A Question for Bill

I've recently had recourse to go back to Bill's excellent book about Pascal's account of the Fall, and it raised a question in my mind: namely, how does an Analytic account of precision and rigour square with Pascal's theological anthropology (and, indeed, his ostensibly very non-Analytic style of writing)? Also, can Pascal's sense of paradox/scandal fit with the logical sensibilities of some Analytic philosophers


4 thoughts on “A Question for Bill

  1. One particular quote of Pascal come to mind as relevant: ‘Such is our true state. This is what makes us incapable of certain knowledge or absolute ignorance. We are floating in a medium of vast extent, always drifting uncertainly, blown to and fro; whenever we think we have a fixed point to which we can cling and make fast, it shifts and leaves us behind; if we follow it, it eludes our grasp, slips away, and flees eternally before us. Nothing stands still for us. This is our natural state and yet the state most contrary to our inclinations. We burn with desire to find a firm footing, an ultimate, lasting base on which to build a tower rising up to infinity, but our whole foundation cracks and the earth opens into the depth of the abyss. Let us then seek neither assurance nor stability.’

    One implication of this, or so it seems to me, is that there are necessary limitations to our ability to give precise accounts of things, which could be elided by a too overt allegiance to Analytic standards. We could perhaps argue, as I think is actually implied in Bill’s book, that we can deceive ourselves of our own intellectual capacities in this way. This need not, of course, necessarily be the case, but it seems like a worthwhile qualification.


  2. Hi Ed, It’s a good question. I’ll try to write something soon– tomorrow or Sunday. In the meantime, if other people want to chime in (not necessarily about Pascal or the book, but on the general question), they should of course feel free.


  3. A quote from Williams (whose book arrived, and I’m thoroughly enjoying) which I think clarifies my thinking behind the question:

    ‘The very act of symbolization- relating ourselves to a given phenomenon by proposing a potentially complete utterance that represents it, over and above any strict account of its identifiably distinct elements- is a basic ‘error’ according to some accounts of language, in that it turns away from the simplicity of the dyadic or the mere indexical reflection so as to hold what has been perceived/encountered in the medium of something else. The temptation is to seek to reverse this turning away as if it were the original sin of language, and to try to restore an unmediated reflection of what is there, a sort of unfallen descriptive clarity; and this must be resisted.’

    Basically, as I’m reading this passage, it talks about how particular views of language (especially theological language) denigrate modes of speech which don’t ground themselves in the identifiably distinct features of reality; or, in other words, the formally definitive features of reality, according to which formal definitions should(?) be structured and to which they should be responsible. This denigration, however, arises not from a greater linguistic/moral uprightness (it comes just after the extended passage on lying), but from an unclear picture of the complexity of language and how it functions in human life as it has been created, and an attempt to redeem us from it by inculcating the supposed clarity which comes with formal definition further muddies this picture.

    In virtue of which, if I were to make a claim it would be this: that in the light of Pascal’s anthropology, too adamant an allegiance to Analytic rigour might well entail an unclear and untrue view of humanity’s true state, not just in terms of sin but also in terms of our created nature (that we use words in a different fashion because of how we are created, not just how we fell). Or: that the positing of analytic rigour and analytic clarity as a general norm in theological dialogue can present an unclear picture of what human beings are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act (which will in turn have known on effects on what we consider ‘redemption’ to be… Will heaven be an Analytic paradise, I wonder?). Hope that that is at least coherent!


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