From the "GKCDaily" quotations account on Twitter comes this nugget that caught my eye:
Though the source isn't given, this is apparently in one of Chesterton's Illustrated London News pieces from the period between 1920-22 - I don't have my volumes near to hand, so I can't zero in on the particular date and title of the article.
But the wisdom contained here is profound, though simply and succinctly put. It's Chesterton encapsulating the argument against consequentialism in thought, or letting the ends justify the means - something no more appropriate in logic and argument than in moral action. And Chesterton is right in the observation that there's something even more pernicious about arriving at a right conclusion from a faulty premise than following faulty premises correctly to their faulty conclusions. The latter activity at least has an integrity and consistency and a principle at work: the former can anything from merely capricious to, at worst, cleverly mendacious.
Chesterton's insight here is also one very much needed in our times. I'll be frank and blunt: in the discourse surrounding immigration and the validity of controlling a border we see this problem exemplified again and again, on both sides (of the argument, though perhaps also of the border). The right conclusion that a state does have sovereign rights to maintain a secure border is often being reached by false presuppositions or prejudices. On the other hand, and to very somewhat from Chesterton's dichotomy, the false conclusion that there is no such right is often being reached by the *correct* premises about respecting the dignity of the poor or the like.
Chesterton doesn't say here what he thinks about those who reach the false conclusion with a correct premise, of course, but he does say so elsewhere (at least, in my reading). I'm reminded of Orthodoxy (in "The Suicide of Thought") where he speaks of "the virtues... gone mad because they have been isolated from each other and are wandering alone." Of this state of affairs, he provides examples:
"Thus some scientists care for truth; and their truth is pitiless. Thus some humanitarians only care for pity; and their pity (I am sorry to say) is often untruthful."
In each of these cases there is something in the "premise" that is true: truthfulness or mercy. But in each proceeding the conclusion reached is wrong.
I think the combination of both of these quotations from Chesterton provides a good template for how we might consider some of the more fraught discussions or disagreements of our age. Do we reason logically from valid and truthful premises to valid and truthful conclusions? Or do we error either in procedure (by invalid logic) or in truth (by vicious intent, willful duplicity, or sheer ignorance)? And do we recognize the examples of the cases which Chesterton seems to think are the worst, of when someone lands on the right side of a question but gets there for all the wrong reasons - and how this is less desirable even then those who land on the wrong side, because the situation becomes a scandal to the truth?