Tetralogue by Timothy Williamson is a philosophy book for the commuter age. In a tradition going back to Plato, Timothy Williamson uses a fictional conversation to explore questions about truth and falsity, knowledge and belief. During February, we will be posting a series of extracts that cover the viewpoints of all four characters in Tetralogue. What follows is an extract exploring Zac’s perspective.
Zac wants everyone to be at peace with everyone else, whatever their differences. He tries to intervene and offer a solution to the conflicts that arise between the other characters, but often ends up getting dragged in himself.
Sarah: It’s pointless arguing with you. Nothing will shake your faith in witchcraft!
Bob: Will anything shake your faith in modern science?
Zac: Excuse me, folks, for butting in: sitting here, I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation. You both seem to be getting quite upset. Perhaps I can help. If I may say so, each of you is taking the superior attitude ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ toward the other.
Sarah: But I am right and he is wrong.
Bob: No. I’m right and she’s wrong.
Zac: There, you see: deadlock. My guess is, it’s becoming obvious to both of you that neither of you can definitively prove the other wrong.
Sarah: Maybe not right here and now on this train, but just wait and see how science develops—people who try to put limits to what it can achieve usually end up with egg on their face.
Bob: Just you wait and see what it’s like to be the victim of a spell. People who try to put limits to what witchcraft can do end up with much worse than egg on their face.
Zac: But isn’t each of you quite right, from your own point of view? What you—
Zac: Pleased to meet you, Sarah. I’m Zac, by the way. What Sarah is saying makes perfect sense from the point of view of modern science. And what you—
Zac: Pleased to meet you, Bob. What Bob is saying makes perfect sense from the point of view of traditional witchcraft. Modern science and traditional witchcraft are different points of view, but each of them is valid on its own terms. They are equally intelligible.
Sarah: They may be equally intelligible, but they aren’t equally true.
Zac: ‘True’: that’s a very dangerous word, Sarah. When you are enjoying the view of the lovely countryside through this window, do you insist that you are seeing right, and people looking through the windows on the other side of the train are seeing wrong?
Sarah: Of course not, but it’s not a fair comparison.
Zac: Why not, Sarah?
Sarah: We see different things through the windows because we are looking in different directions. But modern science and traditional witchcraft ideas are looking at the same world and say incompatible things about it, for instance about what caused Bob’s wall to collapse. If one side is right, the other is wrong.
Zac: Sarah, it’s you who make them incompatible by insisting that someone must be right and someone must be wrong. That sort of judgemental talk comes from the idea that we can adopt the point of view of a God, standing in judgement over everyone else. But we are all just human beings. We can’t make definitive judgements of right and wrong like that about each other.
Sarah: But aren’t you, Zac, saying that Bob and I were both wrong to assume there are right and wrong answers on modern science versus witchcraft, and that you are right to say there are no such right and wrong answers? In fact, aren’t you contradicting yourself?
Have you got something you want to say to Zac? Do you agree or disagree with him? Tetralogue author Timothy Williamson will be getting into character and answering questions from Zac’s perspective via @TetralogueBook on Friday 13 March 2015 from 2-3 p.m. GMT. Tweet your questions to him and wait for Zac’s response!