Innocence, The Fallacy of

“Innocence” has two related meanings here. First, it means innocence of knowledge—i.e., ignorance, a gift to an adversary in argument, inviting the whole range of rhetorical scams.

The second meaning is not another name for ignorance, but an addition to it: it embellishes ignorance with the qualities of irreproachable naïveté and purity. Innocence (noun): Freedom from the sin of knowing anything.

The arguer presents herself as the sweet innocent, who cuts through all the clever stuff and with refreshing childlike simplicity gets straight to the point. You are as innocent as a March hare, the outsider whose mind is unspoiled by knowledge and who can look with a fresh, uncomprehending eye at extraordinary goings-on.I46

Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver takes delight in this, telling his horrified hosts—the innocent horses, the Houyhnhnms—about the professions back home: the lawyers who are paid to tell the most enormous lies, the soldiers who blow people sky-high so that the populace can watch their bodies crashing back to earth.I47

Innocence in this sense of holy ignorance has had a good press—or, at least, a good myth. Its most famous moment came with the Emperor Who Had No Clothes: sweet innocence, over whose eyes the scales of sophistication had not yet grown—or rather, in whom the ability to appreciate myth had not yet developed—came in the boy’s cry of amazement about his naked emperor. But innocence has a darker side, and it is on display in the medieval morality play, Everyman, which is the story of desertion in the hour of death. Inevitably, Fellowship, Kindred and Goods must take their leave; they are followed by Beauty, Strength, Discretion, and the Five Wits, leaving just Knowledge and Good Deeds: then, even Knowledge goes, leaving Everyman alone except for the permanent company of Good Deeds. Everyman will not be needing Knowledge where he is going: he is “crowned” as a reward for being ignorant, innocent of any knowledge at all. He is not even allowed to keep his Pride.I48


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David Fleming
Dr David Fleming (2 January 1940 – 29 November 2010) was a cultural historian and economist, based in London, England. He was among the first to reveal the possibility of peak oil's approach and invented the influential TEQs scheme, designed to address this and climate change. He was also a pioneer of post-growth economics, and a significant figure in the development of the UK Green Party, the Transition Towns movement and the New Economics Foundation, as well as a Chairman of the Soil Association. His wide-ranging independent analysis culminated in two critically acclaimed books, 'Lean Logic' and 'Surviving the Future', published posthumously in 2016. These in turn inspired the 2020 launches of both BAFTA-winning director Peter Armstrong's feature film about Fleming's perspective and legacy - 'The Sequel: What Will Follow Our Troubled Civilisation?' - and Sterling College's unique 'Surviving the Future: Conversations for Our Time' online courses. For more information on all of the above, including Lean Logic, click the little globe below!

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