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This report is taken from PN Review 209, Volume 39 Number 3, January - February 2013.

A Conversation Not Recently Overheard in a Glasgow Club Frank Kuppner
- Well, if he does become an English saint then good luck to him, if one is allowed to wish luck to saints - presumably they don't need it; or no longer need it - but one does rather take it for granted nonetheless that that particular distinguished if perhaps somewhat, you might say, inherited Prince of the One True Church thought it was wrong to torture people into sharing one's own no doubt impeccable beliefs. But what I seem to remember is that the actual word he chose was 'absurd'. Is that not so? He suggested that it was absurd to torture people into believing things. Which does suggest at least a markedly less impassioned commitment to the autonomy of the individual, does it not?

- Well, perhaps. But he really was a great man and a superlatively gifted thinker. Surely absolutely no-one doubts that any more? ['I do.'] ['So do I.'] And, secondly, what he actually claimed, in fact, was that it was just as absurd to argue someone into believing something as it would have been to torture him into so doing. It wasn't a question of torture being in the abstract merely absurd, or anything like that - though, of course, as ever, one may be somewhat missing the main point here, I suppose.

- Oh, I dare say all the important inaccuracies will be mine, much as usual. But still. Torturing as absurd as arguing? Such a manner of speaking is surely ...


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