Brotherhood of Boole

When you enter the old, ash-stained bricked schoolhouse, the silence and darkness of the empty classroom greets you at the door: the room is cold and still, with no sign of human life. You stop to look around and on the blackboard a message is scribbled in thick, white chalk. Through the darkness, you wallk closer to the board to make out the inscription's meaning: "Take the stairwell behind the door next to the instuctor's desk. In the upstairs room to the right, you will find the answers to your quest. Sincerely, your Professeur."

At the top of the stairs, a tall, matter-of-fact man in a slim, black coat is awaiting your arrival. You recognize him to be the schoolmaster and host of your visit, Mr. M'Choakumchild.

"We've been expecting your arrival, better late than never. There's no time to waste. Please, allow me. Through here." Choakumchild opens a door to a dimly lit room of medium size. Inside, there are two beds and a table surrounded by several chairs. On the table sits piles and piles of paper full of writing, equations, and figures, and in two of the chairs sits a younger and an older man, both waiting silently for your approach.

The older man leans forward, "My most treasured pupil. It's been too long, Monsieur."

"Professeur Comte! I have so many questions! It's so good to finally see you again. I heard rumors - some even claiming you died a couple years back!"

"Yes, there's much to catch up on, but first allow me to introduce my young collaborator, the famous logician and mathematician, Dr. George Boole. Boole and I have made much progress on expanding the Positivistic project . In fact, Boole has helped me refine the focus of our scientific project by anchoring it in the absolute laws of logical proof. Our fundamental rule of method is the following: in order for knowledge to be meaningful (as opposed to being nonsensical) it must be empirically verifiable AND it must conform to the laws of logic! Have you read Dr. Boole's masterpiece, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought on Which are Founded the Mathematical Theories of Logic and Probabilities!?!"

"No, Professeur, I am not familiar with the work. Although it does sound fascinating-"

"It is the missing link in our project of creating the perfect, Postivistic framework for understanding all facets of reality! It's no accident that this whole affair in Coketown began in the year 1854, for that was the year that Dr. Boole published his work, thereby alerting Mary Shelley and her radicals to our whereabouts here in England. It explains why Friedrich Engels, John Stuart Mill, and all the other major figures of the area have travelled to England. The British isle has become the officalsite for where the struggle between Fact and Fancy must continue to be fought. We and the rest of our Brotherhood have remained in the shadows because Shelley and her revolutionaries seek to have our heads. As you can see, not much has changed since the French Revolution. That much is clear, which leads me to our mission. We must eliminate the influence of Fancy altogether if we are to eliminate the idealistic, and ultimately violent, impulses of humanity - impulses that always inevitably lead to catostrophic events like the Reign of Terror. We must eliminate Fancy's influence now as we've caught word that Shelley's sisterhood has recruited the likes of anarchists such as Mikhail Bakunin. We can only fight their desire for violence against the flesh by exerting violence against the Spirit of their cause - namely, the one thing not needed at this moment scientific promise: the corrupting influence of Fancy!"

"Wait, how did all this start with Mary Shelley, specifically? And I thought she died in 1851, which is around the year you went 'missing', right?"

"Shelley faked her death to start the militant wing of Fancy now known as the Sisterhood of Shelly. Their main purpose was to seek revenge on me, hence my disappearance and eventual alliance with the Brotherhood."

"Revenge? For what, exactly?"

"Percy Shelley, Mary's late husband, was a comrade and fellow collaborator. In the early decades of the 1800s we were both loyal followers of Claude Henri de Rouvroy, or better known as comte de Saint-Simon. In fact, when Saint-Simon was no longer able to lead his faction of world-changing idealists, Percy and I formed a secret leadership council to replace our aging commander, and we called it the Secret Society of Saint-Simonians (sometimes referred to as the radical S4 Cell). The mission of the council was to establish in Western Europe an enlightened utopian society where all poverty, social classes, and private wealth have been eliminated. The council was formed by 1820, but it didn't last long, as Percy and I could not agree upon a common vision. Of course, the main reason for the famous split of 1821 was due to a difference in priorities for achieving human utopia: Percy believed in the power of Poetry and its main faculties, the Imagination and the Emotions, as that which shines the way to a better world; whereas we the Brotherhood believe in the powers of Science and Logic as that which gradually corrects the course to utopia. However, Percy demanded utopia now; he refused to wait for its gradual development through scientific improvement. We, however, have always understood that progress doesn't happen overnight. Percy's demands, therefore, were threatening the very integrity of the organization's mission and vision."

"Didn't Percy die in the year 1822?"

"Yes, the history books explain his death as being the result of a boating accident in the Gulf of Spezia in Northern Italy. Mary Shelley is right, however. An over-zealous compatriot started this whole war between Fact and Fancy by attempting to eliminate Percy for good: his name was Leigh Hunt, and he was a scoundrel. We never endorsed his actions; he was a rogue actor, I promise you that, but Leigh Hunt did assassinate Mary's husband on that fateful day thereby instigating the conflict of century: that day, of course, was 8 July 1822."

You react in surprise, shouting, "No! Wait, that can't be! 8 July 1822 is my birthday. That's too much of a consequence!" Gradgrind's words echo in your head: You were born for this! "So the whole war started over an argument about the virtues of science versus those of poetry?!?"

"It's more than a dispute between poetry and science," interjects Boole. "It's a struggle over how we ground our very understanding of the nature of reality itself. Does one explain away the apparent mystery of being by reducing it to the certainties of logic?" Comte nods his head in passionate conviction. "Or, does one make sense of the certainty of logic by reducing it to the supposed mysteries of existence and the human psyche? Does logic explain to us the world of humanity, or does the world of humanity explain to us the existence of logic?"

"Wow, that's deep," you mumbled while rubbing your temples as if massaging the heavy thoughts that weighed upon your pulsing brain.

"Yes, and it has political, social, and historical consequences as well," Comte added.

"Yes!" Exclaims Boole. "So if we are to eliminate the dangerous influence of fanciful and nonsensical notions for purposes of clearing the path towards progress, we must limit the universe of human discourse to statements and facts that are strictly logical and therefore empirically verifiable! And on this very night, we have the perfect weapon: We the Brotherhood are sitting on a newly comleted 2nd volume to my magnum opus, An Investigation of the Laws of Thought - a book that will offer (for the first time) a logically perfect language whose system is rooted in the absolute certainty of logic and reason. We plan to offer this new, "more perfect" language as a linguistic system whose statements can only report meaningfully on verifiable facts and data. No longer will there be words for nonsense and fictional constructs. The laws of language will be an extension of the laws of thought, and the laws of thought will be based solely on the laws of what can be verified through logical proof. In other words, we plan to eliminate poetry, fantasy, esoteric philosophy, fairy tales, and therefore any dangerous notion that is born out of impulse, ignorance, or misguided passion."

"Who would you rather have in a given society? Harthouses and Slackbridges? Or obedient, rational workers like the boy, Bitzer - one of Choakumchild's most prized graduates?" Comte continued, "Change doesn't take place in a given evening of passionate revolution. A more utopian world can only take root over time by adhering to a more logically perfect system for education, communication, and scientific investigation. It took half a lifetime to train Bitzer, so demanding a better world too impatiently will only awaken the monsters of fancy in all of us, and that's something you'd think Shelley would appreciate if you consider the implications of her grotesque novel!"

"We want you to join us in this endeavor," said Comte. "Your command of rhetoric and literary style would make you the perfect person to write the introduction to our groundbreaking work. We plan to depart for the publishing houses of London at daybreak tomorrow, so please, waste no time. Help us introduce our work of logical and scientific supremacy to a weary world of ignorant masses. Help us change the world!"

The room fell silent and three Philosophes staired at you intently anticipating your compliant acceptance...

Something didn't sit right with you after hearing the Brotherhood's proposition. They had every reason to praise the value of logic, science, and the adherence to facts: it's hard to argue with that, but the totalizing scope of their adherance seemed to miss something essential about the business of being human. In that moment you think back to something Mr. Gradgrind said when speaking to his daughter, Louisa: Some persons hold that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart... I have supposed the head to be all-sufficient. It may not be all-sufficient; how can I venture to say it is!... I have a misgiving that some change may have been slowly working about me in this house, by mere love and gratitude: that what the Head had left undone and could not do, the Heart may have been doing silently. Can the concerns of the Heart really be summed up and explained away by referencing a logical equation on the chalkboard? What would be the logical equation for love? What about happiness? Something didn't sit right. You couldn't bring yourself to write the requested introduction for Comte's and Boole's new book. Instead, you think about Gradgrind's and Dickens's request, inspiring you to write them someting else altogether...

Your Task: Compose a multi-paragraph argument that addresses Comte's and Boole's perspective. Why are their assumptions or convictions about Fact and Fancy misguided? Why is Fancy ultimately an indispensable part of the human experience? And what would be a better way of making sense of Fancy's place in a world that should be rational, scientific, and based in fact? Make your case to Comte and Boole in the form of a multi-paragraph composition (20XP).

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