Friday, August 2, 2013

C.S. Lewis and his teacher Kirkpatrick / 2

    If ever a man came near to being a purely logical entity, that man was Kirk.  Born a little later, he would have been a Logical Positivist.  The idea that human beings should exercise their vocal organs for any purpose except that of communicating or discovering truth was to him preposterous.  The most casual remark was taken as  a summons to disputation....  Some boys would not have liked it;  to me it was red beef and strong beer...  The only two kinds of talk I wanted were the almost purely imaginative and the almost purely rational; ...  Kirk excited and satisfied one side of me.  Here was talk that was really about something.  Here was a man who thought not about you but about what you said.  No doubt I snorted and bridled a little at some of my tossings;  but, taking it all in all, I loved the treatment.  After being knocked down sufficiently often I began to know a few guards and blows, and to put on intellectual muscle.  In the end, unless I flatter myself, I became a not contemptible sparring partner.  It was a great day when the man who had so long been engaged in exposing my vagueness at last cautioned me against the dangers of excessive subtlety.
   If Kirk's ruthless dialectic had been merely a pedagogic instrument I might have resented it.  But he knew no other way of talking.  No age or sex was spared the elenchus.  It was a continuous astonishment to him that anyone should not desire to be clarified or corrected.  When a very dignified neighbor, in the course of a Sunday call, observed with an air of finality, "Well, well, Mr. Kirkpatrick, it takes all sorts to make a world.  You are a Liberal and I am a conservative;  we naturally look at the facts from different angles,"  Kirk replied, "What do you mean?  Are you asking me to picture Liberals and Conservatives playing pee-bo at a rectangular Fact from opposite sides of a table?  If an unwary visitor, hoping to waive a subject, observed, "Of course, I know opinions differ--Kirk would raise both his hands and exclaim, "Good heavens!  I have no 'opinions' on any subject  whatsoever."  A favorite maxim was, "You can have enlightenment for ninepence but you prefer ignorance."  The commonest metaphors would be questioned till some bitter truth had been forced from its hiding place.
... It will be imagined that Mrs. Kirkpatrick led a somewhat uneasy life:  witness the occasion on which her husband by some strange error found himself in the drawing room at the beginning of what his lady had intended to be a bridge party.  About half an hour later she was observed to leave the room with a remarkable expression on her face;  and many hours later still the Great Knock was discovered sitting on a stool in the midst of seven elderly ladies begging them to clarify their terms.

It seems to me that this kind of dialectic has gone out of favor.  The people I have come dispute with seem to care nothing about facts, logic, clarity, defining terms.  They want an elenchus out of pure insult and ad hominems.  They want new ideas from vagueness and think that there is no one right way to look at things.  Though it appears that any real dialectitian is obsessed with his craft and can't seem to gauge a social situation.  This is probably not so wholesome.  I wonder how they could mitigate this professional handicap.

I think, that I probably also have a kind of scrappy edge that some feel inappropriate.  I probably also am somewhat impatient with the kinds of subject matter that usually serves as conversation topics.  I want to talk about truth, too.

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