MY friend Scholasticus was in a bad way. He had been educated before the elective system came in, and he had a pathetic veneration for the old curriculum. It was to him the sacred ark; now, alas, carried away into the land of the Philistines. He cherished it as a sort of creed containing the things surely to be learned by a gentleman, and whoso hath not learned these things, let him be anathema. In meeting the present-day undergraduates, it was hard to say which amazed him most, the things they knew or the things they did not know. Perhaps the new knowledge seemed to him the more uncouth.
“The intellectual world,” he would say, “is topsy-turvy. What is to be expected of a generation that learns to write before it learns to read, and learns to read before it learns to spell,— or rather which never does learn to spell. Everything begins wrong end foremost. In my day small children were supposed to be ‘pleased with a rattle, tickled with a straw,’ until such time as they were old enough to be put to stiff work on the First Reader. Nowadays, the babes begin with the esoteric doctrine of their playthings. Even the classics of infancy are rationalized. I was about to buy a copy of Mother Hubbard and her Dog for a dear young friend, when I discovered that it was a revised version. The most stirring incident was given thus, —
And when she came back the dog looked dead.'
That was n’t the way the tale was told to me. I was told that the poor dog was dead, and I believed it. That did n’t prevent my believing a little while after that the doggie was dancing a jig. I took it for granted that that was the way dogs did in Mother Hubbard’s day. Nowadays, the critics in bib and tucker insist, that the story must conform to what they have prematurely learned about the invariable laws of nature.
“I should n’t mind this if they kept on reasoning. But it’s a false start. After the wide generalizations of infancy have been forgotten, the youth begins to specialize, He takes a small slice of a subject, ignoring its more obvious features and its broader outlines. He has a contempt for general ideas. What we studied, he takes for granted. He’s very observing, but he does n’t put two and two together. There they stand in his mind, two separate ideas, politely ignoring one another, because they have not been properly introduced. The result of all this is evident, enough. How many people do you come across with whom it is a pleasure to hold an argument? Not many! They don’t know the rules of the game. You can’t enter a drawing-room without hearing questions discussed in a way possible only to those whose early education in the art of reasoning had been neglected. The chances are that every one of the fallacies we learned about in Whately could appear in good society without anybody being able to call them by their Latin names.
“‘Does n’t this follow from that?’ the facile talker asks, as if that were all that is necessary to constitute a valid argument. Of course it follow’s; his assertions follow one another like a flock of sheep. But what short work our old Professor would have made with these plausible sequences!
“What a keen scent the old man had for fallacies! Even when the conclusion was obviously sound, he insisted that we should come by it honestly. He would never admit that in such matters the end justifies the means. I remember his merciless exposure of the means by which some unscrupulous metaphysicians accumulated their intellectual property. His feeling about the ‘Undistributed Middle ’ was much the same as that of Henry George about the ‘Unearned Increment.’ How he used to get after the moonshiners who were distilling arguments by the illicit process of the major term! In these days the illicit process goes on openly. The growth of the real sciences does not in the least discourage the pseudo-sciences. It rather seems to stimulate them.
“For many persons, a newly discovered fact is simply a spring-board from which they dive into a bottomless sea of speculation. They pride themselves on their ability to jump at conclusions, forgetting that jumping is an exercise in which the lower orders excel their betters. If an elephant could jump as far, in proportion to his weight , as a flea, there would be no holding him on this planet. Every new discovery is followed by a dozen extravagances, engineered by the Get-wisequick people. There is always some Young Napoleon of Philosophy who undertakes to corner the truth-market. It’s like what happened at the opening of Oklahoma Territory. Before the day set by the government when they all were to start fair in their race for farms, a band of adventurers called ‘ Sooners’ smuggled themselves across the line. When the bona fide settler arrived on his quartersection, he found an impudent ‘Sooner’ in possession. You can’t find any fresh field of investigation that is n’t claimed by these sooners. It all comes because people are no longer educated logically.”
When Scholasticus was in this mood, it was difficult to do anything with him. It was in vain to tell him that he was narrow, for, like all narrow men, he took that as a compliment. It is the broad way, he reminded me, that leads to intellectual destruction. Still, I attempted to bring him to a better frame of mind.
“Scholasticus,” said I, “the old order changes. You are a survivor of another period. You were educated according to a logical order. You learned to spell out of a spelling book, and to read out of a reader, and to write, not by following the dictates of your own conscience, but by following the copy in a copy book; and you learned to speak correctly by committing to memory the rules of grammar and afterwards the exceptions.”
“And it was a good way, too,” interrupted Scholasticus. “It gave us a respect for law and order, to learn the rules and to abide by them. Now, I understand, they don’t have grammar, but ‘language work.’ The idea is, I suppose, that if the pupils practice the exceptions they need n’t bother about the rules. When I studied geography, we began with a definition of the word geography, after which we were told that the earth is a planet, and that its surface is mostly water, a fact which I have never forgotten. Nowadays they hold that geography, like charity, should begin at home, so the first thing is to make a geodetic survey of the backyard. By the time they work up to the fact that the earth is a planet, the pupils have learned so many other things that it makes very little impression on their minds.”
“Scholasticus,” said I, “I was saying the old order changes lest one good custom should corruptthe educational world. They were great people for rules in your day. It was an inheritance from the Past. You remember the anecdote of Ezekiel Cheever, head master of the Boston Latin School, who taught Cotton Mather Latin. A pupil writes, ‘My master found fault with the syntax of one word, which was not so used heedlessly, but designedly, and therefore I told him there was a plain grammar rule for it. He angrily replied that there was no such rule. I took the grammar and showed the rule to him. Then he said, “Thou art a brave boy. I had forgot the rule.” ’ That takes us back to a time when there was a superstitious reverence for rules. We don’t reason so rigidly from rules now, we develop the mind according to a chronological rather than a logical order. We let the ideas come according to the order of nature.”
At this, the wrath of Scholasticus bubbled over. “‘The order of nature!’ The nature of what ? A cabbage head grows according to an order natural to cabbages. But a rational intelligence is developed according to the laws of reason. The first thing is to formulate the laws, and then to obey them. Logic has to do with the laws of rational thought, just as grammar has to do with the laws of correct speech. Nowadays, the teacher seems to be afraid of laying down the law. I visited a model school the other day. It was n’t a school at all, according to the definition in the old-fashioned book I used to read: ‘A school is a place where children go to study books. The good children when they have learned their lessons go out to play, the idle remain and are punished.’ According to the modern method, it is the teacher who must remain to be punished for the idleness of her pupils. It’s her business to make the lessons interesting. If their attention wanders, she is held responsible. The teacher must stay after hours and plan new strategic moves. She must by indirection find direction, and while the pupil is resisting one form of instruction, she suddenly teaches him something else. In this way the pupil’s wits are kept on the run. No matter how they scat - ter, there is the teacher before him. ’’
“ Why is not that a good way ? ” I said. “It certainly brings results. The pupil gets on rapidly. He learns a lesson before he knows it.”
“He never does know it,” growled Scholasticus. “And what’s worse, he doesn’t know that he doesn’t know it. By this painless method he has never been compelled to charge his mind with it and to reason it out. And besides, it’s death on the teacher. Ezekiel Cheever taught that Boston Latin School till he was over ninety years old, and never had a touch of nervous prostration. He did n’t have to lie awake planning how to hold the rapt attention of his pupils. If there was any chance of the grammar rules not being learned, he let them do the worrying. It was good for them. There was a race of sturdy thinkers in those days. They knew how to deal with knotty problems. If they survived the school, they could not be downed in the town meeting.”
“Scholasticus,” I said, “I don’t like the way you talk. The trouble with you is that you took your education too hard. I fancy that I see every lesson you ever learned sticking out of your consciousness like the piles of stones in a New Hampshire pasture. They are monuments of industry, but they lack a certain suavity. You are doing what most Americans do: whenever they find anything wrong they lay the blame on the public schools. Just because some of the younger men at your Club argue somewhat erratically, you blame the whole modern system of education. It ’s a way you clever people have: you are not content with one good and sufficient reason for your statement of fact; you must reinforce it by another of a more general character. It makes me feel as I do when, a faucet needing a new washer, I send for a plumber, — and behold twain! One would be enough, if he would attend strictly to business. Every system has its failures. If that of the present day seems to have more than its share, it is because its failures are still in evidence, while those of your generation are mostly forgotten. Oblivion is a deft housemaid, who tidies up the chambers of the Past by sweeping all the dust into the dark corners. On the other hand, you drop into the Present amid the disorder of the spring cleaning, when everything is out on the line. If you could recall the shining lights in your Logic class, you might admit that some of them had the form of reasoning without the power thereof. It was in your day, was n’t it, that the criticism was made on the undergraduate thesis, —
He did not write it right.'
I could n’t help thinking of those lines when I was listening just now to your reasoning. The real point, Scholasticus, is this, which seems to have escaped you. You talk of the laws of the mind. When you were in college it seemed a very simple thing to formulate these laws. There was no child Psychology, giving way before you knew it to adolescence, where everything was quite different. There was no talk about subliminal consciousness, where you could n’t tell which was consciousness and which was something else. The mind in your day came in one standard size.”
“Yes,” said Scholasticus, “when we were in the Academy, we had Watts on the Mind. Watts treated his subject in a straightforward way; he had nothing about nervous reactions; he gave us plain Mind. When we got into college we had Locke on the Understanding. When it was time to take account of conscience, we had Paley’s Moral Science. This, with the Evidences, made a pretty good preparation for life,”
“So it did,” I said, “and you have done credit to your training. But since that time Psychologists have made a number of discoveries which render it necessary to revise the old methods.”
Seeing that he, for the first time, was giving me his attention, I thought that it might be possible to win him away from that futile and acrid criticism of the present course of event s which is the besetting sin of men of his age, to the more fruitful criticism by creation.
“Scholasticus,” I said, “here is your opportunity. You complain that Logic is going out. The trouble is that it has been taught in an antiquated way. The logicians followed the analogy of mathematics. They invented all sorts of formal figures and diagrams, and were painfully abstract. When you were learning to reason, you had to commit to memory a formula like this: ‘Every y is x; every z is y; therefore every z is x. E. g., let the major term (which is represented by x) be “One who possesses all virtue,” the minor term (z) “ Every man who possesses one virtue,” and the middle term (y) “ Every man who possesses prudence,” and you have the celebrated argument of Aristotle that “the virtues are inseparable.” ’
“ Now you can’t make the youth of this generation submit to that kind of argumentation. They are willing to admit the virtues are inseparable, if you say so, but they are not going to take time to figure it out. You can’t arouse their interest by demonstrating that ‘If A is B, C is D; C is not D, therefore A is not B.’ They say, ‘ What of it ? ’ They refuse to concern themselves about the fate of letters of the alphabet. Such methods prejudice them against Logic. They prefer not to reason at all rather than do it in such an old-fashioned way. Besides, they have peeped into the Psychology for Teachers, and they know their rights. Such teaching is not good pedagogics. The youthful mind must be shielded from abstractions; if it is not, there’s no knowing what might happen. It won’t do to go at your subject in such a brutal way. This is the age of the concrete and the vital. Things are observed in the state of Nature. The birds must be in the bush, and the fishes in the water, and the flowers must be caught in the very act of growing. That’s what makes them interesting. If the youthful mind is to be induced to love Nature, Nature must do her prettiest for the youthful mind. Otherwise it will be found that the mental vacuum abhors Nature.
“If there is to be a revival of Logic, it must be attached to something in which people are already interested. People are interested in biological processes. They like to see things grow, and to help in the process as far as they can without disturbing Nature. Why don’t you, Scholasticus, try your hand at a text book which shall insinuate a sufficient knowledge of the principles of sound reasoning, under the guise of Botany or Hygiene or Physical Culture, or some of the branches that are more popular? I believe that you could make a syllogism as interesting as anything else. All you have to do is to make people think that it is something else.”
At the time Scholasticus only sniffed scornfully at my suggestion; but not many days had passed before I began to notice a change in his demeanor. Instead of his usual self-sufficiency, there came into his eyes a wistful plea for appreciation. He had the chastened air of one who no longer sits in the chair of the critic, but is awaiting the moment when he shall endure criticism.
From such signs as these I inferred that Scholasticus was writing a book. There is nothing that so takes the starch out of a man’s intellect and reduces him to a state of abject dependence on the judgment of his fellow-beings as writing a book. For the first question about a book is not “Is it good ?” but “Will anybody read it?” When this question is asked, the most commonplace individual assumes a new importance. He represents the Public. The Author wonders as to what manner of man he is. Will he like the Book ?
I was not therefore surprised when one day Scholasticus, in a shamefaced way, handed me the manuscript of a work entitled, How to Know the Fallacies ; or Nature-Study in Logic.
In these pages Scholasticus shows a sincere desire to adapt himself to a new order of things. He no longer stands proudly on the quarter-deck of the good ship Logic, with a sense of fathomless depths of rationality under the keel. Logic is a poor old stranded wreck. His work is like that of the Swiss Family Robinson: to carry off the necessities of life and the more portable luxuries, and to use them in setting up housekeeping on the new island of Nature-Study.
I cannot say that he has been entirely successful in making the art of reasoning a pleasant out-of-door recreation. He has not altogether overcome the stiffness which is the result of his early education. In treating thought as if it were a vegetable, he does not always conceal the fact that it is not a vegetable. There are, therefore, occasional jolts as he suddenly changes from one aspect of his subject to another.
I was, however, much pleased to see that, instead of ambitiously attempting to treat of the processes of valid reasoning, he has been content to begin with those forms of argumentation which are more familiar.
His preface does what every good perface should do: it presents the Author not at his worst nor at his best, but in a salvable condition, so that the reader will say, “He is not such a bad fellow, after all, and doubtless when he gets warmed up to his work he will do better.” It may be as well to quote the Preface in full.
“Careless Reader, in the intervals between those wholesome recreations which make up the more important portion of life, you may have sometimes come upon a thought. It may have been only a tiny thoughtlet. Slight as it was in itself, it was worthy of your attention, for it was a living thing. Pushing its way out of the fertile soil of your subconscious being, it had come timidly into the light of day. If it seemed to you unusual, it was only because you have not cultivated the habit of noticing such things. They are really very common.
“If you can spare the time, let us sit down together and pluck up the thoughtlet by the roots and examine its structure. You may find some pleasure, and perhaps a little profit, in these native growths of your mind.
“When you take up a thought and pull it to pieces, you will see that it is not so simple as it seems. It is in reality made up of several thoughts joined together. When you try to separate them, you find it difficult. The connective tissue which binds them together is called inference. When several thoughts growing out of the same soil are connected by inference, they form what is called an argument . Arguments, as they are found in the state of Nature, are of two kinds; those that hang together, and those that only seem to hang together; these latter are called Fallacies.
“In former times they were treated as mere weeds and were mercilessly uprooted. In these days we have learned to look upon them with a kindlier eye. They have their uses, and seem to beautify many a spot that otherwise would remain barren. They are the wild flowers of the intellectual world. I do not intend to intrude my own taste or to pass judgment on the different varieties; but only to show my readers how to know the fallacies when they see them. It may be said that mere nomenclature is of little value. So it is in itself; yet there is a pleasure in knowing the names of the common things we meet every day. The search for fallacies need never take one far afield. The collector may find almost all the known varieties growing within his own enclosure.
“Let us then go out in the sunshine into the pleasant field of thought. There we see the arguments—valid and otherwise — as they are growing. You will notice that every argument has three essential parts. First is the root, called by the old logicians in their crabbed language the Major Premiss. Growing quite naturally out of this is the stem, called the Minor Premiss; and crowning that is the flower, with its seed vessels which contain the potentialities of future arguments, — this is called the Conclusion.
“Let the reader observe this argument: ‘Every horse is an animal;’ that is the root thought. ' Sheep are not horses; ’ that is the stem shooting into the air. Therefore, sheep are not animals; ’ that is the conclusion, the full corn in the ear.
“There is a pleasing impression of naturalness about the way in which one thought grows out of that which immediately preceded it. There is a sudden thrill when we come to the ‘therefore,’the blossoming time of the argument. We feel that we are entering into one of Nature’s secret processes. Unless our senses are deceiving us, we are actually reasoning.
“After a while, when curiosity and the pride of possession lead us to look more carefully at our treasure, we are somewhat surprised. It is not as it seemed. A little observation convinces us that, in spite of our argumentation, sheep are animals, and always have been. Thus, quite by accident, and through the unaided exercise of our own faculties, we have come upon one of the most ancient forms of reasoning, one that has engaged the attention of wise men since Aristotle, — a fallacy.”
In the opening chapters, Scholasticus gives a description of the more common fallacies, with an account of their habits of growth and of the soils in which they most flourish. “ Petitio Principii, or begging the question. This is a very pretty little fallacy of vine-like habit. It is found growing beside old walls, and wherever it is not likely to be disturbed. It is easily propagated from slips, each slip being capable of indefinite multiplication, the terminal buds sending down new roots, and the process of growth going on continuously. So tenacious is it that it is practically impossible to eradicate the petitio, when once it has fairly established itself. It recommends itself on the ground of economy. In most arguments the attempt is made to prove one thing by means of another thing. This, of course, involves a considerable waste of good material. In begging the question, by means of one proposition we are enabled to prove a proposition that is identical with it. In this way an idea may be made to go a long way.
“ The most familiar variety of this fallacy is that known as the Argument in a Circle. To those who are fond of arguments, but who can afford very little mind space for their cultivation, this is an almost ideal fallacy. It requires only the slightest soil, deriving its nutriment almost wholly from the air, and reproducing itself without the slightest variation in type.
“ Its hardiness and exuberant efflorescence make it desirable for many purposes. It is useful as a screen to hide the more unsightly parts of one’s intellectual grounds. Often, too, there may be an argumentative structure that has fallen into decay. Its real reason for existence is no longer obvious, yet it may have associations which make us reluctant to tear it down. In such a case, nothing is easier than to plant a slip of the circular argument. In a short time the old ruin becomes a bower, covered with an exuberant efflorescence of rationality. This argument is to be recommended f or a Woman’s Hardy Garden of Fallacies.
“ It is one which gives great pleasure to a home-loving person who finds satisfaction in that which is his own. Often have I seen a householder sitting under its sweet shade, well content. He was conscious of having an argument which answered to all his needs, and which protected him alike from the contradiction of sinners and from the intrusive questioning of the more critical sort of saints. He had such satisfaction as came to Jonah, when the booth he had constructed, with such slight skill as belonged to an itinerant preacher, was covered by the luxuriant gourd vine. Things were not going as he had expected in Nineveh, and current events were discrediting his prophecies, but Jonah ‘rejoiced with great joy over the gourd.’
“I may be pardoned, in treating the circular argument, for deviating, for a moment, from the field of botany into the neighboring field of zoölogy. For after all, the same principles hold good there also, and as we are forming the habit of looking at thought as a kind of plant, we may also consider it as a kind of animal, — let us say, if you please, a goldfish. You have often paused to watch the wronders of marine life as epitomized in a glass globe upon your centre table. Those who go down to the sea in ships have doubtless seen more of the surface of waters, but they have not the same facilities for looking into its interior life that you have in your aquarium. A school of goldfishes represent for you the finny monsters of the deep. You see the whole world they move in. The encircling glass is the firmament in the midst of the waters. The goldfishes go round and round, and have a very good time, and have many adventures, but they never get out of their crystal firmament. You may leave them for half a day, but when you come back you know just where to find them. An aquarium is a much safer place for goldfishes to swim in than the ocean; to be sure, they do not get on far, but on the other hand they do not get lost, and there are no whales, or even herrings, to make them afraid. There is the same advantage in doing our reasoning in a circle. We can keep up an argument much longer when we are operating in friendly waters ami are always near our base of supplies. The trouble with thinking straight is, that it is likely to take us too far from home. The first we know we are facing a new issue. From this peril we are saved by the habit of going round and round. He who argues and runs away from the real difficulty lives to argue another day, and the best of it is the argument will be just the same.
“ Argumentum ad Hominem. This is a large family, containing many interesting varieties. The ad hominem is of parasitic growth, a sort of logical mistletoe. It grows not out of the nature of things, but of the nature of the particular mind to which it is addressed. In the cultivation of this fallacy it is only necessary to remember that each mind has its weak point. Find out what this weak point is. and drop into it the seed of the appropriate fallacy, and the result will exceed your fondest anticipation.
“ Again, with the reader’s kind permission, I will stray from the field of botany, this time into that of personal experience. At the risk of falling into obsolete and discredited methods of instruction, I will ask you for the moment to look in and not out.
“Dear Reader, often, when reasoning with yourself, especially about your own conduct, you have found comfort in a syllogism like this, —
I like to do right;
I do what I like;
Therefore, I do what is right.
The conclusion is so satisfactory that you have no heart to look too narrowly at the process by which it is attained. When you do what you like, it is pleasant to think that righteousness is a by-product of your activity. Moreover, there is a native generosity about you which makes you willing to share with others the more lasting benefits which may ensue. You are ready to believe that what is profitable to you must also be profitable to them in the long rim, — if not in a material, then in a spiritual way. All the advantage that comes to you is merely temporary and personal. When you have reaped this scanty harvest, you do not begrudge to humanity in general its plentiful gleanings. In your altruistic mood you do not consider too carefully the particular blessing which your action has bestowed on the world; you are content with the thought that it is a good diffused.
“When out of what is in the beginning only a personal gratification there grows a cosmic law, we have the argumentum ad hominem. There are few greater pleasures in life than that of having all our preferences justified by our reason. There are some persons who are so susceptible to arguments of this kind that they never suffer from the sensation of having done something wrong, — a sensation which I can assure you is quite disagreeable. They might suspect they had done wrong, were it not that as soon as they begin to reason about it they perceive that all that happened was highly to their credit. The more they think about it, the more pleased they are with themselves. They perceive that their action was much more disinterested than, at the time, they intended. They are like a person who tumbles into the Dead Sea. He can’t go under, even if he tries. It is, of course, a matter of specific gravity. When a conscience is of less specific gravity than the moral element into which it is cast, it cannot remain submerged. The fortunate owner of such a conscience watches it with satisfaction when it serenely bobs to the surface; he advertises its superlative excellence, — ‘Perfectly Pure! It floats.’
“ The great use of the ad hominem argument is like that of certain leguminous plants which enrich the soil by returning to it elements in which it had been previously lacking. After a crop of ad hominem arguments has grown and been turned under, we may expect a rich harvest of more commercially valuable fallacies in the next season. Thus to enrich the soil is an evidence of the skill of the culturist.
“ Suppose, for example, you were to attempt to implant this proposition in the unprepared mind of an acquaintance, — ‘All geese are swans.’ The proposition is not well received. All your friend’s ornithological prejudices are against it. There is no foodstuff to support your theory.
“ But suppose you prepare the soil by a crop of the ad hominem argument. You say to your friend, after looking admiringly at his possessions, ‘ It seems to me that all your geese are swans,’He answers cordially,‘That’s just what I was thinking myself.’ Now you have nicely prepared the ground for further operations.
“ While controversial theologians have always had a fondness for arguments in a circle, the ad hominem arguments have been largely cultivated by politicians. More than a generation ago Jeremy Bentham publisher! a work called Political Fallacies, He described those that are indigenous to the British Isles. Almost all on his list were of the ad hominem variety. He described particularly those which could be grown to advantage in the Houses of Parliament. Since Bentham’s day, much has been done in America in the way of propagating new varieties. Many of these, though widely advertised, have not yet been scientifically described. I have thought that if my present book is well received, I might publish another covering this ground. It will probably be entitled, Reasoning for Profit; or Success with Small Fallacies.
“The great essential in arguments of this kind is to have a thorough knowledge of the soil. Given the right soil, and the most feeble argument will flourish. Take, for example, the arguments for the Divine Right of Kings to rule, once much esteemed by court preachers. Of course the first necessity was to catch your kings. The arguments in themselves were singularly feeble, but they flourished mightily in the hotbeds of royalty. The trouble was that they did not bear transplanting.
“Half a century ago there were a dozen thrifty arguments for human slavery. They are, abstractly speaking, as good now as they ever were, but they have altogether passed out of cultivation.
“ In landscape gardening groups of the ad hominem arguments skillfully arranged are always charming. Much discrimination is needed for the adornment of any particular spot. Suppose you were called upon to furnish fallacies for an Amalgamated Society of Esoteric Astrologers. You might safely, in such fertile soil and tropical climate, plant the most luxuriant exotics. Such airy growths, however, would be obviously inappropriate for a commercial club composed of solid business men. You would for them choose rather a sturdy perennial, for example, the argurnentum ad Pennsylvaniam, or Tariff-bearing argument. It grows thus: —
The tariff is that which conduces to our prosperity.
A tax does not conduce to our prosperity.
Therefore, a tariff is not a tax.
Persons who have confined their logical exercises to the task of convincing impartial minds have no idea of the exhilaration which comes when one has only to convince a person of the wisdom of a course of action he has already taken. There is really no comparison between the two. There is all the difference that there is between climbing an icy hill and sliding down the same hill on a toboggan. There is no intellectual sport equal to that of tobogganing from a lofty moral premiss to a congenial practical conclusion. We go so fast that we hardly know how we got to the bottom, but there we are, safe and sound. We have only to choose our company and hold on, — gravitation does the rest. It is astonishing what conclusions we can come to when we do our reasoning in this pleasantly gregarious fashion.
“ Ignoratio Elenchi ; or the fallacy of irrelevant conclusion. This is not a natural species, but the result of artifice. It is a familiar kind of argument. It begins well, and it ends well, but you have a feeling that something has happened to it in the middle. You have noticed in the orchard an apple tree that starts out to be a Pippin, but when the time comes for it to bear fruit it has apparently changed its mind, and has concluded to be a Rhode Island Greening. Of course you are aware that it has not really changed its mind, for the laws of Nature are quite invariable. The whimsicality of its conduct is to be laid not upon Nature, but upon Art. The gardener has skillfully grafted one stock upon another. The same thing can be done with an argument. You have often observed the way in which a person will start out to prove one proposition and after a little while end up with the triumphant demonstration of something that is quite different. He shows such an ability at ratiocination that you cannot help admiring his reasoning powers, though it is hard to follow him. Your bewilderment comes from the fact that you had expected the original seedling to bring forth after its kind, and had not noticed the point where the scion of a new proposition had been grafted on.
“Many persons are not troubled at all when the conclusions are irrelevant. They rather like them that way. If an argument will not prove one thing, then let it prove another. It is all in the day’s work. To persons with this tolerant taste the variety afforded by the use of the ignoratio elenchi is very pleasing.”
A chapter is given to the Cross-fertilization of Fallacies. The author shows how two half-truths, brought together from two widely separated fields of thought, will produce a new and magnificently variegated form of opinion. “The hybrid will surpass specimens of either of the parent stocks both in size and showiness. Thus a half-truth of popular religion cross-fertilized by a half-truth of popular science will produce a hybrid which astonishes both the religious and the scientific world. If we were following the analogy of mathematics we might assume that two half-truths would make a whole truth. But when we are dealing with the marvelous reproductive powers of nature we find that they make much more than that.”
Scholasticus gives a page or two to the Dwarfing of Arguments. “The complaint is sometimes heard that an argument which is otherwise satisfactory proves too much. This may seem a good fault to those whose chief difficulty is in making their arguments prove anything at all. But I assure you that it is really very troublesome to find that you have proved more than you intended. You may have no facilities for dealing with the surplus conclusions, and you may find all your plans disarranged. For this reason many persons, instead of cultivating arguments of the standard sizes, which take a good deal of room, prefer the dwarf varieties. These are very convenient where one does not wish one principle to crowd out another that may be opposed to it. Persons inclined to moderation prefer to cultivate a number of good ideas without crowding. The dwarf varieties are pleasing to the cultivated taste as they are generally exceedingly symmetrical, while full-grown ideas, especially in exposed places, are apt to impress one as being scraggly.
“Dean Swift, who had no taste for miniature excellencies, spoke scornfully of those who plant oaks in flower pots. I have, however, frequently seen very pleasing oaks grown in this way, and they were not in very big flower pots, either.
“In moral reasoning, it is especially difficult to keep our conclusions moderate enough for our convenience. An ordinary argument always tends to prove too much. This is disconcerting to those who are endeavoring to live up to their favorite text, ‘Be not overmuch righteous.’ The danger of overmuchness is obviated by cultivating the fashionable dwarf varieties of righteousness.
“Various methods of dwarfing are practiced with success. Training will do much; you have seen trees dwarfed by tying them up to a trellis or against a wall or to stakes, and preventing their growth beyond the prescribed limits. Incessant pruning is necessary, and each new growth must be vigorously headed back. By using the same means we may cultivate a number of fine ideas, and at the same time keep them fairly small.”
The least satisfactory chapter is that on Pests. “ It is easy enough,” says Scholasticus,” to describe a pest, but it is another matter to get rid of it. The most painstaking fallacy culturist must expect to awake some morning, and behold his choicest arguments laid low by some new kind of critic. There seems to be no limit to the pestiferous activity of these creatures. They are of two kinds: those that bite, cutting off the roots of the argument, and those that suck out the juices. These latter destroy the vital tissue of inference on which everything depends. I never met any one who cultivated arguments on a large scale who did not have his tale of woe.
“I had a friend who had at one time a theological friend who had great reputation as a dogmatist. He had for many years a garden of fallacies which was one of the show places. It was in a sheltered situation, so that many fine old dogmas flourished which we do not often, in these days, see growing out of doors. Everything went well until the locality became infested with destructive criticism. He tried all the usual remedies without success. At last he became utterly discouraged, and cut out all the dead wood, and uprooted all the dogmas that were attacked by the pest. Since then he has given up his more ambitious plans, and he has only a simple little place where he cultivates those fruits of the spirit which are not affected by destructive criticism. It is only fair to say that he is making a very pleasant place of it.
“ For the encouragement of those who are not ready to take such heroic methods, it may be said that eternal vigilance, though not a panacea, will do much. Some of the most dreaded species of critics are not so dangerous as they seem.
Many persons fear the Criticus Academicus. I have, however, seen fallacies which survived the attacks of this species and fell easy victims to the more troublesome Criticus Vulgaria, or Common Gumption.
The worst pest is what is known as the Reductio ad Absurdum. This is a kind of scale which grows upon a promising argument and eats out its life. It is so innocent in its appearance that at first one does not suspect its deadly character. In fact, it is sometimes taken as an agreeable ornament. After a little while the argument is covered over with a sort of dry humor. There is then no remedy.”
In the chapter on the use of artificial fertilizers, Scholasticus deals particularly with statistics. He refers incidentally to their use in the cultivation of valid arguments. Their importance here is universally acknowledged. “ It should be remembered,” he says, “that in this case success depends upon the extreme care with which they are used. An unusual amount of discrimination is demanded in their application. For this reason, if solid conclusions, that head well, are expected, only experts of good character can be trusted to do the work.
“ There is no such difficulty in the use of statistics, if the grower is content with arguments of the fallacious order. Statistics are recommended for a mulch. By covering a bed of fallacies with a heavy mulch of miscellaneous statistical matter, it is protected from the early frosts and the later drought. The ground of the argument is kept thus in a good condition. No particular care is here needed in the application of statistics; any man who can handle a pitchfork can do all that is required. I have seen astonishing results obtained in this way. No one need be deterred by the consideration of expense. In these days statistics are so cheap that they are within the reach of all. If you do not care to use the material freely distributed by the government, you can easily collect a sufficient amount for yourself.
“The best way is to prepare circulars containing half a dozen irrelevant questions, which you send to several thousand persons, — the more the better. If you enclose stamps, those who are good-natured and conscientious will send you such odd bits of opinion as they have no other use for, and are willing to contribute to the cause of science. When the contributions are received, assort them, putting those that strike you as more or less alike in long, straight rows. Another way, which is more fanciful, is that of arranging them in curves. This is called ’tabulating the results,’ When the results have been thoroughly tabulated, use them in the manner I have described for the protection of your favorite arguments.”
In this way the book ran on for some three hundred pages. After I had read it, I congratulated Scholasticus on his effort. “You have almost succeeded,” I said, “in making Logic interesting; that is, if it is Logic. Now that you have made such a good beginning, I wish you might go further. You have taught us, by a natural method, how to reason fallaciously. I wish you would now teach us how to reason correctly.”
“I wish I could,” said Scholasticus.