In Surprised by Joy, he compares arguing with him to boxing:
“After being knocked down sufficiently often I began to know a few guards and blows, and to put on intellectual muscle. In the end I flatter myself I became a not contemptible sparring partner.”
Arguing with Kirkpatrick was like being hit; but he didn’t mind. He rather liked it. Half a century later, he compared arguing with his wife to a fencing match. He sometimes deliberately argued badly because he loved it when she beat him.
Kirkpatrick claimed not to have any opinions. Lewis says that a friend, who presumably thought that it was bad manners for chaps to argue about politics and that they should agree to differ, carelessly said that they just looked at things from different angles. Kirkpatrick jumped in:
‘What do you mean? Are you asking me to picture Liberals and Conservatives playing peep-bo at a rectangular Fact from opposite sides of a table?’
Obviously, the speaker did not have a clear and distinct idea of what he meant by “angle”: he was just using a colloquial expression. But Kirkpatrick’s analogy is very telling.
There are Facts. There are observers. And Facts look different depending on the observer’s point of view. I perceive the table as a trapezium with angles of, say, 45 degrees and 135 degrees because I am standing to the left of it. You perceive its shape differently because you are standing to the right. “Agreeing to differ” or “having an opinion” implies that my view of the table and your view of the table are equally valid and there is nothing more to be said. But by the application of reason—by having an argument—we can work out that the table is, in fact, rectangular and that the angles are, in fact, 90 degrees. When Kirkpatrick said that he had no opinions he was claiming that he has used reason to get beyond his own perspective and sees reality as it really is. If he was a liberal, that was because liberals are the ones who have worked out that tables really are rectangular. If you had shown him the error in his reasoning he would have changed his conclusion.
Kirkpatrick was an atheist. When he died, Lewis was shocked to hear that he asked to be cremated without any ceremony or memorial. So he would presumably have claimed that atheism was not the perspective from which he looked at the table, but the table itself. For Lewis, to be a Christian meant deciding that dear Kirkpatrick had been wrong about the most important thing in the universe. Some people might have said “My tutor’s logic turns out to not be the whole story: for some questions you have to go by spiritual intuition”. Lewis, on the other hand, maintained that Christianity was true according to Kirkpatrick’s logical methods. He spent much of his life trying to win the argument with his long dead mentor.
It is very striking that the analogy Kirkpatrick drew—the one which stuck in Lewis’s mind—came from geometry.
And the word C.S. Lewis used to describe Kirkpatrick’s teaching methods was elenchos.
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