Monday, August 27, 2007

Three books

"God has all possible perfections." Ah yes, I would say sagely (in first-year supervisions of yesteryear), so He has perfect conductivity, perfect insulation, 20/20 eyesight and a first-class honours in social anthropology ...

The joke, of course, is Michael Frayn's. And it is very good to see a new selection of his old pieces for the Guardian and Observer just published, called simply Collected Columns. There's lots more lovely philosophy-by-jokes scattered around (didn't Wittgenstein say to Norman Malcolm that you could write a philosophy book containing just jokes?). Perhaps my all-time favourite remains 'The monolithic view of mirrors' about the debate in the Carthaginian Monolithic Church on the vexed question of the use of rear-view mirrors. After all

looking backwards while travelling forwards is categorically and explicitly forbidden by God, since it was for doing this that He visited instant fossilisation on Lot's wife. In this context 'looking back' has always been interpreted as frustrating the natural forward gaze of the traveller, whether by turning the head (visus interruptus) or by the imposition of a mechanical device such as a mirror. ...

Such pieces -- some of them forty years old now -- still explode theological bollocks wonderfully effectively as well as being exceedingly funny.

So I've been rereading Frayn over the last few days. I also finished Melvin Fitting's book, which I think is terrific, though I'll want to reread it more carefully before writing more of a review here. (For those wondering about getting it/reading it, let me just say that although it takes little for granted, it is quite compressed and is perhaps best for readers with a reasonable amount of mathematical sophistication -- perhaps one step up, then, from e.g. Smullyan's Gödel's Incompleteness Theorems and two steps up from my book).

And talking of my book, Keith Frankish's posted comment helped wonderfully in recovering my sense of proportion about that silly mistake about ACA0! Thanks!

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