Reflections on Writing

The Keynes CentreHow We Think

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“Almost all good writing begins with a need in the author to explain something to himself – a strong emotion, a childhood terror – a line of reasoning that needs testing on paper or the re-examination of circumstance to be sure that it justifies a general statement. This last kind of need produces the nuts and bolts group …”

John Kenneth Galbraith (emphasis added)

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“If you want to know whether you are thinking rightly, put your thoughts into words. In the very attempt to do this you will find yourselves, consciously or unconsciously, using logical forms. Logic compels us to throw our meaning into distinct propositions, and our reasonings into distinct steps.

It makes us conscious of all the implied assumptions on which we are proceeding, and which, if not true, vitiate the entire process.

It makes us aware what extent of doctrine we commit ourselves to by any course of reasoning, and obliges us to look the implied premises in the face, and make up our minds whether we can stand to them.

It makes our opinions consistent with themselves and with one another, and forces us to think clearly, even when it cannot make us think correctly. It is true that error may be consistent and systematic as well as truth; but this is not the common case.

It is no small advantage to see clearly the principles and consequences involved in our opinions, and which we must either accept, or else abandon those opinions. We are much nearer to finding truth when we search for it in broad daylight. Error, pursued rigorously to all that is implied in it, seldom fails to get detected by coming into collision with some known and admitted fact.”

John Stuart Mill, Inaugural Address, University of St. Andrews, 1867

“Writing a story or novel is one way of discovering sequence in the experience, of stumbling upon cause and effect in the happenings of a writers life. This has been the case with me. Connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause and effect begin to align themselves, draw closer together. Experiences too indefinite of outline in themselves to be recognized for themselves to connect and are identified as a larger shape. And suddenly a light is thrown back, as when your train maker curve, slowing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you’ve come, is rising there still, proven now through retrospect”.

Eudora Welty, One Writers Beginnings, Faber, London, 1985

“I am just now beginning to discover the difficulty of expressing one idea’s on paper. As long as it consists solely of description it is pretty easy; but where reasoning comes into play, to make a proper connection, a clearness and a moderate fluency, is to me, as I have said, a difficulty of which I had no idea”.

Charles Darwin, from Desmond & Moore, Darwin; 183


The Keynes CentreReflections on Writing