Study Guide

Thon Taddeo Pfardentrott in A Canticle for Leibowitz

Thon Taddeo Pfardentrott

In 1950s science fiction, the scientist is almost always the hero. He's smart, handsome, and adventurous, and he always gets the girl. The problem he's facing might be of his own making, but no matter—he'll build a laser doohickey or whatchamacallit to set things right.

And if all else fails, he'll wrestle the monster into submission.

Well, A Canticle for Leibowitz was written in the '50s, and Thon Taddeo is the scientist in the story. But that's pretty much where the similarities end. (Sorry to pull a bait-and-switch on you, our lovely readers.)

A Man's Man

Or rather, a human's man.

The time period in which Taddeo lives, called the "Awakening Generation," reads like the second coming of the Renaissance. People of his time look to the past for inspiration; they want to replicate the practices and principals of the past in order to replicate the success people had back then (13.11).

For Renaissance thinkers and intellectuals, the civilization they wished to re-invent was the classical Roman and Greek. For the Awakening Generation, it's the 20th century, with its scientific prowess, technological wonders, and fast food drive-thrus. Okay, maybe not that last part.

As a man of his day, Taddeo is a secular humanist. When Dom Paulo calls him a "secular scholar" (16.80), he basically means that Taddeo focuses on worldly concerns—not religious or spiritual ones.

When we call him a humanist, we mean he wants to reassert the values of classical 20th-century thought and education. So, he wants to move education away from the Church's "own version of things," and toward science and the physical world (12.84).

To do this, he wants to resurrect the practice of the scientific method. While measuring the wear of the abbey stones, Brother Kornhoer mentions that the abbey's records have these measurements in them. But Taddeo tells the brother, "Objective evidence is the ultimate authority" (19.9).

That's basically Thon Taddeo in a nutshell; he's a man who puts his faith in scientific evidence and humanity's ability to discover objective truths—rather than rely on religious truthiness.

Or, at least, that would be Taddeo in a nutshell, if not for this one thing…

Please Don't Call Me Superman

As a child, Taddeo was sent to live in a monastery by his father's wife. Why? Because he was an illegitimate child—a bastard, in the strict sense of the word.

This choice made life pretty rough for Taddeo. And the fact that he spent his childhood in exile made him very resentful of the Church. In fact, Dom Paulo wonders if "bitter memories, half-memories, and maybe a few imagined memories" (13.20) have long stoked his animosity for the Church.

Our point is that Taddeo is anything but objective when dealing with the Church. When he argues with the monks over the Book of Genesis, for example, Taddeo cites a fragment of a reference he found in the Memorabilia. He wonders if a "'pre-Deluge race, which called itself Man, succeeded in creating life," and if that life might be them.

Of course, Dom Paulo cuts that argument down by pointing out that the fragment is part of a play—more than likely R.U.R. by Karel Capek.

Taddeo counters Dom Paulo, saying the "'freedom to speculate is necessary'" (22.87), but the remark points to his hypocrisy. As a scientist, Taddeo claims he accepts only objective evidence, but he arrived at his theory based solely on information he found in a book.

On the other hand, he discredits the monks' belief in God just because the Bible says He exists—because the monks' beliefs are speculations, based on information they read in a book (the Bible).

Taddeo has a problem with the Church's "'unreasoned dogma,'" yet he seems to have created a personal dogma by way of his "'pride, vanity, [and] escape from responsibility'" (22.89, 22.100).

But don't hold that against him. At least don't judge him too harshly for it. Perhaps the point isn't that Taddeo should be scorned for not being objective. Perhaps the point is that none of us can completely live up to the objective standards set by the scientific method.

Or any standards we set for ourselves.

After all, the scientific method is a grand ideal, and we're just human beings. Each with our own very subjective viewpoints and experiences of the world around us.