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There are Méré and Miton, too, Pascal's contemporaries, each of them in their different ways disciples of Montaigne. By them the infant prodigy of Mersenne and of the scientific club in Paris is introduced to a kind of society which shews him another avenue to truth quite distinct from those mathematical and logical demonstrations which won the applause of the Cartesian circle. Besides 'l'art de démontrer there is l'art d'agréer' it seems, finesse, intuition, the quality which makes the honnête homme, the gentleman, who with the 'moi' under strict control is quick to interpret and anticipate the sense of the society in which he finds himself. The existence of a kind of truth not susceptible to logical and mathematical treatment is a thing that he was quick to note. Méré himself tells us of it. The Duke is interested in mathematics, and he brought with him a man between his age and ours, who was very little known at the time, though since he has made great noise in the world. He was a great mathematician and nothing else. But science does not teach polite behaviour, and the man had neither taste nor feeling. However, that did not prevent him from joining in everything we said and did. It seems he had a great opinion of the style of M. du Vair, and he told us long stories of the jokes of Mr. Recorder d'O. The last thing we wanted was to undeceive him; however, we replied straightforwardly and in our usual tone. After a day or so he noticed that there was something wrong, and interrupted no more, except for an occasional question. Every now and then he pulled out a notebook, and scribbled something down. But the odd thing was that, before we got to Poitiers, he had begun to talk quite sensibly; we could hardly have put the things better ourselves. I give you my word, the change was great indeed.' Noteworthy perhaps but scarcely odd, we venture to think! And we should like to have read the notes. In any case the problem of the 'moi' cannot be exorcized by good breeding. 'Le moi est haïssable: vous, Miton, le couvrez, vous ne l'ôtez pas pour cela; vous êtes donc toujours haïssable.' 'En un mot le moi a deux qualités; il est injuste en soi, en ce qu'il se fait centre du
tout; il est incommode aux autres, en ce qu'il les veut asservir; car chaque moi est l'ennemi et voudrait être le tyran de tous les autres. Vous en ôtez l'incommodité, mais non pas l'injustice; et ainsi vous ne le rendez pas aimable à ceux qui en haïssent l'injustice; vous ne le rendez aimable qu'aux injustes, qui n'y trouvent plus leur ennemi ; et ainsi vous demeurez injuste et ne pouvez plaire qu'aux injustes.'1 'Pyrrhonien pour opiniâtre.' 2 Finesse and society do not carry us very far, it seems. So we turn to the rationalists.
The incapacity of other men to see with perfect clarity the significance of the truth as demonstrated by himself was a constant source of irritation to the mind of René Descartes it was with reluctance that the prophet of universal mechanism was constrained to turn his attention to a matter in itself so obscure and debased as the Passions of the Soul. The subject, however, presented few difficulties to one who had already irrefragably demonstrated the existence of God. With passion as with sense he could and would have no direct dealings: it can and must be subjected to the will by those 'firm and determinate judgements concerning the knowledge of good and evil, according to which she has resolved to steer the actions of her life.' 'Those who can most easily conquer their passions have, without doubt, the strongest souls,' but Those who have the weakest souls can acquire a most absolute empire over their passions if art and industry be used to manage and govern them.' Thus thought is on the throne and reigns supreme over the inner world of passion, just as it reigns supreme over that outer world of matter whose pure mechanism it can discover and control. It was an old story, but it none the less fully represented one of the main currents of the time; M. du Vair, whom Pascal at one time studied, was an exponent of it, and Corneille too was illustrating it in another sphere :
'Je suis maître de moi comme de l'univers,
Je le suis, je veux l'être,'
1 Pens. 455.
2 Pens. 51.
And again :
'Dans un si grand revers que vous reste-t-il ? '—' Moi!
What has Pascal to say to the claims of reason? It is necessary to proceed with care and circumspection. For the general opinion, the opinion that is formed by those whose knowledge consists in a casual acquaintance with a few of the more striking Pensées, is that Pascal deliberately and consistently derided and condemned the use of reason. Whereas, in fact, he valued it if possible more highly than Descartes himself. But with a difference.
'L'homme est visiblement fait pour penser; c'est toute sa dignité; et tout son devoir est de penser comme il faut.' 1 What, then, is the true order of thought, 'le véritable ordre,' which satisfies the demands of reason and leads to infallible certitude. Clearly it is 'définir tous les termes et à prouver toutes les propositions.' Let us examine then how far the sciences fulfil this ideal. Geometry is admittedly the most perfect of human sciences. 'Ce qui passe la géométrie nous surpasse,' says Pascal in the true Cartesian spirit. And truly Geometry defines and demonstrates in the way that pure reason demands, within limits within the limits, that is to say, of the primary definitions and the first propositions, for ultimately we reach words and principles which cannot be demonstrated; in plain words, Geometry is based upon intuitions. There is an esprit géométrique which is equivalent to an 'intuition du cœur.'
'Nous connaissons la vérité, non seulement par la raison, mais encore par le ceur; c'est de cette dernière sorte que nous connaissons les premiers principes, et c'est en vain que le raisonnement, qui n'y a point de part, essaye de les combattre. Les pyrrhoniens, qui n'ont que cela pour objet, y travaillent inutilement nous savons que nous ne rêvons point, quelque impuissance où nous soyons de le prouver par raison: cette impuissance ne conclut autre que la faiblesse de notre raison, mais non pas l'incertitude de toutes nos connaissances, comme ils le prétendent.' 2
1 Pens. 146.
2 Pens. 282.
Practically, that is to say, and for the savant Geometry is certain knowledge, theoretically and for the philosopher it fails to comply with the exigences which pure reason demands, for the human reason feels itself infinite in capacity, and claims, at any rate implicitly, to have no bounds or limits. So, once more, if anyone denies the possibility of dividing space to infinity, which is a fundamental truth of the science, he cannot be confuted directly. It is impossible to produce the infinitesimals about which we argue. We demonstrate the truth not directly but indirectly by proving the absurdity of its opposite.
So again when we pass to Physics. Reason in this case also claims as its own the principles upon which the science is based. But how in fact is the application of these principles determined? What is the arbiter when the principles are in conflict? Not reason, but experience and experiment. It was the experiment of the Puy de Dôme, not the a priori deductions of Descartes that settled for ever the problem of nature and the vacuum. We are back upon the senses, upon intuition, which are for us ultimate and incapable of rational demonstration. Descartes inutile et incertain.' 1 It is the claim of a priori deductive reasoning to dictate to experience which Pascal combats in the Cartesian position. We must be reasonable and submit to experience, he argues, and we shall be able to correct the a priori deductions of a reason which becomes not only useless but positively misleading when once it loses touch with the intuitions of experience. The Geometry of Pascal is synthetic and concrete, and his Physics is experimental and anti-metaphysical.
As we pass from the abstract to the concrete, and come into direct contact with reality, with life, so in proportion does the rôle of pure deduction diminish. For the direction of our conduct we still appeal to reason, it is true; we reflect and deliberate; but though reason may decide the means, it cannot demonstrate the principles upon which the end of action is based. For the end imposes itself directly without argument or reflection; and the end is happiness, 1 Pens. 78.
le bonheur. 'Tous les hommes recherchent d'être heureux; cela est sans exception; quelques différents moyens qu'ils y emploient, ils tendent tous à ce but.' Is there then a science of morals which, without being absolutely rational, is yet subject to a rational order, analogous to the order of Geometry and Physics? There is not even this analogy; for happiness resolves itself into pleasurable experience which is essentially diverse varying with individuals, and for each individual with the passage of years, of hours, of minutes even. So 'Le sentiment de la fausseté des plaisirs présents, et l'ignorance de la vanité des plaisirs absents causent l'inconstance.' 2 Is it possible then to trust to feeling, to sensibility, to ' sentiment'? Here is the answer :
'Tout notre raisonnement se réduit à céder au sentiment. Mais la fantaisie est semblable et contraire au sentiment, de sorte qu'on ne peut distinguer entre ces contraires. L'un dit que mon sentiment est fantaisie, l'autre que sa fantaisie est sentiment. Il faudrait avoir une règle. La raison s'offre, mais elle est ployable à tous sens; et ainsi il n'y en a point.' 3
All our principles of conduct are the result either of custom or of fantasy; the reason by which we seek to justify our actions is, as Hume was to say later, in reality the slave of the passion which dictates its decisions.
'M. de Roannez disait : Les raisons me viennent après, mais d'abord la chose m'agrée ou me choque sans en savoir la raison, et cependant cela me choque par cette raison que je ne découvre qu'ensuite. Mais je crois, non pas que cela choquait par ces raisons qu'on trouve après, mais qu'on ne trouve ces raisons que parce que cela choque.'
So reason plays its double rôle and reveals at once the grandeur and the misery of man, and makes clear to him his true condition; it furnishes the ideal by which he is to measure truth, it reveals to him the inadequacy and futility of all that he can ever know. Toute la dignité de l'homme est en la pensée. Mais qu'est-ce que cette pensée ? Qu'elle est sotte!' 5
2 Pens. 110.
1 Pens. 425.
• Pens. 276.
s Pens. 365.
3 Pens. 274.