Reason, Error and Absurdity

The Use Of Reason

The Use and End of Reason, is not the finding of the summe, and truth of one, or a few consequences, remote from the first definitions, and settled significations of names; but to begin at these; and proceed from one consequence to another. For there can be no certainty of the last Conclusion, without a certainty of all those Affirmations and Negations, on which it was grounded, and inferred.

As when a master of a family, in taking an account, casteth up the summs of all the bills of expence, into one sum; and not regarding how each bill is summed up, by those that give them in account; nor what it is he payes for; he advantages himselfe no more, than if he allowed the account in grosse, trusting to every of the accountants skill and honesty; so also in Reasoning of all other things, he that takes up conclusions on the trust of Authors, and doth not fetch them from the first Items in every Reckoning, (which are the significations of names settled by definitions), loses his labour; and does not know any thing; but onely beleeveth.

Of Error And Absurdity

When a man reckons without the use of words, which may be done in particular things, (as when upon the sight of any one thing, wee conjecture what was likely to have preceded, or is likely to follow upon it;) if that which he thought likely to follow, followes not; or that which he thought likely to have preceded it, hath not preceded it, this is called ERROR; to which even the most prudent men are subject.

But when we Reason in Words of generall signification, and fall upon a generall inference which is false; though it be commonly called Error, it is indeed an ABSURDITY, or senseless Speech.

For Error is but a deception, in presuming that somewhat is past, or to come; of which, though it were not past, or not to come; yet there was no impossibility discoverable. But when we make a generall assertion, unlesse it be a true one, the possibility of it is unconceivable.

And words whereby we conceive nothing but the sound, are those we call Absurd, insignificant, and Non-sense. And therefore if a man should talk to me of a Round Quadrangle; or Accidents Of Bread In Cheese; or Immaterial Substances; or of A Free Subject; A Free Will; or any Free, but free from being hindred by opposition, I should not say he were in an Errour; but that his words were without meaning; that is to say, Absurd.

I have said before, (in the second chapter,) that a Man did excell all other Animals in this faculty, that when he conceived any thing whatsoever, he was apt to enquire the consequences of it, and what effects he could do with it. And now I adde this other degree of the same excellence, that he can by words reduce the consequences he findes to generall Rules, called Theoremes, or Aphorismes; that is, he can Reason, or reckon, not onely in number; but in all other things, whereof one may be added unto, or substracted from another. But this priviledge, is allayed by another; and that is, by the priviledge of Absurdity; to which no living creature is subject, but man onely. And of men, those are of all most subject to it, that professe Philosophy.

For it is most true that Cicero sayth of them somewhere; that there can be nothing so absurd, but may be found in the books of Philosophers. And the reason is manifest. For there is not one of them that begins his ratiocination from the Definitions, or Explications of the names they are to use; which is a method that hath been used onely in Geometry; whose Conclusions have thereby been made indisputable.

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Family, faith, flag, freedom

It is a quiet civil war within political parties; less quiet in the nation as a whole. I have to ask though how far apart the sides actually are. It is a yawning chasm between the extremes, but for most it is a matter of priorities. Extremists have no hierarchy of priorities as normal people have.

Were the Kulturkrieg just a time of new opinions being aired and thriving or withering in time, that would be interesting, discomforting for the conservative-minded, but a natural thing for any age. Instead, we find threats and actual careers ended, families impoverished, as a heap of unelected opinion formers try to bang in their own rickety Overton Windows without debate.

I do not want to write, yet again, of the ‘Woke’ idea in this consideration: they are not liberal in any logical sense. They might think they are, but their essence is prescriptive, censorious, regimented, and their prescription is strict laws against freedom. They are extreme conservatives, just for a different conservative philosophy, and with such a departure from sense and reality that those ideas are unworthy of serious philosophical consideration. No: the liberal-conservative divide lies elsewhere.

One aspect on the battlefield is the push-of-pike between socially conservative and socially liberal. The general thrust is characterised on both sides as a fight for freedom. On the liberal side that seems to ring truest, as the essence of the philosophy is that individuals will find their own path without interference from the norms of society, which norms must give way to allow free expression of lifestyle. That is a powerful message, especially to the young finding their feet in the world, wanting to spread their wings.

From a socially conservative viewpoint however, a free, liberal society can only thrive if there is society in the first place. Otherwise freedom is illusion. We need not descend as far as ‘Warre Of Every One Against Every One‘ to see that complete liberty becomes no liberty at all: our security to build and thrive depends on having a structure within which to build and thrive. Fundamental to that are family, faith and nation.

The radical liberal idea speaks to the desire of all to breath free and to be what we can be, without being defined by other’s requirements, or in Hobbesian terms “a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power”.

It sounds all very well until you see those cast aside by others’ freedom weeping in the dark corners; children abandoned and falling into neglect or crime; women with no more hope passing from abuser to abuser; the lost cultural understandings; the feral individuals becoming Caliban; the neglect of poor communities because they are no longer communities.

The late Roger Scruton provided a philosophical basis for social conservatism. It was said that he set his face against the economic liberalism of the Thatcher era, but in fact his objection was to treating that economic idea above all, as if free economics would solve every social issue too. It cannot, and there we have a more accurate division between the wings of conservative thought. In that characterisation the two sides, of economic liberalism and social conservatism, are not in opposition to each other in any principle; only in emphasis.

Difference of emphasis is how Jordan Peterson has characterised the psychological conservative-liberal split, and he notes that the two are not so much in opposition as in a necessary symbiotic tension, and by implication that society will ossify or collapse unless both character types and their ideas and are present.

Where we are then in the genuine liberal-conservative divide is not such a division as it may seem. If it is characterised as freedom against restriction, it misses the complexity of positions. Socially conservative Conservatives are most often supporters of free enterprise, free trade and free commercial innovation. It is the social field where paths divide, but even there it is in individual areas. Social conservatism is unpopular in the opinion-forming media, which according to the Peterson thesis is inevitably the domain of creative, liberal types, but it is necessary to defend family, faith and flag for the stability of society on which all else is built.

See also

Some social conservative organisations:

Groups promoting aspects of socially conservative ideas seem to come and go with the tide, either becoming so mainstream as to vanish in redundancy or becoming the-place-not-to-be-seen, or just evaporating as the momentum is lost. Some remain however.


The oldest story in the World

The oldest story in the World, intriguing… How many ancient tales survive among our own nation? Very few.

Once there would have been more, but while printing saved stories, it lost them too by its silence, so the first printers gave new life to the Canterbury Tales, they ignored peasant stories, which have been lost. One 15th century writer said he would pass over in disdain such traditions ‘Concerning Wade and his bote called Guingelot, and also his strange exploits in the same’ but what is this lost tradition?  Soon came the Reformation, and old, heathenish stories were cast out deliberately.  It was a blessing to the nation overall, but incalculable loss to our folklore.

Writing discourages the oral transmission of stories, perhaps because we look to the page for confirmation, perhaps because those written down lose their vitality when nailed to paper, perhaps because the old is drowned in the huge volume of new, printed stories. Many of our traditional fairy takes survive only because the Brothers Grimm hunted them down in the forests of Germany and Walt Disney committed them to film. We have a lot to thank Mr Disney for if the opposite of ‘Disneyfication’ of stories is losing them entirely from our consciousness.

The oral tradition is stronger than a book-bound people can imagine.  The Book People at the end of Fahrenheit 451 are a fantasy suggested by oral stories but are actually celebrating the written word. We are Book People. Beyond our paper culture, the story long handed down is a phenomenon.

For bookless people, a story is more immediate.  When John Ross moored his ship further north in the Arctic than any ship had hitherto sailed, the local Eskimos told his crew of another fleet which had visited them, and recounted all the detail as if it had been yesterday: but it was Martin Frobisher’s fleet of three hundred years before.

Britain has some older stories surviving from a distant age, like those of Beowulf, and the lively tales of the Mabinogion, which would have been lost if not written down. Ours is a young nation, of just fifteen centuries or so.  Beowulf is but a youngster, and the older stories it recounts, of the Volsings and of Waldere reaching into pan-Germanic legend, are wet behind the ears compared with the classics.  We have some older snippets – the legend of the Lady of the Lake, who wed her suitor on condition that she be touched with no thing of iron, may come from the collision of the Bronze with the incoming Iron Age.  Even this story is young.

The Trojan War reaches deep into the Bronze Age.  The names of Graeco-Roman deities can be traced to the early Indo-European languages, but not their legends. The Bible reaches back to Creation itself, but the earliest actual stories are of the Bronze Age, and in parallel the earliest written stories from Babylon and the east tell of the great flood, which happened millennia ago in many places across the world.

We can tell stories that are written in the landscape, as Rudyard Kipling did of his beloved Sussex, and wind yarns about the bits of history we know and the castles, the carved hillsides and the ancient standing stones, but this is not a living story of those times.

See you the dimpled track that runs, All hollow through the wheat?
O that was where they hauled the guns That smote King Philip’s fleet!…
And see you, after rain, the trace Of mound and ditch and wall?
O that was a Legion’s camping-place, When Caesar sailed from Gaul!
And see you marks that show and fade, Like shadows on the Downs?
O they are the lines the Flint Men made, To guard their wondrous towns!

In Australia there are tribal tales that have no dates and were not written down, until white anthropologists passed by. We may think of Australia as young, but its native people had the place for untold ages without interference.

There is in Victoria a mountain called Mount Eccles with a slot-like crater lake in its heart, and around it a wet landscape, inhabited since tie beyond estimation by the Gunditjmara tribe, and they have a creation story of the High Head emerging from the earth, spreading his blood and teeth across the landscape and creating the wetlands, just as the lava did when Mount Eccles erupted. Stone tools have been found buried in ash from that time, so the people were already here.  The thing is, the scientific data for the eruption puts it at 36,900 years ago, when even in Europe the Old Stone Age hunters were still wandering an untamed continent.

It is unimaginable that a story could be told uninterrupted since Palaeolithic times, but somehow among a tribe in a once forgotten continent there is proof of a form of immortality of the spoken word.

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Oh the things we said in dark corners….

I blush to think of those long yarns in college rooms or the corner of a pub, of all we said and did not think, of the ribald, the shocking, the plain disgusting, geeing each other up to exceed the heights of sick-mindedness.

All with smiles on our faces, and meaning not a word of it. I don’t recall any either, and was not meant to. How many wars we declared on innocent countries for minor slights or just to smash-and-grab I cannot remember, and how many tyrannical laws that would make Genghis Khan quiver. Maybe someone lauded eugenic slaughter at one point (I’d rather not think about it) just out of audacity to turn our stomachs, or spoke of race theories that not even the worst nutcase believes, against his own race (though maybe that’s not far off modern identity politics).

You will have to believe me when I say that not one of those foul-mouthed souls has in his matured life celebrated South American culture by decorating his house as he said with shrunken heads still warm, nor declared war on Greenland for having a dishonest name, nor urged the reintroduction of suttee to reduce the social security budget, nor the introduction of slavery based on IQ tests.  Not one of them has married three wives at a time, each for a service in a different room of the house, nor introduced a punitive sliding scale of income tax for taxpayer’s with dissenting political leanings, nor built gulags in the ice of South Georgia. Neither have I thought again about any of the things I might have advocated in jest, thank goodness.

Are the French lucky that we conspirators have not, as we plotted, invaded their land and seized back Calais and Normandy, and Brittany while we are about it?  Somehow, no.  What is spoken in a confidential circle of friends playing the young idiot for all it is worth shows no more intent to follow the words spoken and no more belief in it than Jonathan Swift really thought of having Irishmen eat their children.

So why do young men speak that way in dark corners? For one word they do believe: Freedom.

We are bound by decency and politeness and the opinion of others. It is stifling. Soon we will be grown and given new responsibilities, and seeing that coming there is a burst to claim one last freedom, to speak nonsense unrestrained. It is a joy to be free at last for an evening to act and speak with no responsibility nor need to carry through. It means nothing beyond that circle. Who can begrudge that of young men when they can?

It may build strength and resilience, and joy in the moment and fills that sixty seconds’ worth of distance run, and that is exactly what a man needs to shoulder the burdens of manhood in later life, when the shutters have come down. I slept and dreamt that life was beauty; I woke and found that life was duty. So it is to be a man maturing to bear his load.

We had the sense of course and decency not to record any yarning we made, and what is spoken in dark corners strays not a yard from those corners. It is not a thing for social media nor a blog – which is why all the examples I have written are entirely fictional and very mild compared with what was actually said, even if I had remembered it.

You can see where this is leading: offence-mining, a curse of the age. Too many careers have been felled by it, for words which harmed no one and had no intent to do so. The real harm is done by those who seek to destroy those who have spoken too freely. I can tell you that the pen may be mightier than the sword, but even the sharpest tongue is no more than flaccid flesh. It is not though about offence, is it? It is about power, about keeping away from all influence those who disagree, and any excuse will do. The Long March is not to be turned back. They know, these social-justice warriors, that a provocative tweet is no more that a word hurled in the darkness, but that is not the point.

Then there is the Pelagian Puritanism about which Dr Giles Fraser wrote recently.

Really though, are the open discussions of Momentum types any different? There are discussions involving mass theft from unfavoured classes, destruction of nations, gulags and ‘re-education’, criminalisation of dissidents, praise of mass-murderers, dismantling the whole nation. I have even read serious suggestions of inducing deadly epidemics to reduce the population. The difference is that the speakers of these free ideas are in deadly earnest. That is what should frighten us. Thankfully there are some of us still left to stand against it from our own histories of speaking shocking twaddle.

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Geoffrey Cox: an appreciation

Stentorian – the word that will always be connected with Geoffrey Cox QC, and whenever he speaks, there speaks Stentor of old.

You must remember that speech which he gave at the party conference in October 2018, as newly appointed Attorney-General.  He first began as if he had to apologise to the angry party members for accepting office under Mrs May, but he spoke as an unwavering Brexiteer and won the floor, which rose at his conclusion.

I have not met Geoffrey Cox, despite staying frequently in his constituency. If I ever meeting him, pounding the precipitous inclines of its streets, I will be sure to shake his hand warmly.

His departure from the government was something of a surprise, except apparently to those with inside knowledge. Maybe when you lose too many cases you will consider changing your barrister, which is essential what the Attorney-General is: the Cabinet’s own chief legal adviser and advocate in court. It seems harsh though at our Stentor, for his advice on the Cherry / Miller case (as far as we may discern what it was) could not be faulted by other lawyers, and the Supreme Court’s ruling was surprising to say the least.

Then again, maybe there was a gnawing resentment at his forcefulness in trying to press through the Commons Mrs May’s deal, rebuking the doubters “we are not children”.. and that insult stings when spoken with a commanding voice.

Or maybe it was the inevitable rise of another with a pointed agenda.

A new Attorney-General

Now we have a new, and no doubt talented Attorney-General, Suella Braverman. She may find it a thankless task if she is held responsible for every wild decision by a court, and the clock is ticking for the changes which she herself presaged and will be expected to carry though. She wrote, a fortnight before her elevation that she wanted Parliament to take back control, against “a chronic and steady encroachment by the judges”. This article may have won her the post.

At the same time though she must be the voice of moderation and advice as to the legal points now, not those after any future reform.

A legal adviser is in a poor position, as she must say what the client does not want to hear. Maybe this is why the tenure of an Attorney-General has been so short these last years. It used to be a long-term, non-political position but that seems untenable now.

What then is the job before our new Attorney-General? Possibly to be an activist to rein the wild decisions in, as she has expressed herself on this issue previously. That may be why indeed she has been called forth to be Attorney-General in place of Geoffrey Cox. He advises sagely and cautiously, as a barrister will do, when the order of the day may be active reform.

She has already been attacked cautiously by the heads of the legal profession: the President of the Law Society has rebuffed the idea of encroachment, saying that: ‘The role of the judges is to give effect to the will of parliament and the role of judicial review is to support parliament not to undermine it.’ The two are not incompatible opinions.

The Attorney is also nominally in charge of prosecutions, which has become a sore topic with change in the air.

The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission

The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission is coming and its member will have to be appointed. (Did I leave my card? You mean you don’t have it? Let me give you my details again…)

It was thought that Geoffrey Cox would be involved as Attorney-General but now it is unlikely that he will be appointed to chair it, and again it may be that the previous speeches by Suella Braverman lined her up to do the job. I wish her luck.

I have commented before on the care that is needed to run the Commission’s task properly. It should not just be a place for activism, in fact it must not even primarily be for activism. Active ideas are needed to push anything forward, but any changes to the constitution must be fair, even-handed and democratic but more than that, they be seen to be so without question.

Back to where we were

Tavistock still has a fine Member of Parliament and I trust will do so for many years, and a member too with a great deal to contribute, perhaps on the new Commission, which would benefit from his experience being entangled in the cases they are tasked with straightening out, or at least informing in the House.

The nation needs a steady adviser as it stretches its wings to look over the world. As it was once put:

Methinks I see in my mind a noble and puissant nation rousing herself like a strong man after sleep, and shaking her invincible locks. Methinks I see her as an eagle mewing her mighty youth, and kindling her undazzled eyes at the full midday beam;; purging and unscaling her long-abused sight at the fountain itself of heavenly radiance; while the whole noise of timorous and flocking birds, with those also that love the twilight, flutter about, amazed at what she means, and in their envious gabble would prognosticate a year of sects and schisms.

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