Jan 23: The Pascalian triangle

Can you ever really know a triangle? Apparently so! For today’s reading promises, “Pascal Knew Men and Triangles.” I would kill for this knowledge of triangles, which is apparently available without getting high, but I have a feeling we’re going to learn about Men, or, as we call them today, people.

I believe in fact we’re to read his “searching analysis of man’s conceit” from Volume 48 (“Thoughts and Minor Works,” this being one of the latter. You’re not ready for major works when you’re on the Daily Reading Guide.)

First paragraph hits you right between the eyes: “THE ART of persuasion has a necessary relation to the manner in which men are led to consent to that which is proposed to them, and to the conditions of things which it is sought to make them believe.”

It’s going to be a tough eleven pages. I can only hope that this is more persuasive in French.

“Then it is that a doubtful balance is made between truth and pleasure, and that the knowledge of the one and the feeling of the other stir up a combat the success of which is very uncertain, since, in order to judge of it, it would be necessary to know all that passes in the innermost spirit of the man, of which the man himself is scarcely ever conscious.”
I think we know who wins that one these days, assuming they’re still fighting, that is.

I like this: “… So that the art of persuasion consists as much in that of pleasing as in that of convincing, so much more are men governed by caprice than by reason!”

I like the exclamation point particularly. I’m surprised that you’re surprised, Pascal. Having realized that pleasing is more important than convincing, Pascal moves on to talk only about convincing, because it might please us too much if he’s actually helpful.

There now come some rules, and since Pascal has me pegged, I’m pleasure-loving, I confess that I will skip them. This is why I would have been a terrible lawyer.

Now there’s “after having established………” What? It turns out: The rest of the phrase is wanting; and all this second part of the composition, either because it was not redacted by Pascal, or because it has been lost, is found neither in our MS. nor in Father Desmolets

Later in the piece we get this: “The method of not erring is sought by all the world. The logicians profess to guide to it, the geometricians alone attain it, and apart from their science, and the imitations of it, there are no true demonstrations.” It’s nice that Pascal has some school spirit.

And then, just as my boredom is almost complete, there is a turn at the end:
The mind must not be forced; artificial and constrained manners fill it with foolish presumption, through unnatural elevation and vain and ridiculous inflation, instead of solid and vigorous nutriment. And one of the principal reasons that diverts those who are entering upon this knowledge so much from the true path which they should follow, is the fancy that they take at the outset that good things are inaccessible, giving them the name of great, lofty, elevated, sublime. This destroys every thing. I would call them low, common, familiar: these names suit them better; I hate such inflated expressions.

Why, he almost sounds American! Or does he sound like we think Americans ought to sound – perhaps Americans are more likely to use the “resplendent kings they were written to please” mode. Or is it both – do the Harvard Classics exist so people can put on airs, or do they exist to take the knowledge away from the people who might put on airs?

Three sides to this story – like a triangle!


BrightestPersonality said...

Is this subject connected with your education sphere or perhaps is it more about your hobbies and free time?