George William Foote, The Freethinker
About the author…
Over a century ago, G. W. Foote (1850-1950) joined the British secular movement in London under the leadership of Charles Bradlaugh. He attacked religious thought and founded The Freethinker, a journal still in existence today. As the editor of The Freethinker, he published a series of cartoons attacking the church and was charged and convicted of blasphemy in the 1882 by a Roman Catholic judge. Sentenced to one year of hard-labor, reportedly Foote replied to the judge, "Thank you, my lord, the sentence is worthy of your creed." His defense and subsequent refusal to be silenced eventually effected a change in which the crimes of religious criticism in Victorian England changed from Biblical blasphemy to civil offense. The movement in societal values from religious standards to more secular literary standards was a major cultural shift in 19th England—a change presaging similar cultural concerns in other countries.
About the work…
In his Infidel Death-Beds G. W. Foote, responds to the then popular view that a repentant conscience and overwhelming guilt would accompany anyone who strayed from the path of religious morality. His response is designed to defuse the claim that we ought do what's right because, from a religious point of view, "It pays." Implicit in the argument Foote is attacking is the ad baculum appeal.
What is the argument behind the appeal to "infidel death-beds"?
How would a representative of a specific belief evaluate the claim that "the religion of mankind is determined by the geographical accident of their birth"?
Are the beliefs of most persons limited to ideas they were taught as children?
Is Foote's argument concerning the reversion to early beliefs when a person is near death, an ad hominem appeal?
How is the issue of death-bed confession of faith logically related to the ethical issue of how we should live?
G. W. Foote and A. D. McLaren, Infidel Death-Beds, G.W. Foot and Co. Ltd., 1886.
An ad baculum argument is fallacious when the truth of the conclusion is based, not on relevant reasons, but on a threat or appeal to force not logically related to the subject at hand. Ad baculum fallacies are often practically persuasive even though they are logically irrelevant.