Monday, July 28, 2008

When Doctors Agree

One of my favorite short stories by Chesterton is When Doctors Agree, in The Paradoxes of Mr. Pond. I've often thought that it would be interesting to discuss in an Ethics course; in any case, it's well worth reading. A passage from the story, which sets up the basic point one finds in the title:

"There was no difference," said Pond, "between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. You will remember that it is distinctly recorded that they agreed. But remember what they agreed about."

Wotton looked a little baffled and finally grunted: "Well, if these fellows have agreed, I suppose there will be a little peace."

"Funny things, agreements," said Pond. "Fortunately people generally go on disagreeing, till they die peacefully in their beds. Men very seldom do fully and finally agree. I did know two men who came to agree so completely that one of them naturally murdered the other; but as a rule . . ."

"'Agreed so completely,'" said Wotton thoughtfully. "Don't you--are you quite sure you don't mean: 'Disagreed so completely'?"

Gahagan uttered a sort of low whoop of laughter. "Oh, no," he said, "he doesn't mean that. I don't know what the devil he does mean; but he doesn't mean anything so sensible as that."

I'm reminded of the story every time someone says we should 'hold nothing sacred'; I often wonder if they would really prefer to live in a world where nobody held (e.g.) human rights sacred, or truth sacred, or human lives sacred. No way to tell for sure, I suppose; but it certainly is true that the sort of people who go around saying that we should 'hold nothing sacred' haven't usually thought through what they are saying, nor considered the possibility that it is a sort of aid and comfort to kook and killer alike.

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