Sections 112 and 113 take Napoleon apart
Vernon registered his tutor group on the North Front as was his habit in the summer term. His lessons began with the slow rekindling of learning that was necessitated by the long Easter break. The coaxing was especially tricky when it came to building resolve in his sixth formers who were about to sit their external examinations. There were the boys …so over confident, “Why work sir? I’m going into business with my father and I won’t need ethics then will I?” There were the girls, “Why work sir? Exam boards have their quota of A grades and they give them to the underprivileged to get them into university don’t they, I don’t have a hope against them do I?” And then there was Tom. “I don’t need to work now sir, I’ve done all my revision already. It’s in the bag.”
The revision trail was trod nevertheless with grudging but growing attention from Year 12 and 13 alike. They would soon be leaving for study leave and warning lights kept coming on as they realised the gaps in their learning. For example his Upper Sixth or Year 13. Edmund, Lilly and Flo were struggling to dredge up something useful about Religious Language…
“Edmond; tell me, what makes talking about God harder than talking about everyday things?” They’d been watching a video and practising a communication exercise. Vernon had his fingers crossed.
“It’s more difficult because God’s watching?”
“That’s a start” Vernon sighed, longing for the hills of Thailand. “How’d you know he’s watching?”
“Erm.” Edmond stalled as always and Flo stepped in. “It’s more difficult because there’s no proof he’s watching. He’s an entanglement.”
Vernon smiled, “You mean an intangible. Okay, if God’s invisible and hard to agree on, how can we say meaningful things about him? Why is this a different challenge to saying things about historical events, things like ‘Napoleon ate mutton pie and chips just before his final defeat at Waterloo’? Lilly?”
“Did he Sir?” Flo asked interested as always in food.
“I don’t know I wasn’t there…” Lilly said, and brusque though this sounded, Vernon was sure there was more to come. “If I was there I might verify it by asking him, consulting witnesses… or even killing him and doing an autopsy.” Lilly wanted to be a vet Vernon knew, God help us is she becomes a medic he thought.
“Good, good. Well done, so the key is Verification. A claim is meaningful if it can be verified… or what?”
Lilly’s face was as blank as the cheque of an indifferent benefactor. “Ugh?”
Vernon re-trod the path for her. “A claim, religious or not is meaningful if it can be verified empirically, or shown in principle how it can be verified. The Logical positivists regarded truth as something determined by a thing’s relationship with the world. Speech is pointing to things in that world and meaningful speech is verified by demonstrating the existence of the things you are pointing at.”
“So what about Napoleon, assuming we can’t disembowel him for the sake of a demonstration” asked Edmond, stifling a yawn probably resulting from night-time capers. “How would you verify in principle whether he ate mutton pie and chips?”
“Well it’s unlikely he ate chips as we do because that would be an anachronism but in principle, if we could go back in time, and if we could meet him, and if we could believe him the claim is therefore verified in principle.”
Having found an expression to wear on her face, Lilly re-entered the debate. She wore an expression of disbelief. “That’s a whole lot of, what’d you call it, ‘special pleading’. If we could get to God’s dimension, and if we could see him, or her, and if we could understand Gods peak, the claim that he exists is also verified in principle. Logical Positivists are naff.”
“Were naff Lilly; nevertheless you’re right.”
As soon as the sixth formers filed out for their trek across the park to the dinner hall Vernon’s anxiety about Jean Luc and Émile resurfaced.,
Chapter Six of the Nonsense Filter is well underway… check it out here