Unreasoning reason

I should say something nice about President’s Day. Well, I could (and did) use the rest. Slept late. Admired the continuing presence of snow from almost a week ago (black snow is a pretty sight).

My more useful hours were spent at the library where I finally got ahold of an article I’d been trying to get for almost a week. It was a bit of a disappointment in that regard, as it seemed a rather straightforward biography of Muhammad Abduh (whom I’ve seen other, better written, pieces on). Reading the translation of one of his key works was, on the other hand, not only interesting at the level of content, but a curious commentary on style. Here was, after all, a fellow trying to make a case, mostly to traditional clergy, about how they could and should modernize religious practice.

In attempting to undercut the traditional practices, Abduh is forced to use their forms of reasoning and argumentation. It is a curiously constraining situation, made somewhat obvious by the fact that both the old and new traditions he is arguing over are slightly alien to the reader. Still, one can see why in more contemporary instances, structural critiques can be so difficult: dismissing a system of thought often requires one to partially accept it in order to make the argumentation intelligible. This in turn can only weaken the argument being made.

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