Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lewis Carroll, Logic, and God

I brought with me here (this letter was written from Eastbourne) the MS., such as it is (very fragmentary and unarranged) for the book about religious difficulties, and I meant, when I came here, to devote myself to that, but I have changed my plan. It seems to me that that subject is one that hundreds of living men could do, if they would only try, much better than I could, whereas there is no living man who could (or at any rate who would take the trouble to) arrange and finish and publish the second part of the "Logic." Also, I have the Logic book in my head; it will only need three or four months to write out, and I have not got the other book in my head, and it might take years to think out. So I have decided to get Part ii. finished first, and I am working at it day and night. I have taken to early rising, and sometimes sit down to my work before seven, and have one and a half hours at it before breakfast. The book will be a great novelty, and will help, I fully believe, to make the study of Logic far easier than it now is. And it will, I also believe, be a help to religious thought by giving clearness of conception and of expression, which may enable many people to face, and conquer, many religious difficulties for themselves. So I do really regard it as work for God.


Charles Dodgson (a.k.a., Lewis Carroll), from an 1896 letter to Louisa Dodgson, his sister. Dodgson was a deacon in the Church of England; he was technically High Church, at least in liturgical habits, but his theology seems to have had a few Broad Church leanings. The book on religious difficulties was supposed to be a collection of essays showing that a number of practical problems people had with Christian doctrines could be cleared up by logical thinking if only certain principles were granted, which were (as he wrote to someone else):

(1) Human conduct is capable of being right, and of being wrong.

(2) I possess Free-Will, and am able to choose between right and wrong.

(3) I have in some cases chosen wrong.

(4) I am responsible for choosing wrong.

(5) I am responsible to a person.

(6) This person is perfectly good.

The work wasn't intended to deal with abstract speculative problems, but only with problems fairly closely related to the actual living of life. The only essay in the book that seems to have been written is the essay on Eternal Punishment; at least, even if not, it seems to be the only essay to have survived the destruction of many of Carroll's papers after his death, and it's the one essay I know of that is mentioned in letters. It's quite a good essay, actually, written as only Carroll could have written it; he identifies the logical form of problem and tries to lay out for the reader, in a clear, concise way, the logically possible ways of dealing with it. If the essay is any indication of what the other essays in the book would have been, it would have been nice to have it.

On the other hand, Dodgson was probably right that his skills were put to better use dealing with logic directly and working on helping others to think clearly. As it was, though, he never published Part II of Symbolic Logic, and most of his work on the book has been lost. We do have some uncorrected galley proofs of a few of the books of Part II, but only scattered drafts and fragments of the rest. There was also supposed to be a Part III that was never written at all. And this lack is really felt; Carroll was in some ways a logician of his time, but in many ways he was decades ahead of his time, as well.

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