No. 239. Tuesday, December 4, 1711. Addison.

Bella, horrida bella!

I have sometimes amused myself with considering the several Methods of managing a Debate which have obtained m the World.

The first Races of Mankind used to dispute, as our ordinary People do now-a-days, in a kind of wild Logick, uncultivated by Rules of Art.

Socrates introduced a catechetical Method of Arguing. He would ask his Adversary Question upon Question, till he had convinced him out of his own Mouth that his Opinions were wrong. This Way of Debating drives an Enemy up into a Corner, seizes all the Passes through which he can make an Escape, and forces him to surrender at Discretion.

Aristotle changed this Method of Attack, and invented a great Variety of little Weapons, call'd Syllogisms. As in the Socratick Way of Dispute you agree to every thing which your Opponent advances, in the Aristotelick you are still denying and contradicting some Part or other of what he says. Socrates conquers you by Stratagem, Aristotle by Force: The one takes the Town by Sap, the other Sword in Hand.

The Universities of Europe, for many Years, carried on their Debates by Syllogism, insomuch that we see the Knowledge of several Centuries laid out into Objections and Answers, and all the good Sense of the Age cut and minced into almost an Infinitude of Distinctions.

When our Universities found that there was no End of Wrangling this Way, they invented a kind of Argument, which is not reducible to any Mood or Figure in Aristotle. It was called the Argumentum Basilinum (others write it Bacilinum or Baculinum) which is pretty well express'd in our English Word Club-Law. When they were not able to confute their Antagonist, they knock'd him down. It was their Method in these polemical Debates, first to discharge their Syllogisms, and afterwards to betake themselves to their Clubs, till such Time as they had one Way or other confounded their Gainsayers. There is in Oxford a narrow [Defile, [1] (to make use of a military Term) where the Partizans used to encounter, for which Reason it still retains the Name of Logic-Lane. I have heard an old Gentleman, a Physician, make his Boasts, that when he was a young Fellow he marched several Times at the Head of a Troop of Scotists, [2] and cudgel'd a Body of Smiglesians [3] half the length of High-street, till they had dispersed themselves for Shelter into their respective Garrisons.

This Humour, I find, went very far in Erasmus's Time. For that Author tells us [4], That upon the Revival of Greek Letters, most of the Universities in Europe were divided into Greeks and Trojans. The latter were those who bore a mortal Enmity to the Language of the Grecians, insomuch that if they met with any who understood it, they did not fail to treat him as a Foe. Erasmus himself had, it seems, the Misfortune to fall into the Hands of a Party of Trojans, who laid him on with so many Blows and Buffets that he never forgot their Hostilities to his dying Day.

There is a way of managing an Argument not much unlike the former, which is made use of by States and Communities, when they draw up a hundred thousand Disputants on each Side, and convince one another by Dint of Sword. A certain Grand Monarch [5] was so sensible of his Strength in this way of Reasoning, that he writ upon his Great Guns--Ratio ultima Regum, The Logick of Kings; but, God be thanked, he is now pretty well baffled at his own Weapons. When one was to do with a Philosopher of this kind, one should remember the old Gentleman's Saying, who had been engaged in an Argument with one of the Roman Emperors. [6] Upon his Friends telling him, That he wonder'd he would give up the Question, when he had visibly the Better of the Dispute; I am never asham'd, says he, to be confuted by one who is Master of fifty Legions.

I shall but just mention another kind of Reasoning, which may be called arguing by Poll; and another which is of equal Force, in which Wagers are made use of as Arguments, according to the celebrated Line in Hudibras [7]

But the most notable way of managing a Controversy, is that which we may call Arguing by Torture. This is a Method of Reasoning which has been made use of with the poor Refugees, and which was so fashionable in our Country during the Reign of Queen Mary, that in a Passage of an Author quoted by Monsieur Bayle [8] it is said the Price of Wood was raised in England, by reason of the Executions that were made in Smithfield. These Disputants convince their Adversaries with a Sorites, [9] commonly called a Pile of Faggots. The Rack is also a kind of Syllogism which has been used with good Effect, and has made Multitudes of Converts. Men were formerly disputed out of their Doubts, reconciled to Truth by Force of Reason, and won over to Opinions by the Candour, Sense and Ingenuity of those who had the Right on their Side; but this Method of Conviction operated too slowly. Pain was found to be much more enlightning than Reason. Every Scruple was looked upon as Obstinacy, and not to be removed but by several Engines invented for that Purpose. In a Word, the Application of Whips, Racks, Gibbets, Gallies, Dungeons, Fire and Faggot, in a Dispute, may be look'd upon as Popish Refinements upon the old Heathen Logick.

There is another way of Reasoning which seldom fails, tho it be of a quite different Nature to that I have last mentioned. I mean, convincing a Man by ready Money, or as it is ordinarily called, bribing a Man to an Opinion. This Method has often proved successful, when all the others have been made use of to no purpose. A Man who is furnished with Arguments from the Mint, will convince his Antagonist much sooner than one who draws them from Reason and Philosophy. Gold is a wonderful Clearer of the Understanding; it dissipates every Doubt and Scruple in an Instant; accommodates itself to the meanest Capacities; silences the Loud and Clamorous, and brings over the most Obstinate and Inflexible. Philip of Macedon was a Man of most invincible Reason this Way. He refuted by it all the Wisdom of Athens, confounded their Statesmen, struck their Orators dumb, and at length argued them out of all their Liberties.

Having here touched upon the several Methods of Disputing, as they have prevailed in different Ages of the World, I shall very suddenly give my Reader an Account of the whole Art of Cavilling; which shall be a full and satisfactory Answer to all such Papers and Pamphlets as have yet appeared against the SPECTATOR.


[Footnote 1: Defile]

[Footnote 2: The followers of the famous scholastic philosopher, Duns Scotus (who taught at Oxford and died in 1308), were Realists, and the Scotists were as Realists opposed to the Nominalists, who, as followers of Thomas Aquinas, were called Thomists. Abuse, in later time, of the followers of Duns gave its present sense to the word Dunce.]

[Footnote 3: The followers of Martin Simglecius a Polish Jesuit, who taught Philosophy for four years and Theology for ten years at Vilna, in Lithuania, and died at Kalisch in 1618. Besides theological works he published a book of Disputations upon Logic.]

[Footnote 4: Erasm. Epist.]

[Footnote 5: Louis XIV.]

[Footnote 6: Adrian, cited in Bacons Apophthegms.]

[Footnote 7: Hudibras, Pt. II. c. i, v. 297. See note to No. 145.]

[Footnote 8: And. Ammonius in Bayle's Life of him, but the saying was of the reign of Henry VIII.]

[Footnote 9: A Sorites, in Logic,--from [Greek: sôrós], a heap--is a pile of syllogisms so compacted that the conclusion of one serves as a premiss to the next.]

Translation of motto:
VIRG. AEn. vi. 86.
'--Wars, horrid wars!'