An Effort at Precision in Thinking

James Joyce


He must be a hardy man who contends that the disputants in this book are common people. They are, happily for the peace of human animals, very uncommon people. For common people will not argue for any considerable time as to whether succession of appearances is or is not anything more than the appearance of succession. But these uncommon people, whose colloquies are recorded here at somewhat distressing length by Mr Austie [sic], argue about such subtleties with a precision which is more apparent than real. The speakers will seem more precise than they are, for at one time they dispute eagerly over certainty of thought, though certainty is not a habit of the mind at all, but a quality of propositions, and the speakers are really arguing about certitude, and more than once all the speakers are agreed that sense impressions mark the furthest limit of knowledge, and that “reasonable belief” is an oxymoron—conclusions with which the man of the people, who is no philosopher, professes himself in loud accord. However, this book is an effort at precision in thinking, even if it does not always provoke that stimulated attention which one speaker calls a form of activity.


SOURCE: Joyce, James. “An Effort at Precision in Thinking” (1903): review of James Anstie, Colloquies of Common People (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1902), in The Critical Writings of James Joyce, edited by Ellsworth Mason and Richard Ellmann (New York: The Viking Press, 1964), p. 96. Also in other editions of this compilation (Dover Publications). Essay originally published in Daily Express (Dublin), 6 February 1903.


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