David M. Brown's Blog

February 13, 2013

A partial solution to the it’s-in-a-box-somewhere problem

Filed under: Philosophy,Self-help,Society and culture — davidmbrowndotcom @ 10:26 am

Having moved so often, I have become skilled of the art of moving. Perhaps I am not a professional but at least I am a gifted amateur. One thing I learned to do is label boxes of books “A,” “B,” and “C,” in the order in which they were to be unpacked. It takes a long time to unpack the boxes. After my most recent move I never did finish unpacking them, in part because I don’t have the room to shelve them all.

The point I am approaching is that I often know that I have a certain book in my library but am unable to easily get the book because it’s in a box somewhere instead of on a shelf. Recently I came across a recommendation of The Art of Cross-Examination by Francis Wellman. This volume, purchased many years ago, is in my library and may even be on a shelf, but I did not bother to look. Via Google I soon found two free pdf editions, one more cleanly typeset than the other, and downloaded the cleaner version to the Goodreader app on my iPad mini. These days, a reasonably readable free electronic edition of almost any classic text out of copyright can be gotten within a few minutes.

Part Two of The Art of Cross-Examination includes transcripts of famous cross-examinations. I began reading John K. Porter’s examination of Charles J. Guiteau, who assassinated President James Garfield on instructions from God, as Guiteau believed or pretended to believe. Wellman writes that the defendant was “cleverly led [by Porter’s cross-examination] to picture himself to the civilized world as a moral monstrosity.” Porter grills the assassin about when God inspired him to do the deed, when he realized the notion had been instilled by God, whether he initially disagreed with God about the feasibility of killing the President, etc. Goiteau’s thought of killing Garfield seems exactly like the kind of thought that might occur to a person had no deity implanted it. His insistence that God authorized the deed seems like what a rationalization of his own decision to commit it would seem like.

If one believes in God, how does one distinguish between a thought that has not been injected into one’s head by God but which one has convinced oneself (or at least is trying to convince oneself) has been thus injected, and a thought that has in fact been thus injected? In light of the fact that there is no God, there is no way to do it, no distinction to be made. The former is always the case.

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