Date: June 30th, 2020 10:53 AM
Motte and Bailey Doctrines.
Troll’s Truisms are used to insinuate an exciting falsehood, which is a desired doctrine,
yet permit retreat to the trivial truth when pressed by an opponent. In so doing they
exhibit a property which makes them the simplest possible case of what I shall call a
Motte and Bailey Doctrine(since a doctrine can single belief or an entire body of beliefs).
A Motte and Bailey castle is a medieval system of defence in which a stone tower on a
mound (the Motte) is surrounded by an area of land (the Bailey) which in turn is
encompassed by some sort of a barrier such as a ditch. Being dark and dank, the Motte is
not a habitation of choice. The only reason for its existence is the desirability of the
Bailey, which the combination of the Motte and ditch makes relatively easy to retain
despite attack by marauders. When only lightly pressed, the ditch makes small numbers of
attackers easy to defeat as they struggle across it: when heavily pressed the ditch is not
defensible and so neither is the Bailey. Rather one retreats to the insalubrious but
defensible, perhaps impregnable, Motte. Eventually the marauders give up, when one is
well placed to reoccupy desirable land.
For my purposes the desirable but only lightly defensible territory of the Motte and
Bailey castle, that is to say, the Bailey, represents a philosophical doctrine or position
with similar properties: desirable to its proponent but only lightly defensible. The Motte is
the defensible but undesired position to which one retreats when hard pressed. I think it is
evident that Troll’s Truisms have the Motte and Bailey property, since the exciting
falsehoods constitute the desired but indefensible region within the ditch whilst the trivial
truth constitutes the defensible but dank Motte to which one may retreat when pressed.
An entire doctrine or theory may be a Motte and Bailey Doctrine just by virtue of
having a central core of defensible but not terribly interesting or original doctrines
surrounded by a region of exciting but only lightly defensible doctrines. Just as the
medieval Motte was often constructed by the stonemasons art from stone in the
surrounding land, the Motte of dull but defensible doctrines is often constructed by the
use of the sophists art from the desired but indefensible doctrines lying within the ditch.
Diagnosis of a philosophical doctrine as being a Motte and Bailey Doctrine is
invariably fatal. Once made it is relatively obvious to those familiar with the doctrine that
the doctrine’s survival required a systematic vacillation between exploiting the desired
territory and retreating to the Motte when pressed.
The dialectic between many refutations of specific postmodernist doctrines and the
postmodernist defences correspond exactly to the dynamics of Motte and Bailey
Doctrines. When pressed with refutation the postmodernists retreat to their Mottes, only
to venture out and repossess the desired territory when the refutation is not in immediate
evidence. For these reasons, I think the proper diagnosis of postmodernism is precisely
that it is a Motte and Bailey Doctrine. I do not have time to defend that rather large claim
in detail here. Rather, we are going to look at some examples. I hope that for those
familiar with postmodernism as a whole, seeing the mechanism laid bare in a few cases
will suffice to make evident the larger truth.