the method

It was in that class that I first began to learn that every problem, whether serious or trifling, may be solved by the application of an always identical method, which consists in contrasting two traditional views of the question; the first is introduced by means of a justification on common-sense grounds, then the justification is destroyed with the help of the second view; finally, both are dismissed as being equally inadequate, thanks to a third view which reveals the incomplete character of the first two; these are now reduced by verbal artifice to complementary aspects of one and the same reality: form and subject-matter, container and content, being and appearance, continuity and discontinuity, essence and existence, etc. Such an exercise soon becomes purely verbal, depending, as it does, on a certain skill in punning, which replaces thought: assonance, similarity in sound and ambiguity gradually come to form the basis of those brilliantly ingenious intellectual shifts which are thought to be the sign of sound philosophizing.

Five years of study at the Sorbonne boiled down to acquiring skill in this form of mental gymnastics, the dangers of which are nevertheless obvious.  

— Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques 

April 5, 2021

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