A Moment with Gil: “The Suicide of Thought”

04 Jun

Last time I shared some of Chesterton’s words from chapter two of “Orthodoxy” called “The Maniac.” Chesterton’s main point there was that a person using pure reason with no base point or proper first principle could end up mad. As in crazy.

In chapter three, “The Suicide of Thought,” Chesterton takes on some of the dangers of modern thinking. Pretty incredible considering he wrote this over one hundred years ago. First he tackles what we would call today “relativism.”

“A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed.”

“…so one set of thinkers can in some degree prevent further thinking by teaching the next generation that there is no validity in any human thought.”

“We are on the road to producing a race of men too mentally modest to believe in the multiplication table.”

Chesterton also takes on the theory of progress. People want to make “progress” an ideal even though, “Progress itself cannot progress.”

“The main point here, however, is that this idea of a fundamental alteration in the standard is one of the things that make thought about the past or future simply impossible.”

“But as an ideal, change itself becomes unchangeable.”

The typically American philosophy of pragmatism also comes in for a harsh critique.

“Pragmatism is a matter of human needs; and one of the first of human needs is to be something more than a pragmatist. Extreme pragmatism is just as inhuman as the determinism it so powerfully attacks.”

There’s more of course – he takes-on skepticism and Nietzsche as well – but you get the idea. The main point for Chesterton in this chapter is that “complete free thought involves the doubting of thought itself.” If you follow that idea to its logical end the danger is that “the human intellect is free to destroy itself.”

A bit extreme? Maybe. Fortunately, most of today’s “free thinkers”  seldom follow their ideas all the way through.

In the next “Moment with Gil” we’ll visit Elfland.


Posted by on June 4, 2012 in Authors, Quotations, What I'm Reading


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2 responses to “A Moment with Gil: “The Suicide of Thought”

  1. David

    June 5, 2012 at 4:10 am

    This is still a book on my “to read” list, but I enjoy reading little summations like this. You’re spot on that most modern relativists, postmodernists, existentialists, and “free-thinkers,” whatever their “-ism,” rarely follow their philosophies out to the end. Because the end is despair and self-nullification. And, as created beings, we instinctively know that is wrong, and that life cannot merely end that way. So the modern thinkers have to acknowledge a certain basic level of truth and goodness even if it conflicts with their philosophy, and then they do all sorts of mental gymnastics to try and synthesize them. To me, they tend to look very silly and outrageous when they do this, but they teach in our universities, make our movies, and write our bestselling books, so lots of people must be listening to them.

    All the more reason Christians should be bold about our faith and its propagation!

  2. Rob

    June 5, 2012 at 4:30 pm

    A big “Amen!” to that, David. By all means, read “Orthodoxy.” It’s not always easy – Chesterton sometimes rambles – but it is worth the effort. This is my second time reading it and I’m getting even more out of it this time. Oh, how I wish Chesterton were alive today. What fun to hook him up with Dawkins!


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