That is the title of the final chapter in a
wonderful collection of essays by David Stove in his book
The Plato Cult and Other Philosophical Follies (Basil Blackwell,
Stove includes a list of 40 wrong statements in this chapter and
asks us to identify what exactly is wrong with them. His claim is that each
of these statements is wrong in a different way and that we need a
nosology (study of diseases) of human thought to be able to identify
the different types of errors (except perhaps for the errors in the first two
statements). Stove also thinks that such a nosology will be either too long
or too short to be useful.
All statements have a common thread of the number three (mostly
for its humor value). If you are puzzled by the strangeness of these
statements, I suggest that you read Stove's book to understand why he makes
What is wrong with these statements?
Between 1960 and 1970 there were three US presidents named
Between 1960 and 1970 there were three US presidents named Johnson, and
it is not the case that between 1960 and 1970 there were three US
presidents named Johnson.
God is three persons in one substance, and one of these persons is
Jesus, which is the lamb that was slain even from the foundations of the
Three lies between two and four only by a particular act of the Divine
Three lies between two and four by a moral and spiritual necessity
inherent in the nature of numbers.
Three lies between two and four by a natural and physical necessity
inherent in the nature of numbers.
Three lies between two and four only by a convention which
mathematicians have adopted.
There is an integer between two and four, but it is not three,
and its true name and nature are not to be revealed.
There is no number three.
Three is the only number.
Three is the highest number.
Three is a large number.
Three is a lucky number.
The sum of three and two is a little greater than eight.
Three is a real object all right: you are not thinking of nothing when
you think of three.
Three is a real material object.
Three is a real spiritual object.
Three is an incomplete object, only now coming into existence.
Three is not an object at all, but an essence; not a thing, but a
thought; not a particular, but a universal.
Three is a universal all right, but it exists only, and it exists
fully, in each actual triple.
Actual triples posses threeness only contingently, approximately, and
changeably, but three itself possesses threeness necessarily, exactly, and
The number three is a mental construct after all, a convenience of
The proposition that 3 is the fifth root of 243 is a tautology, just
like An oculist is an eye-doctor.
The number three is that whole of which the parts are all and only the
actual inscriptions of the numerals, three or 3.
Five is the same substance as three, co-eternal with three, very three
of three: it is only in their attributes that three and five are
The tie which unites the number three to its properties (such as
primeness) are inexplicable.
The number three is nothing more than the sum of its properties and
The number three is neither an idle Platonic universal, nor a blank
Lockean substratum; it is a concrete and specific energy in things, and can
be detected at work in such observable processes as combustion.
Three is a positive integer, and the probability of a positive integer
being even is 1/2, so the probability of three being even is 1/2.
In some previous state of our existence we knew the number three
face-to-face, as it is in itself, and by some kind of union with it.
How can I be absolutely sure that I am not the number three?
Since the properties of three are intelligible, and intelligibles can
exist only in the intellect, the properties of three exist only in the
How is the addition of numbers possible? Nothing can make the
number three into four, for example.
What the number three is in itself, as distinct from the phenomena it
produces in our minds, we can, of course, never know.
We get the concept of three only through the transcendental unity of
our intuitions as being successive in time.
One is identity; two is difference; three is the identity of, and the
difference between, identity and difference.
The number three is not the ideal object of intellectual contemplation,
but a concrete product of human praxis.
The unconscious significance of the number three is invariably phallic,
nasal, and patriarchal.
The three members of any triple, being distinct from and merely related
to one another, would fall helplessly asunder, if there were not some
deeper non-relational unity of which their being three is only an
It may be---though I don't really believe in modalities---that in some
other galaxies the sum of three and two is not five, or indeed is neither
five nor not five. (Don't laugh! They laughed at Christopher Columbus, you
know, and at Copernicus; and even the logical law of excluded middle is
being questioned nowadays by some of the sharper young physicists).