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Full text of "The Note Books Of Samuel Butler"

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Truth and Convenience         303

we express ourselves in one way we find our ideas in confusion
and our action impotent: if in another our ideas cohere har-
moniously, and our action is edifying. The convenience of
least disturbing vested ideas, and at the same time rearranging
our views in accordance with new facts that come to our know-
ledge, this is our proper care. But it is idle to say we do not
know anything about things—perhaps we do, perhaps we
don't—but we at any rate know what sane people think and
are likely to think about things, and this to all intents and
purposes is knowing the things themselves. For the things
only are what sensible people agree to say and think they are.


The arrangement of our ideas is as much a matter of con-
venience as the packing of goods in a druggist's or draper's
store and leads to exactly the same kind of difficulties in the
matter of classifying them. We all admit the arbitrariness of
classifications in a languid way, but we do not think of it more
than we can help—I suppose because it is so inconvenient to
do so. The great advantage of classification is to conceal the
fact that subdivisions are as arbitrary as they are.


There can be no perfect way, for classification presupposes
that a thing has absolute limits whereas there is nothing that
does not partake of the universal infinity—nothing whose
boundaries do not vary. Everything is one thing at one time
and in some respects, and another at other times and in other
respects. We want a new mode of measurement altogether; at
present we take what gaps we can find, set up milestones, and
declare them irremovable. We want a measure which shall
express, or at any rate recognise, the harmonics of resemblance
that lurk even in the most absolute differences and vice versa.

Attempts at Classification

are like nailing battens of our own flesh and blood upon our-
selves as an inclined plane that we may walk up ourselves
more easily ; and yet it answers very sufficiently.