Sunday, April 07, 2013

G.K. Chesterton on Arguing with the Madman

“If you argue with a madman, it is extremely probable that you will get the worst of it; for in many ways his mind moves all the quicker for not being delayed by things that go with good judgment. He is not hampered by a sense of humour or by clarity, or by the dumb certainties of experience. He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections. Indeed, the common phrase for insanity is in this respect a misleading one. The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”

—G. K. Chesterton
Orthodoxy (New York: John Lane Co., 1909), p. 32


  1. noapologiesallowed April 7, 2013

    A brilliant, effective use of humor in apologetics!

  2. R Lidster April 8, 2013

    I'm not so sure that this is a helpful or truthful representation. No matter what our philosophical perspective, we might be inclined to think of the other as the "madman" that Chesterton describes, but it's possible that we could be simultaneously described using that same language from the madman's perspective. It's rather telling, I think, that this quote closely resembles the kind of discourse used by non-believers about apologists. That's especially true for the "dumb certainties of experience" line that closely parallels an appeal to scientific observation. When he states, "He is the more logical for losing certain sane affections," a non-believer would say that that describes the internally justified arguments of YEC, for example, rather well. This is an entertaining and well-written quote, to be sure, but I'd be hesitant to think it springs from some independent truth.

  3. noapologiesallowed April 10, 2013

    Well, I think Chesterton often (if not always) wrote with his tongue firmly in cheek. If I'm not mistaken, I think he was often on good terms with his biggest critics, if not mostly because of his humor. Besides, humor is part of every other normal relationship. Why not with the apologist and the target of his or her outreach? (In fact, it was a bad joke by a Jewish rabbi that got me into apologetics!)

  4. Joshua Postema April 16, 2013

    @R Lidster:

    Read in context, this quote is brilliant. Chesterton became my favorite author after reading his books Heretics and Orthodoxy.

    I highly recommend both. I think you'll find the quote not only entertaining after doing so, but compelling. On its own, I can see how it could be misinterpreted if read in a certain way.

  5. Chad June 5, 2013

    A great article about Chesterton can be found here.


  6. Roger Hill August 13, 2016

    @R Libster:
    Joshua's response to you is spot on right, in my opnion. Read in context within the Pages of Orthodoxy, one can see that Chesterton is discussing the chief marks of insanity and madness. And perhaps his most important point is that madness is not a result of 'wild imagination', as is so oft supposed. Madness seems to flow more from unbridled reason, or as Chesterton put it, "reason in the void". The man who begins to think without the proper first principles goes mad.
    The quote above simply reinforces the point. It is not a call to an apologetic approach, but a description of what one maybe up against while engaging in an approach.