Sunday, August 11, 2013


Johannes ad Oppositum

James Howell (1594?–1666), Epistolae Ho-elianae: The Familiar Letters of James Howell, Historiographer Royal to Charles II, ed. Joseph Jacobs, Books II.-IV. (London: David Nutt, 1892), letter III.23 (February 20, 1647), "To the Hon. Sir Edward Spencer, Kt., at his House near Branceford", pp. 547-551 (at 548):
But there are some men that are of a mere negative genius, like Johannes ad oppositum, who will deny, or at least cross and puzzle anything, tho' never so clear in itself, with their but, yet, if, &c.; they will flap the lye in Truth's teeth, tho' she visibly stand before their face without any vizard: Such perverse cross-grain'd spirits are not to be dealt withal by arguments, but palpable proofs; as if one should deny that the fire burns, or that he hath a nose on his face; there is no way to deal with him, but to pull him by the tip of the one, and put his finger into the other.
This reminds me of a famous passage from Boswell's Life of Johnson (aetat. 54, A.D. 1763):
After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley's ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, 'I refute it thus.'

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