By Jamie Whyte, Corvo Books Ltd, 2004, 0-07-144643-5

Brilliant and hilarious book about the fallacies in rhetoric and thinking. The combination is stirring. Whyte is from NZ and moved to UK. He works in finance.

[p78] If I were speaking instead of writing, I might register my skepticism by saying “refutation” with a sneering tone or adopt the now popular gesture of wagging the first two fingers of each hand beside my ears like a demented rabbit.

There is usually nothing confusing about this use of quotation marks. It is an economical device for saying that the so-and-so referred to by the word in quotation marks is only an alleged or a so-called so-and-so. But some writers apply the device so inconsistently or so excessively that it becomes impossible to know what they mean.

Here is an example of inconsistency from Dr. Miriam Stoppard’s bestselling New Babycare Book. Chapter 2 includes a guide to the reflexes you should expect from a healthy newborn baby. One is the crawling reflex, whereby the baby is apt to pull her knees toward her chest when placed on her belly. In the section’s subheading this is called the” crawling” reflex. The quotation marks, I assume, are intended to indicate that the baby is not really crawling-the movement merely resembles crawling. But, in the text, Dr. Stoppard states that this “reflex” will disappear as soon as the baby’s legs uncurl and she lies flat. Which leaves one wondering whether the crawling reflex is not really crawling or not really a reflex, or not really either-which would make it a peculiar name for the behavior concerned.

[p114] The desire to avoid ideological debate can lead to even worse crimes than begging the question. Often the result is total incoherence. Consider, for example, the current debate with Islamic fundamentalism. Most Western politicians reject Islamic theocracy and sharia law. They have their various grounds for disapproval: it is insufficiently democratic, sharia law fails to protect women’s rights, and so on. These may be good objections, but they suffice for the rejection of Islamic theocracy only if the basic religious beliefs of Islamic fundamentalists are wrong. If Allah really does demand sharia law, as the fundamentalists claim, then we should all adopt it as soon as possible. Despotism and sexism are well worth it if they will save us from the everlasting flames of hell.

[p116] Even a name can beg the question. The Peace Movement of Cold War days provides a nice example. The Peace Movement consisted of those in favor of nuclear disarmament, even unilateral disarmament on the part of the West. They thought this would promote peace and save the world from nuclear Armageddon. Their opponents believed in nuclear deterrence. They thought this would promote peace and save the world from nuclear Armageddon. It is presumptuous, you will admit, for one’ side in this dispute to label itself the Peace Movement.

It takes a terrible pedant to worry about such contentious built-in assumptions, and pedantry has got itself a bad name. But don’t let that put you off. As Bertrand Russell said, a pedant is just someone who prefers his opinions to be true.