Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Thomas Paine Got it Just Right

Thomas Paine, the American patriot who wrote Common Sense, the pamphlet (1776) which was so influential in supporting revolution against the British, and who was an outspoken Deist, is credited with the following statement

To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.
Talk about an eternal truth.....
[Thanks to David Gorski for passing this on.]


Hume's Ghost said...

That is one of my favorite quotes, but I prefer the fuller text as it shows off Paine's fiery wit.

"To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture. Enjoy, sir, your insensibility of feeling and reflecting. It is the prerogative of animals. And no man will envy you these honors, in which a savage only can be your rival and a bear your master."

Hume's Ghost said...

Oops ... I mean to add:

That's not something Paine is credited with saying. He actually said it ... it's a part of his contribution to the birth of American democracy.

It's from The Crisis #5

Unknown said...

Equating one's ennemies with animals can be a step towards denying them basic human rights. During the French revolution, in which Thomas Paine took part, a lot of atrocities were commited on behalf of "reason". Although Thomas Paine was a moderate revolutionnaire, he uses the same vocabulary as the hardliners who eventually sent him to prison.

Hume's Ghost said...

Paine didn't say "General Howe is less than human, a savage." Read The Crisis V, from which this quote is taken. It's hardly something to be compared to eliminationist rhetoric.

During the French Revolution, it was statements like this that earned Paine his virtual death sentence:

"I have the advantage of some experience; it is near twenty years that I have been engaged in the cause of liberty, having contributed something to it in the revolution of the United States of America. My language has always been that of liberty and humanity, and I know by experience that nothing so exalts a nation as the union of these principles, under all circumstances. I know that the public mind of France, and particularly that of Paris, has been heated and irritated by the dangers to which they have been exposed; but could we carry our thoughts into the future, when the dangers are ended, and the irritations forgotten, what today seems an act of justice may then appear an act of vengeance. My anxiety for the cause of France has become for the moment concern for its honor. If, on my return to America, I should employ myself on a history of the French Revolution, I had rather record a thousand errors dictated by humanity, than one inspired by a justice too severe."

EPILEPSY said...

It is useless to argue with Thomas Paine !

Unknown said...

« My language has always been that of liberty and humanity »

During the heat of the American Revolution, he was considering what we would call today "terrorism" : "You ought to know, gentlemen, that England and Scotland, are far more exposed to incendiary desolation than America, in her present state, can possibly be." (The Crisis VI)

Hume's Ghost said...

It's not clear that Paine intended for more than strategic targets to be torched in retailiaion and what not ... if he was being oblivious to civilian deaths resulting from setting towns on fire then he was allowing himself to forget the humanity of the British.

However, I seem to recall in incident of George Washington having planned to execute a captured British soldier over some incident and Paine having talked him out of it on humanitarian grounds.