Chesterton: Three Ways to Argue

“There are three ways in which a statement, especially a disputable statement, can be placed before mankind. The first is to assert it by avowed authority; this is done by deities, the priests of deities, oracles, minor poets, parents and guardians, and men who have ‘a message to their age’ The second way is to prove it by reason; this was done by the mediaeval schoolmen, and by some of the early and comparatively forgotten men of science. It is now quite abandoned. The third method is this: when you have neither the courage to assert a thing nor the capacity to prove it, you allude to it in a light and airy style, as if somebody else had asserted and proved it already. Thus the first method is to say, ‘Pigs do fly in heaven; I have had a vision of heaven, and you have not’ The second method is to say, ‘Come down to my little place in Essex, and I will show you pigs flying about like finches and building nests in the elms’. Both these positions require a certain valour to sustain them, and are now, therefore, generally dropped. The third method, which is usually adopted, is to say, ‘Professor Gubbins belongs to the old school of scientific criticism, and cannot but strike us as limited in this age of wireless telegraphy and aerial swine’; or ‘Doubtless we should be as much surprised at the deeds of our descendants as would an Ancient Briton at a motor-car or a flying pig, or any such common sight in our streets”. In short, this third method consists in referring to the very thing that is in dispute as if it were now beyond dispute. This is known as the Restrained or Gentlemanly method; it is used by company promoters, by professors of hair-dressing and the other progressive arts, and especially by journalists like myself.

– G.K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, Aug. 7, 1909

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