From: Philip Johnson-Laird BA PhD Psychology (UCL), Stuart Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton. (Author isn't a logician.) How We Reason (1st edn 2008). p. 103.

How We Make Deductions

Could one not almost say that the
Cold serpent on the poisonous tree
Was l'esprit de géométrie,
That Eve and Adam till the Fall
Were totally illogical
But as they tasted of the fruit
The syllogistic sin took root?

From W. H. Auden. Bold emphasis added. Screenshot

I learned from Google that these lines are from Auden's New Year Letter (January 1, 1940) to Elizabeth Mayer. I know that "l'esprit de géométrie" is French for "the spirit of geometry, which this Wordreference thread explains:

The French philosopher Pascal defined two fundamental "spirits" of thought. The "spirit of geometry" was the calculating and deductive kind, while the "esprit de finesse" (spirit of finesse) was immediate intuition without proofs or verification. The author is saying he is of the rational and deductive kind, which is why he goes on to emphasize that he deduced the other two passengers had buckled their seat belts.

  1. But how do these lines relate to logical deduction?

  2. What do they mean?

  3. Why would the cold serpent have "l'esprit de géométrie"?

  4. Before the Fall, Eve and Adam were sinless. So how were they "totally illogical"?

  5. To what syllogism is 'syllogistic sin' referring? Can someone please write it in full?


Adam and Eve were expelled for partaking of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, i.e., the ability to rationally decide what is good or bad.

In this understanding, the prelapsarian state is akin to one of pure instinct ("illogical" should technically be "alogical"), whereas the postlapsarian state is one of rational judgment (i.e., the ability to employ logic, for which "syllogism" is a metonym).

  • Do you think the "syllogistic sin" might be a comment on the perils (pitfalls) of logic vs. blind trust in god?
    – DukeZhou
    Jul 11 '18 at 19:03
  • 1
    Yes! That's a very good point!
    – CJ Sheu
    Jul 12 '18 at 0:40

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