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Chapter I. Common Ground
There are some points
upon concerning which you and I are thoroughly agreed at the very outset. For instance, being a reader of what I am writing, you will agree that you know the English language, in good measure at least at least tolerably. This I am positively sure you cannot deny it--or at any rate, not in English;--there is as good deal much more, that it will be reasonable to assume that you assent to; such as that you know the rudiments of grammar,--meaning, of course, Aryan grammar, and that you have all the leading attributes of a human being, and have had an experience of life similar, in a general way to mine. And what is more, you know that it is so, and I know that you know it; and you know that I know that you know it, and vice versa. This, with much information about nature and society, will afford us an amply sufficient ποῦ στῶ, to act upon each other's opinions.
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Can we not, upon this basis, come forthwith to a common opinion about a certain subject that, strange to say, is much disputed? I mean the three questions, if they be not substantially identical, What is knowledge, what is truth, and what is reality? That is, What do we mean by these and cognate expressions?
Is there not a noun in our language which names that of which everything that could possibly be said of it, every predicate, as grammarians say, is equally true? If there be not such a noun permit me
at on the spot to fabricate one. You will, I am sure, admit the following two truisms: first, that for every predicate there is a possible directly contradictory predicate; thus, to "is divisible by two without remainder," there is "is odd in number;" and to "is middling,"
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there is "is more or less extreme," etc.; and secondly, you will admit that if you fix your attention upon anything of which any predicate is untrue, of that one or other of each and every pair of mutually contradictory predicates will be untrue. But those two truisms, you will perceive (unless
you are too this sort of discussion is too unfamiliar to you, in which case the next chapter will render what I say it obvious,) involve the consequence that of whatever there can anyway be imagined of which any pair of mutually contradictory predicates are both truth, all possible predicates are true. Now if you have ever studied the elements of geometry, you will probably recall an operation called the a "reductio ad absurdum," where by absurdum is meant anything of which a pair of contradictory predicates would both be true. We
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have, therefore, an indirect idea,
of an idea of an idea, of something of which both of a pair of contradictory predicates would be true, and of which, as I have just shown you, all predicates would be true. Such a thing, then, though it does not exist in nature, and though nobody can definitely imagine or conceive of it, is nameable name able, and indeed has a name, the absurdum. Of any two nameables whatsoever, one can could be distinguished from the other by the circumstance that some possible predicate would be untrue of it, that though true of the other. Consequently, the absurdum is single. It is a sort of correlative of God, of Whom no predicate is adequately true. Of the absurdum, which I shall hereafter designate as Nothing (with a capitalized initial letter,) every predicate is true. God made the world out of this Nothing.