Helen's beauty in a brow of Egypt ”', and when we are angry or irritated it is hard to believe that anger or irritation is out of place.

Speak roughly to your little boy,

And beat him when he sneezes.
He only does it to annoy,

Becauses he knows it teases.”
This certainly is the logic of the emotions, and it is hard

[ocr errors]

enough to overcome it—until the mood is over; and if we must wait until then to see things as they are, we should also make it a rule to wait before we express or act upon our judgments. Hence the wisdom of counting one hundred before displaying anger, and of the regulation which obtains, I believe, in the British navy requiring that no officer shall punish a man until twenty-four hours after the supposed offence.

In our effort to see things as they are in spite of our wishes and emotions we often have to resist an appeal to them made wittingly or unwittingly by some one else. When any one discusses the question at issue on its own intrinsic merits he is said to reason to the point, or, as the old logicians would say, his is an Argumentum ad Rem; but when one party to a discussion takes advantage of the weakness of another and tries to persuade him that something is true by appealing to his wishes or his emotions he uses one form of the Argumentum ad Hominem.

Since the essential purpose of this so-called argument is to leave a person in a certain mood which will affect his judgment, it makes very little difference how it is done. It may be by gentle or inflammatory speeches or it may be without speech at all—by feeding him or embarrassing him or getting him out in the moonlight.

The Argumentum ad populum is essentially the same as this form of the Argumentum ad Hominem except that it is addressed to a crowd. The real arguments of successful political speakers are generally very weak. They carry their point and get the votes merely by gaining the sympathy of the audience: by getting it to feel in harmony with the speaker and out of harmony with his opponents; and it does not make much difference whether this is done by solid arguments, impassioned appeals, ridicule and abuse of the other side, or funny stories,

CHAPTER II.

THE MEANINGS OF WORDS,

In almost all our thought and our communication with others we use words. A word is “a mark which may raise in our mind a thought like to some thought which we had before, and which, being pronounced to others, may be to them a sign of what thought the speaker had before in his mind”. Unfortunately, however, the thing or the relation which a given word is used to mark is not always the same. and if we assume that it is in any particular case when in fact it is not, we are bound to misunderstand each other, to make some egregious blunder in our own reasoning, or not to notice such blunders in the reasoning of others.

To speak first of the blunders of interpretation. These often arise when a student is beginning the study of any science and takes it for granted that words which are used in a purely technical sense are used in interpretathe popular sense to which he happens to be accustomed. The word ' phenomenon 'as used in science merely means something that we perceive or appear to perceive, but the student assumes that it means something strange or miraculous.

When the psychologist speaks of 'imagining' something he merely means forming a mental picture of it; but the student may assume that he means believing something that is not so. Immediate 'in science means direct or without the assistance of anything else; but the student will probably assume that it means without any

Blunders of

tion.

[ocr errors]
« AnteriorContinuar »