NPS 035

On the Acbarites

Now this is the account of the journeys of the most holy Travancus in the land of the Acbarites; for so they were named, for they worshipped their god Acbarus; and they made of him an image in the form of a golden rat, that they might worship him. Now they said of their god Acbarus, Truly he is a most reasonable god, the most reasonable, it being unreasonable to have any other; truly he is the god of reason; the one true god, and every other god is a false god of irrationality.

Now the Acbarites said of themselves: We are without doubt the most reasonable people who have ever lived, and anyone who disagrees in opinion with us, is most unreasonable! Indeed, it is most rational to be counted among our number, and most irrational indeed to be not so counted. And the Acbarites took great pride in their supposed rationality; but although they thought of themselves as most rational, they were far from being rational; indeed though they thought they were the most rational among the living, they were in truth among the least. For though many may be unreasonable, they may be brought to see their own unreason, and thus converted from irrationality to rationality; but those, such as the Acbarites, who are utterly convinced that they are rational, and that whoever disagrees with them is irrational, how can they be ever brought to reason? It would be easier to move mountains than to bring the light of reason to their minds.

And for three long years the holy Travancus laboured among them, preaching; and in other lands which he visited, in such time he gathered unto her Cause many new servants, yet for him the land of the Acbarites was utterly barren, and not one among them could he bring to the truth. And he said of them, Woe unto the Acbarites; for of all the peoples of the earth, the truth shall come unto them last, and error shall endure the longest.

Now the Acbarites said unto Travancus with pride, We are the most rational of all peoples. But the holy Travancus responded, You call yourselves rational; but do you know truly that you are rational? They replied, Without doubt we so call ourselves appropriately! Travancus asked, Tell me then, what is this rationality of which you speak? For none may call themselves by some name, if they know not what that name means; for if they so know not, it is but an emptiness. They responded, Without doubt we know what rationality is - it is believing as we believe, for whoever believes as we believe is undoubtedly rational, and whoever believes other than as we believe is undoubtedly irrational. Travancus, What of those who believe not as you believe, will they not disagree with you concerning what is reason? They replied, It is clear to all that reason is as we say; and anyone who denies it, is being willingly and knowingly irrational. Travancus said, Ask those who possess wisdom, what is reason? And they will say, what a weighty question! And how difficult to answer! Yet ask the fools what it is, and they will give you an answer with ease - and you have answered as the fools that you are.

They said unto him, You call us fools, but without doubt it is you who are the fool. You deny the meaning of reason, though it be clear to all that it is naught other than our teachings; even you know this, but you willingly deny it in the obstinacy of your irrationality. Tell us then, if reason is not as we say, as even you know it to be, what is it then?

The holy Travancus replied, What a weighty and difficulty question! Not even I could answer it fully, and even were one to study it their whole life long, even unto a great age, still they could not give a full answer! But, though I can tell you not precisely what reason is, let me recount to you certain facets of its nature.

Now the holy Travancus spoke as follows: To begin with, I will declare, that rationality and truth are two different things. There are occasions when it is rational to believe a falsehood; and likewise irrational to believe what is nonetheless true. The truth or falsity of beliefs it does not directly concern, but whether one has good reasons or poor reasons for believing the beliefs which one does. There can be no doubt that in the end reason will tend more toward truth than falsehood - and by this very fact among others we may know that rationality is worthwhile - yet that does not exclude the rational belief and the true belief in individual cases differing. Indeed, I tell you solemnly, that rationality concerns, not what you come to believe, but how you come to believe it. That which is rational for one person to believe is irrational for another. There are two people, both believing the same thing, both not having seen it with their own eyes, but relying on the authority of another; but the authority the first relies upon is of unquestioned reliability, the authority the second relies upon is a renowned confabulator. Both have the same belief, but the first believes rationally, the second irrationally; and this be true whether the belief itself be true or be false.

O you foolish Acbarites, you who say – it is rational to believe what we believe, and irrational to believe other than we believe – thus you have failed entirely to understand reason. For what belief is rational for all to believe or to disbelieve, irrational for all to believe or disbelieve? What is rational for one to believe it is irrational to be believed by another; for each live in differing and changing circumstances, and their circumstances dictate what is rational for them to believe. Indeed, there are many for whom it is irrational to believe my teaching, and I urge them not to believe it until it become rational for them to do so. Whoever says, such as the Acbarites do, everyone is rationally compelled to believe our teaching, is without doubt an irrational fool. There are a few things which everyone is rationally compelled to believe, but these are those things which are believed by all, and which are utterly uninteresting; for who would deny that two and two become four? – and yet, who would give ear to a teacher whose teaching was no more than that?

And the holy Travancus said: Now rationality concerns, not only that which one believes, but also the manner in which one seeks to convince others of the truth of one's beliefs, if one does indeed do so. Certainly it is not true, that those who believe, are always obligated to convince others of the truth of their belief; in matters of import, if one believes some thing, one ought to do whatever one can to convince others of one's beliefs, or else to be convinced by them of theirs, save some better reason not to do so; but in matters without import, if others believe differently, one is in no way obliged to remedy that situation. But if one does seek to convince others of a belief, then even though one's belief itself be rational, one's manner of convincing others may be far from rational.

Now you Acbarites call yourself rational, and pride yourself on that name; I have spoken of the rationality of beliefs and of arguments, but how is a person rational or not? A person is rational if the beliefs they hold are rational, and if the arguments they are make are rational; if their beliefs are not rational, or if the arguments they make are not rational, then the person is not rational either. There can be little doubt, that though you claim to be rational, you are very far therefrom.

But you Acbarites claim to be rational, not only as individuals, but also as a people. Now the whole is more than the part, and thus a body of people may be rational even though not all its members so be; if the ways of this people encourage reason and discourage unreason, even though not all among this people be perfect in following its ways; but if the ways of this people discourage reason, and encourage reason, then the people are irrational, even if some among them deviate from their ways. Therefore the judgement is delivered; though the Acbarites declare themselves to be the most rational of people, without doubt they are instead among the least!

The holy Travancus continued: What is rational? Concerning that question there is a lack of agreement, for different people will answer that question in different ways, and it is difficult to demonstrate that one answer is correct and another is incorrect. Yet even if we struggle to state the answer, there can be no doubt concerning the import of the question, or that such an answer there must be, even if it is unknown to any precision; for if reason is naught, then how adrift must we be! Without doubt there be certain things too to be true, and that reason be not must be among those things.

Now concerning rationality, there is disagreement in two ways; firstly, there is disagreement concerning what are the fundamental principles of rationality; and secondly, there is disagreement concerning the question of its ultimate nature. The standards of rationality differ from person to person, from place to place; nor is there agreement on what rationality itself actually is. Woe unto the Acbarites, who assume that all share a common rationality, which they apply correctly, and their opponents apply in error – there is a lack of agreement concerning even the principles of rationality, and also concerning the nature of those principles, whatever those principles may be.

They said, If what you say is true, then any fool who claims to speak reason is as right as any other – if your foolishness were true, O false prophet, then how doomed would we all be. Travancus responded, Without doubt there are disagreements, but do not take that as meaning that one cannot be right and another cannot be wrong; some will without doubt be more right than others, whichever ones they are. And let the disagreements blind us not to the very real agreements; for though on many weighty questions they disagree, on many lesser questions there is universal agreement. And, even though two differ greatly on questions of reason, can they not agree on much of what I have so far described?

And the teaching of Travancus angered the Acbarites greatly, and they threatened to kill him; but he said unto them, Allow me to leave, and I will not return unto you; and Damecacu king of the Acbarites said unto him, Depart from our presence, O false prophet, and return not, and you will live; but if you return to us, you will perish in pain amidst the flames! Therefore Travancus departed from among them, and he returned not for many years, for this was in the days before the first assumption of the place; but when later he returned, he returned with the armies of New Tradicarus, and the Acbarites were at last defeated. Now his army collected up all their golden images of their god Acbarus, and said: Let us melt it down, and share the gold among us! But Travancus replied, That is not the will of Maratrea; gather up their golden images, and take them to New Tradicarus, and we will erect a monument to the foolishness of the Acbarites, and preserve the golden images therein; and I will give unto you the same quantity of gold from out of the holy treasury, as a reward for your service to her Cause.