DO THE LOCOMOTION

A locomotive is moving. Someone asks: why does it move? A muzhik says: the devil moves it. Another man says the locomotive moves because its wheels turns. A third asserts that the cause of the movement is the smoke blown away by the wind.

The muzhik is irrefutable. In order to refute him, someone would have to prove to him that there is no devil, or another muzhik would have to explain to him that it is not the devil but a German who moves the locomotive. Only then, by way of contradiction, will they see that they are both wrong. But the one who says that the cause is the turning of the wheels refutes himself, because, if he enters upon the terrain of analysis, he must keep going: he must explain the cause of the turning of the wheels. And until he arrives at the ultimate cause of the locomotive’s movement, the steam compressed in the boiler, he will have no right to stop in his search for the cause. The one who explained the movement of the locomotive by the smoke blown back, noticing that the explanation by the wheels did not furnish the cause, took the first symptom that came along and, in his turn, passed it on as the cause.

Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, p.1186

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