Wednesday, March 13, 2024

A refutation

Today Patrick Kurp refers to one of my favorite Samuel Johnson stories:
The best-known and still unchallenged refutation of the Irish Anglican Bishop George Berkeley’s theory of subjective idealism — he called it “immaterialism” — is recounted by James Boswell on August 6, 1763:
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it thus.’
Dr. Johnson’s demonstration of common sense is at once amusing, convincing, and somehow quintessentially English, the sort of act Jonathan Swift would have applauded... Johnson’s critics have dismissed his logic as fallacious and dubbed his approach argumentum ad lapidem — “argument to the stone” — so freshmen in Philosophy 101 and other sophisticates can feel vindicated. For the rest of us it’s QED. ....

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