Friday, August 01, 2008

The Deepest Philosophy

Yes, it's me, Dr. Thursday, sitting in (hee hee) for our esteemed blogg-mistress, even though it is a Friday. Today, August 1, is the feast of St. Alphonsus Liguori, a Doctor of the Church. We, who think of Uncle Gilbert as a teacher, ought to remember that this Latin and Greek word means "teacher", though also bearing in mind always that these teachers instruct us to follow the One Teacher, and point us to the One Light...

For some time I have considered working on a set of postings about GKC and science, to extend and contemplate the work of Fr. Jaki in his Chesterton a Seer of Science, but I have been busy with the study of Orthodoxy. (I seem to be running out of time on that, five months to go and five chapters, hmm.) So for the present I shall just give you something from one of GKC's letters to his dear Frances Blogg, from before they were married, when he was more of a printer than a writer. (hee hee) It is something which goes to the very heart of science, and may be helpful to our future work.

--Dr. Thursday
... I am black but comely [See Canticle of Canticles 1:4] at this moment: because the cyclostyle has blacked me. Fear not. I shall wash myself. But I think it my duty to render an accurate account of my physical appearance every time I write: and shall be glad of any advice and assistance....

I have been reading Lewis Carroll's remains, mostly Logic, and have much pleasure in enlivening you with the following hilarious query: "Can a Hypothetical, whose protasis is false, be legitimate? Are two Hypotheticals of the forms, If A, then B, and If A then not B compatible?" I should think a Hypothetical could be, if it tried hard....

To return to the Cyclostyle. I like the Cyclostyle ink; it is so inky. I do not think there is anyone who takes quite such a fierce pleasure in things being themselves as I do. The startling wetness of water excites and intoxicates me: the fieriness of fire, the steeliness of steel, the unutterable muddiness of mud. It is just the same with people.... When we call a man "manly" or a woman "womanly" we touch the deepest philosophy.

[GKC to FB July 8, 1899, quoted in Maisie Ward, Gilbert Keith Chesterton; ellipses in text.]

(Nowadays he would say the toner from the laser printer had blacked him; the cyclostyle was a kind of printer, though not electronic of course.)

If the connection to Science escapes you, please read this sentence again:

"I do not think there is anyone who takes quite such a fierce pleasure in things being themselves as I do."

It ought to be inscribed in big letters in every laboratory and classroom... We ought to take fierce pleasure in things being themselves - for without that, there can be no science at all.


  1. Yes, and being able to laugh at oneself is a HUGE lesson I am trying to learn from Gilbert.

    Thanks for a great post, Dr. T! I am about to embark on a great adventure here in Minneapolis: setting up a booth ON THE STREET and showing off our wares. We shall be street people for the weekend, living off the sweat (it's supposed to be 90) of our labor.

  2. Dr. T; I couldn't help thinking as I was reading the passage how deeply and preternaturally Thomist Chesterton was - that things are what the are. The failure of the modern thinkers is that they wish things to be other than they are. Thanks for the thoughtful post.


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