Monday, 26 June 2017

Mary worries about Verification (The Fox in the Attic)


Here for your delectation, on historical principles, is an early use of a philosophic locution that is all too frequently encountered. I mean ‘worry’

Wantage had been shocked at the idea that he should go to bed before the Master got home, and was there to attend his needs. But Mary was already asleep when Gilbert and his guests arrived, and it must have been an hour or two later that she woke abruptly. Something was worrying her - what someone had said earlier about religion subsiding “below the level of belief or disbelief”. Surely that wasn’t quite right? ‘Below the level of argument’ he ought to have said. We have learned to distinguish these days between concepts which are verifiable and those by nature unverifiable - and which therefore can’t be argued about: so really we now need two words for ‘belief’ and two words for ‘truth’ in both cases.

After all, even Aquinas spoke of faith, as an act involving the will that distinguishes it entirely from verifiable truth - which is the only real truth, of course, she hastened to assure herself.

The time is 1923 and the young men discussing belief are Mary’s brother Augustine and his friend Jeremy both not long down from Oxford. The book is The Fox in the Attic published in 1948 by Richard Hughes. It is the first part of a trilogy left incomplete at his death in 1976. Augustine, up to the point that I have read is the protagonist. He like Hughes is the same age as the century. I read his A High Wind in Jamaica some months ago. Am I wrong in sensing elements of the same perversion in both these books? It hovers like a whiff of bad drains.

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