Lewis, the Magic Flute and being logical

By , 26 April 2008 8:33 am

I have a really bright student of strongly mathematical bent and enquiring mind who is currently reading C. S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. Yesterday he protested with some force that he found Lewis illogical in places. It was not the time or place for a defence so I let it pass but I found it an interesting comment. Personally though I have always found Lewis to be highly logical, but I am neither a good mathematician nor a logician. We had one other brief comment on the matter but I will save that till later.

Now the reason I didn’t post last night was that we went to the opera. It was Mozart’s The Magic Flute done by the Welsh National Opera from whom I have borrowed the image. Now if you know anything about the Magic Flute you know it’s got some strong points: some great tunes, some awesome soprano bits and it all ends happily. It is also something of a problem opera. The plot revolves around the Masons of Mozart’s day and their rituals, and we have such mysterious elements as dragons, bird catchers, three boys, a Queen of the Night and an order of priests. It’s all very Masonic, full of ritual and symbolic elements and it swings between rustic comedy and high drama. The performance by WNO seemed to catch the bizarre atmosphere well with sets that made a blatant nod to the surrealist art of René Magritte. There is also a lot of talking but thankfully in this performance it was in English. I’m still not at all sure what was going on (and I gather no one really knows anyway) but it was great art and made you feel good about life.

Now the interesting thing is that of course it fails at every level the tests of logic and rationality. Any supercomputer would be driven mad trying to analyse what was going on. Why were the priests of the Order dressed in orange? (Was it merely a bad pun ‘the Orange Order’?) Who are the three boys? And what about the lobster? Yet it was not meaningless or pointless. Indeed you could say of the ending of the opera that it achieved what art is supposed to do but rarely does: it was moving.

My student made a second comment later in a gap in the teaching. I forget the exact words but it was a question as to whether I considered logic to be the ultimate test of truth. My fumbled answer was that to try to do that involved a circular fallacy: you could never logically prove that logic was the ultimate criterion because to do it you would have to use logic. I quoted Pascal at him (actually I misquoted but he got the sense). ‘The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.’ I think The Magic Flute – and a million other things – demonstrates that.

2 Responses to “Lewis, the Magic Flute and being logical”

  1. Boaz says:

    I’m currently studying math for a degree in it so that I can become a math teacher, and in my courses, I have to do quite a lot of rigorous proofs, so I can being to light some of the logic questions (I hope).

    Logical statements follow from axioms (statements that are assumed to be true by faith, with no attempt and no possibility of justifying them within the system–the ‘reasons of the heart of which reason knows nothing’) and rules of logic (operations that are garunteed to get correct implications from the axioms). So logic can never be used to test the truth of conclusions, because those conclusions are based ultimately on the axioms. So if the axioms are true, then the conclusions are true.

    The two things that logic can test for: consistancy of the conclusions and truth of the axioms. A logical system should be consistant, that is no true statements should contradict each other. If you have contrdictory true statements, then you have a problem with your axioms that needs to be rectified.

    One last comment: within any axiomatic system, there are truths that cannot be obtained (this is Goedel’s Incompleteness Theorem), so truth exists outside of logic, but all truths must accord with each other.

    I hope that the dry style of prose isn’t off-putting.


  2. Terry says:


    “The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.” I love that. I love the idea that there are things, possibly even the most important things, that are not logical or easily explained. I get a little uncomfortable around people who insist that everything be cut and dried – fine, perhaps, for flowers, but too rigid for many other things.

    Perhaps I am too relaxed in my philosophy, or too soft in my world view, but I much prefer a world with some mystery. In history class, I was fascinated by the maps that had all that unfinished space in them. I would daydream about the people who drew those maps, and fantasize about the sense of wonder and expectation they must have had. And one of the saddest things to me as a young boy was the thought that there were no new frontiers, no unexplored continents left. I have since found, to my delight, that that’s not quite true.

    One of the things I so love about being married is the sense that I’m always on safari. I’m always learning new things about my wife, and I love coming home at the end of the day. One never knows what unforeseen adventures might befall.

    I realize that it can be dangerous to leave too many ends untied, and that there are some things we must establish as truth. But I am perfectly willing to smile and say, “I’m not sure…” about many things in this life, and leave a little room for questions. At any rate, all those questions will some day be answered in the exploration of heaven – the ultimate final frontier. Discovering the extent of God is a map that I expect will never be complete. And I am just fine with that.

    Take care,


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