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J.R.H. Lawless

The Tao of Sir Terry: Pratchett and Political Philosophy

“It wasn’t that the city was lawless. It had plenty of laws. It just didn’t offer many opportunities not to break them.” —Night Watch (2002)

In the Discworld series, Ankh-Morpork is the Ur-city, of which all other cities throughout time and space are mere echoes. But politics is, quite literally, the life of the polis, of the city, as Pratchett himself was keenly aware:

“‘Polis’ used to mean ‘city’, said Carrot. That’s what policeman means: ‘a man for the city’. Not many people knew that.” —Men at Arms (1993)

And again, in the finale of the same book: “Have you ever wondered where the word ‘politician’ comes from?” said the Patrician.” It is therefore little wonder that politics, and political philosophy, is a core subject of most, if not all, of Pratchett’s works at some level or another—and this is especially true of the Discworld novels

[Free men pull in all kinds of directions…]

The Tao of Sir Terry: Pratchett vs. Logic

Logic is the necessary base of any philosophical thought. Or, as Sir Terry might have said, it is the deep toffee bedrock that supports the flowing treacle seams of philosophical speculation.

It may come as a surprise for some that Terry Pratchett, not unjustly known for his absurd comedy and nonsensical satire, has quite a lot to say on the subject of Logic, its importance, and its limits, throughout his work.

This is the second instalment in the “Tao of Sir Terry” series (please feel free to pause here to read the previous article if you have not yet done so), in which we will dive more deeply into a single philosophical theme from the works of Terry Pratchett. And there could be no better subject to delve into, nothing more fundamental for philosophy and more fundamentally Pratchettian, than Logic.

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The Tao of Sir Terry: Pratchett and Philosophy

“Build a man a fire and he’s warm for a day,” I say. “But set a man on fire and he’s warm for the rest of his life. Tao of Pratchett. I live by it.” —Jim Butcher, Cold Days (2012)

That’s “Sir Terry” to you, Dresden… but other than that, the only wizard listed in the yellow pages is right on the money.

Terry Pratchett is best known for his incompetent wizards, dragon-wielding policemen, and anthropomorphic personifications who SPEAK LIKE THIS. And we love him for it. Once we’re done chuckling at Nanny Ogg’s not-so-subtle innuendos and the song about the knob on the end of the wizard’s staff, however, there’s so much more going on beneath the surface of a Pratchett novel. The real reason Pratchett’s work resonates so deeply with so many people around the world—and will continue to do so for decades to come—is that every one of his stories tugs at a deep, philosophical thread that sneaks up under the cover of action and punny dialogue to mug you faster than a denizen of the Shades.

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