Reference > Quotations > S. Austin Allibone, comp. > Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay
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S. Austin Allibone, comp.  Prose Quotations from Socrates to Macaulay.  1880.
 
Controversy
 
  The universities of Europe, for many years, carried on their debates by syllogism, insomuch that we see the knowledge of several centuries laid out into objections and answers, and all the good sense of the age cut and minced into almost an infinitude of distinctions.  1
  When our universities found there was no end of wrangling this way, they invented a kind of argument, which is not reducible to any mood or figure in Aristotle. It was called the Argumentum Basilinum (others write it Bacilinum or Baculinum), which is pretty well expressed in our English word club-law. When they were not able to refute their antagonist, they knocked him down. It was their method, in these polemical debates, first to discharge their syllogisms, and afterwards betake themselves to their clubs, until such time as they had one way or other confounded their gainsayers.
Joseph Addison: Spectator, No. 239.    
  2
 
  Mr. Bayle compares the answering of an unmethodical author to the hunting of a duck: when you have him full in your sight, he gives you the slip and becomes invisible.
Joseph Addison.    
  3
 
  He is perpetually puzzled and perplexed amidst his own blunders, and mistakes the sense of those he would confute.
Joseph Addison.    
  4
 
  The harshness of reasoning is not a little softened and smoothed by the effusions of mirth and pleasantry.
Joseph Addison.    
  5
 
  To think everything disputable is a proof of a weak mind and captious temper.
James Beattie.    
  6
 
  The captious turn of an habitual wrangler deadens the understanding, sours the temper, and hardens the heart.
James Beattie.    
  7
 
  I cannot fall out, or contemn a man for an error, or conceive why a difference in opinion should divide an affection: for controversies, disputes, and argumentations, both in philosophy and in divinity, if they meet with discreet and peaceable natures, do not infringe the laws of charity. In all disputes, so much as there is of passion so much there is of nothing to the purpose; for then reason, like a bad hound, spends upon a false scent, and forsakes the question first started. And this is one reason why controversies are never determined: for though they be amply proposed they are scarce at all handled, they do so swell with unnecessary digressions: and the parenthesis on the party is often as large as the main discourse upon the subject.  8
 
  In order to keep that temper which is so difficult, and yet so necessary to preserve, you may please to consider, that nothing can be more unjust or ridiculous, than to be angry with another because he is not of your opinion. The interests, education, and means by which men attain their knowledge, are so very different, that it is impossible they should all think alike; and he has at least as much reason to be angry with you, as you with him. Sometimes, to keep yourself cool, it may be of service to ask yourself fairly, what might have been your opinion, had you all the biasses of education and interest your adversary may possibly have?
Eustace Budgell: Spectator, No. 197.    
  9
 
  Avoid as much as you can, in mixed companies, argumentative, polemical conversations; which, though they should not, yet certainly do, indispose for a time the contending parties towards each other: and if the controversy grows warm and noisy, endeavour to put an end to it by some genteel levity or joke. I quieted such a conversation hubbub once by representing to them that, though I was persuaded none there present would repeat out of company what passed in it, yet I could not answer for the discretion of the passengers in the street, who must necessarily hear all that was said.
Lord Chesterfield: Letters to his Son, Oct. 19, 1748.    
  10
 
  Men of many words sometimes argue for the sake of talking; men of ready tongues frequently dispute for the sake of victory; men in public life often debate for the sake of opposing the ruling party, or from any other motive than the love of truth.
George Crabb: Synonymes.    
  11
 
  The precipitancy of disputation, and the stir and noise of passions that usually attend it, must needs be prejudicial to verity: its calm insinuations can no more be heard in such a bustle than a whistle among a crowd of sailors in a storm.
Joseph Glanvill.    
  12
 
  The sparks of truth being forced out of contention, as the sparks of fire out of the collision of flint and steel.
George Hakewill.    
  13
 
  However some may affect to dislike controversy, it can never be of ultimate disadvantage to the interests of truth or the happiness of mankind. Where it is indulged to its full extent, a multitude of ridiculous opinions will no doubt be obtruded upon the public; but any ill influence they may produce cannot continue long, as they are sure to be opposed with at least equal ability and that superior advantage which is ever attendant on truth. The colours with which wit or eloquence may have adorned a false system will gradually die away, sophistry be detected, and everything estimated at length according to its value.
Robert Hall: On the Right of Public Discussion.    
  14
 
  Suspense of judgment and exercise of charity were safer and seemlier for Christian men than the hot pursuit of these controversies.
Richard Hooker.    
  15
 
 
 
  It is impossible to fall into any company where there is not some regular and established subordination, without finding rage and vehemence produced only by difference of sentiments about things in which neither of the disputants have any other interest, than what proceeds from their mutual unwillingness to give way to any opinion that may bring upon them the disgrace of being wrong.  16
  I have heard of one that, having advanced some erroneous doctrines of philosophy, refused to see the experiments by which they were confuted.
Dr. Samuel Johnson: Rambler, No. 31.    
  17
 
  It is almost always the unhappiness of a victorious disputant, to destroy his own authority by claiming too many consequences, or diffusing his proposition to an indefensible extent. When we have heated our zeal in a cause, and elated our confidence with success, we are naturally inclined to pursue the same train of reasoning, to establish some collateral truth, to remove some adjacent difficulty, and to take in the whole comprehension of our system.
Dr. Samuel Johnson: Rambler, No. 66.    
  18
 
  Akenside was a young man, warm with every notion connected with liberty, and, by an eccentricity which such dispositions do not easily avoid, a lover of contradiction.
Dr. Samuel Johnson.    
  19
 
  Consider what the learning of disputation is, and how they are employed for the advantage of themselves or others whose business is only the vain ostentation of sounds.
John Locke.    
  20
 
  Amongst men who examine not scrupulously their own ideas, and strip them not from the marks men use for them, but confound them with words, there must be endless dispute.
John Locke.    
  21
 
  I am yet apt to think that men find their simple ideas agree, though in discourse they confound one another with different names.
John Locke.    
  22
 
  Hunting after arguments to make good one side of a question, and wholly to neglect those which favour the other, is wilfully to misguide the understanding; and is so far from giving truth its due value, that it wholly debases it.
John Locke.    
  23
 
  If we consider the mistakes in men’s disputes and notions, how great a part is owing to words, and their uncertain or mistaken significations: this we are the more carefully to be warned of, because the arts of improving it have been made the business of men’s study.
John Locke.    
  24
 
  This exactness is absolutely necessary in inquiries after philosophical knowledge, and in controversies about truth.
John Locke.    
  25
 
  There is no such way to give defence to absurd doctrines, as to guard them round about with legions of obscure and undefined words; which yet make these retreats more like the dens of robbers, or holes of foxes, than the fortresses of fair warriors.
John Locke.    
  26
 
  It happens in controversial discourses as it does in the assaulting of towns, where, if the ground be but firm whereon the batteries are erected, there is no farther enquiry whom it belongs to, so it affords but a fit rise for the present purpose.
John Locke.    
  27
 
  A way that men ordinarily use to force others to submit to their judgments, and receive their opinion in debate, is to require the adversary to admit what they allege as a proof, or to assign a better.
John Locke.    
  28
 
  Men that do not perversely use their words, or on purpose set themselves to cavil, seldom mistake the signification of the names of simple ideas.
John Locke.    
  29
 
  There is no learned man but will confess he hath much profited by reading controversies,—his senses awakened, his judgment sharpened, and the truth which he holds more firmly established. If then it be profitable for him to read, why should it not at least be tolerable and free for his adversary to write? In logic, they teach that contraries laid together more evidently appear: it follows, then, that all controversy being permitted, falsehood will appear more false, and truth the more true; which must needs conduce much to the general confirmation of an implicit truth.
John Milton.    
  30
 
  Having newly left those grammatic shallows, where they stuck unreasonably to learn a few words, on the sudden are transported to be tost and turmoiled with their unballasted wits in fathomless and unquiet deeps of controversy.
John Milton.    
  31
 
  What Tully says of war may be applied to disputing,—it should be always so managed as to remember that the only true end of it is peace: but generally true disputants are like true sportsmen,—their whole delight is in the pursuit; and a disputant no more cares for the truth than the sportsman for the hare.
Alexander Pope: Thoughts on Various Subjects.    
  32
 
  The like censurings and despisings have embittered the spirits, and whetted both the tongues and pens, of learned men one against another.
Robert Sanderson.    
  33
 
  It is very unfair in any writer to employ ignorance and malice together; because it gives his answerer double work.
Jonathan Swift.    
  34
 
  It will happen continually that rightly to distinguish between two words will throw great light upon some controversy in which words play a principal part; nay, will virtually put an end to that controversy altogether.
Richard C. Trench.    
  35
 
  Disputation carries away the mind from that calm and sedate temper which is so necessary to contemplate truth.
Dr. Isaac Watts.    
  36
 
  Young students, by a constant habit of disputing, grow impudent and audacious, proud and disdainful.
Dr. Isaac Watts.    
  37
 
  A spirit of contradiction is so pedantic and hateful that a man should watch against every instance of it.
Dr. Isaac Watts.    
  38
 
  A person of a whiffing and unsteady turn of mind cannot keep close to a point of controversy, but wanders from it perpetually.
Dr. Isaac Watts.    
  39
 
  When the state of the controversy is plainly determined, it must not be altered by another disputant in the course of the disputation.
Dr. Isaac Watts.    
  40
 
  It is to diffuse a light over the understanding, in our enquiries after truth, and not to furnish the tongue with debate and controversy.
Dr. Isaac Watts.    
  41
 
  Controversy, though always an evil in itself, is sometimes a necessary evil. To give up everything worth contending about, in order to prevent hurtful contentions, is, for the sake of extirpating noxious weeds, to condemn the field to perpetual sterility. Yet, if the principle that it is an evil only to be incurred when necessary for the sake of some important good, were acted upon, the two classes of controversies mentioned by Bacon would certainly be excluded. The first, controversy on subjects too deep and mysterious, is indeed calculated to gender strife. For, in a case where correct knowledge is impossible to any and where all are, in fact, in the wrong, there is but little likelihood of agreement: like men who should rashly venture to explore a strange land in utter darkness, they will be scattered into a thousand devious paths. The second class of subjects that would be excluded by this principle, are those which relate to matters too minute and trifling.
Richard Whately: Annot. on Bacon’s Essay, Of Unity in Religion.    
  42
 
 
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