Tag Archives: Mustafa Akyol

Sacrifice and Simulation

Executive summary. An experiment has been performed to detect whether we are living in a simulation. The experiment is to tell Abraham to sacrifice his son. Whatever he does, he breaks a law. Thus there is more to the world than can be understood by natural science.

Beach, sparkling sea, mountains, clouds, sky
Altınova, Ayvalık, Balıkesir, Türkiye
Looking towards Lesbos, Greece
September 20, 2022

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Hostility and Hospitality

After seventeen weekly posts of readings with my annotations, the Pensées of Pascal join two other works that I have blogged about systematically, chapter by chapter or book by book:

  • R. G. Collingwood, The New Leviathan, or Man, Society, Civilization, and Barbarism (1942);

  • Homer, the Iliad, in George Chapman’s translation.

Do three authors belong together, for any other reason than that I have spent time with each of them?

  • For Pascal, the Torah is history, but the Iliad was written too late to be that, and is just a novel (S 688 / L 436 / B 628). It has no concept of law, he says (S 691 / L 451 / B 620), but later Greeks took this and other things from the Jews. I discussed this in “Judaism for Pascal.” For example, Philo Judaeus thinks that when Heraclitus says, “We live their death and we die their life,” this is the death wrought by eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in Genesis.

  • Pascal and Collingwood both come to terms with a world of contrariety. Collingwood calls it “a Heraclitean world,” alluding to how Plato has Socrates tell Hermogenes in the Cratylus (402a, Loeb translation by Harold North Fowler),

    Heracleitus says, you know, that all things move and nothing remains still, and he likens the universe to the current of a river, saying that you cannot step twice into the same stream.

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Pascal, Pensées, S 755–790

Index for this series

The reading is Sellier 755–90. These are labelled below by the enumerations of

Sellier–Le Guern–Lafuma–Brunschwicg.

Apparently S 772–85 were in a manuscript that was discovered, or were discovered to be in a manuscript, by Jean Mesnard in 1962. Those fragments then are not in Lafuma’s edition, much less Brunschwicg’s, except S 781–2, which were already known from another manuscript. These and the rest of the reading are Lafuma 926–35, 937–48, 950–1, 974, 977, 980–2, 984, and 992. One of the fragments, S 786 / L 977 / B 320, is not on the site of Descotes and Proust.

A page at the site that might have more information on the later manuscripts is currently en chantier. Looking elsewhere, I found a review (Girdlestone, C. M. Blackfriars, vol. 34, no. 395, 1953, pp. 100–102. JSTOR. Accessed 30 May 2021) of the translation by G. S. Fraser of Pascal: His Life and Works by Jean Mesnard. The book would seem to correct the picture of Pascal passed along by Eric Temple Bell, as in a quotation I made in connection with 142–110–282 in the second reading. According to the reviewer, Mesnard

rectifies many a misconception still current about its hero, the image of whom is still often based on that first outlined by Voltaire who had, let it be remembered, only the adulterated Port-Royal edition to judge him by. Pascal was not a ‘madman’, not even ‘of genius’. Even after his mystical experience of November 23, 1654, he never became the ‘fierce solitary of Port-Royal’ of which so many biographers speak. He did not abandon the world but sought to conquer it. He never ‘discovered’ for himself, as a child of twelve, the first thirty-two theorems of Euclid and his sister never claimed he did; what she says is that ‘he was surprised by his father when he was seeking to demonstrate the thirty-second theorem’ itself. Divided as he was between scientific and mathematical research and the pursuit of that unum necessarium which Baudin calls his soteriologial pragmatism, he would swing from one to the other, but he did not give up his scientific studies till 1659, a couple of years before his death, and he did so not under the influence of frigid asceticism but of ill-health, which made sustained thought impossible. In this light, the tendentious lamentations of Sully-Prudhomme or Paul Valéry, weeping over the loss to science caused by his devotion to religion, sound rather ludicrous.

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Duty to Nature

Index to this series

Summary and update (added October 14, 2018): When we do something, or propose to do something, we may explain it or justify it—give a reason for it—as being useful, right, or dutiful. Such is the theory of Collingwood, analyzed here, especially with regard to a question that has increasing urgency: have we a duty, not only to one another, but to nature?

When I originally composed this post, in February of 2017, I had recently analyzed several relevant chapters of Collingwood’s New Leviathan:

Those chapters are the last in the book’s Part I, called “Man.” Collingwood returns to the same ideas in Part II, “Society,” and specifically in Chapter XXVIII, “The Forms of Political Action.” I went on analyze this chapter, 18 months later; it discusses an abuse of the concept of duty by the German political theorist Treitschke.

By one interpretation of a passage in Herodotus, the ancient Persians perceived a duty to nature, through a teaching now attributed to Zoroaster. His teachings influenced Manichaeism, and thus in turn the “Albigensian heresy,” the subject of Chapter XLIII of the New Leviathan.

A theme of Collingwood is that we tend to explain what happens in the world the way we explain what we ourselves do. If our ethics are utilitarian, then, like the ancient Greeks, we may see things in nature too as serving purposes. If we govern our own behavior by laws, then we may also seek laws of nature, as physicists do now.

Since utility and law are general in form, they provide incomplete accounts of exactly what we do. Utility tells us that some kind of thing is useful for some other kind; law keeps us within some bounds, but leaves us free within those bounds. By contrast, duty is to be conceived as providing a complete account of what we do. Conscience tells us that we have a duty; then we have to reason out what it is. The corresponding science of the world is history, which studies us as free agents. Collingwood does not describe a corresponding science of nature as such, at least not in the New Leviathan; but at the end of his first book, Religion and Philosophy, he concluded that everything that happened must be an act of will. This was in the chapter called “Miracle,” which I looked at especially in “Effectiveness.”

It may be hard to distinguish lawful action from dutiful action. In the present post, I look at the examples of

  • paying off a student loan;
  • smoking cigarettes, when rules restrict it;
  • collecting armaments, because, at the Last Supper, by the account in Luke, Jesus recommended buying swords;
  • Islam, as a rule-bound religion;
  • Christian denigrators of Islam, who find in it rules that they think believers must be bound by, even as some Muslims find inspiration in the teachings of Prophet Jesus.

I conclude with the example of an Episcopal priest called Stephen Blackmer, for whom nature is a church and a member of his congregation.

This is a synthesis of some ideas from a recent spate of posts in this blog. A theme is the question of why we do what we do, and whether we can change what we do, especially to Nature.

Book cover with image of a bearded man in white robes with a cap or turban, long flowing hair below this, a staff in his left hand, index finger raised on his right hand
Farhang Mehr, The Zoroastrian Tradition.
I bought the book in Yazd, Iran, in 2012

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