Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

Archive for September 2009

Seeds of Tri-Perspectivalism

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John Frame

This picture is of John Frame.  He is quite possibly the most brilliant human being alive.  If you have not read his Divine Lordship Trilogy (Doctrine of God, Doctrine of the Knowledge of God, and Doctrine of the Christian Life), it is most thorough, thoughtful, and foundational (and surprisingly readable).  If you don’t know what Tri-Perspectivalism is, I suggest you read this primer from Frame, or this more succinct article on wikipedia.  We all have beliefs/positions/opinions and we also all have frameworks through which we come to affirming those beliefs/positions/opinions.  The beauty of tri-perspectivalism is that it Biblically accounts for knowledge from Scripture, from experience, and from interaction with others…

Well, one of Pascal’s most intriguing thoughts is #170.  These foursentences are an incisive critique of different theories of knowledge, as well as, a shell of an epistemological framework:

170.  Submission.  One must know when it is right to doubt, to affirm, to submit.  Anyone who does otherwise does not understand the force of reason.  Some men run counter to these three principles, either affirming that everything can be proved, because they know nothing about proof, or doubting everything can be proved, because they do not know when to submit, or always submitting, because they do not know when judgment is called for.  Skeptic, mathematician, Christian;  doubt, affirmation, submission.

Pascal deconstructs the person who doubts everything – the skeptic, and accuses them of never knowing how to submit.  Pascal deconstructs the person who thinks that everything can be affirmed – the Mathematician (or axiomatic thinker), and accuses them of not knowing the limits of pure axiomatic reason.  Pascal deconstructs the person who submits to everything – the Christian, and accuses them of not being more discerning in their judgment.

I don’t think that Pascal’s – submission/affirmation/doubt perfectly fits the Tri-perspectival mold.  It doesn’t.  However, Pascal is balanced on the issue of faith and reason and elsewhere on the use of heart knowledge.  This heart knowledge does take into consideration faith, experience, and interaction in community.   Are there seeds of Tri-Perspectivalism in Pascal’s epistemology?

Here are two more tidbits:

183.  Two excesses: to exclude reason, to admit nothing but reason.

110.  Principles are felt, propositions proved, and both with certainty though by different means.

Written by Michael Graham

September 30, 2009 at 3:56 pm

Seeds of Presuppositionalism

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Cornelius Van Til

Seeds of presuppositionalism in Pascal?  Consider #701 (using Penguin classics numbering):

701.  When we want to correct someone usefully and show him he is wrong, we must see from what point of view he is approaching the matter, for it is usually right from that point of view, and we must admit this, but show him the point of view from which  it is wrong.

Don’t tell me that isn’t Cornelius Van Til some 300 years prior.

Written by Michael Graham

September 30, 2009 at 2:08 pm

The Original Tweeter

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Some 122,791 days have passed between the posthumous publishing of Blaise Pascal’s, Pensees and the creation of the website twitter.  Twitter is a social networking website where people may share their thoughts, musings, rants, or comments about anything.

Some 336 years before Twitter, I think Blaise Pascal was the original Tweeter.  I have attempted here to tweet a rough sketch of Pascal’s main thought (I know that not all of these aphorisms are under 140 characters):

24.  Man’s condition.  Inconstancy, boredom, anxiety.

70.  If our condition were truly happy we should not need to divert ourselves from thinking about it.

133.  Being unable to cure death, wretchedness and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things.

136.  The only good thing for men therefore is to be diverted from thinking of what they are, either by some occupation which takes their mind off it, or by some novel and agreeable passion which keeps them busy, like gambling, hunting, some absorbing show, in short by what is called diversion.

136.  What people want is not the easy peaceful life that allows us to think of our unhappy condition, nor the dangers of war, nor the burdens of office, but the agitation that takes our mind off it and diverts us.  That is why men are so fond of hustle and bustle; that is why prison is such fearful punishment; that is why the pleasures of solitude are so incomprehensible.

136.  rest proves intolerable because of the boredom it produces.

114.  Man’s greatness comes from knowing he is wretched:  a tree does not know it is wretched.  Thus it is wretched to know that one is wretched, but there is greatness in knowing one is wretched.

117.  Man’s greatness is so obvious that it can even be deduced from his wretchedness.

149. Man’s greatness and wretchedness are so evident that the true religion must necessarily teach us that there is in man some great principle of greatness and some great principle of wretchedness.  It must account for such amazing contradictions.  To make man happy it must show him that a God exists whom we are bound to love; that our true bliss is to be in him, and our sole ill to be cut off from him.  It must acknowledge that we are full of darkness which prevents us from knowing and loving him, and so, with our duty obliging us to love God and our concupiscence leading us astray, we are full of unrighteousness… Let us examine all the religions of the world on that point and let us see whether any but the Christian religion meets it.

149.  What religion, then, will teach us how to cure pride and concupiscence?   What religion, in short, will teach us our true good, our duties, the weaknesses which  lead us astray, the cause of these weaknesses, the treatment that can cure them, and the means of obtaining such treatment?  All the other religions have failed to do so.

12.  Men despise religion.  They hate it and are afraid it may be true.  The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect.

148.  Man without faith can know neither true good nor justice.  All men seek happiness.  There are no exceptions

170. One must know when it is right to doubt, to affirm, to submit.  Anyone who does otherwise does not understand the force of reason.  Some men run counter to these three principles, either affirming that everything can be proved, because they know nothing about proof, or doubting everything can be proved, because they do not know when to submit, or always submitting, because they do not know when judgment is called for.  Skeptic, mathematician, Christian;  doubt, affirmation, submission.

167.  Submission and use of reason; that is what makes true Christianity.

110.  We know the truth not only through our reason but also through the heart… Principles are felt, propositions are proved, and both with certainty through different means.

7.  Faith is different from proof.  One is human and other a gift of God.

185.  Faith certainly tells us what the senses do not, but not the contrary of what they see; it is above, not against them.

189.  All those who have claimed to know God and prove his existence without Jesus Christ have only had futile proofs to offer… without Scripture, without original sin, without the necessary mediator… it is impossible to prove absolutely that God exists, or to teach sound doctrine and sound morality.  But through Jesus Christ we can prove God’s existence, and teach both doctrine and morality.  Therefore, Jesus is the true God of men.

192.  Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride. Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair.  Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness.

352.  The Incarnation shows man the greatness of his wretchedness through the greatness of the remedy required.

308.  Jesus without wealth or any outward show of knowledge has his own order of holiness.  He made no discoveries; he did not reign, but he was humble, patient, thrice holy to God, terrible to devils, and without sin.  With what great pomp and marvellously [sic] magnificent array he came in the eyes of the heart, which perceive wisdom!

332.  There is a succession of men over a period of 4,000 years, coming consistently and invariably one after the other, to foretell the same coming; there is an entire people proclaiming it, existing for 4,000 years to testify in a body to the certainty they feel about it, from which they cannot be deflected by whatever threats and persecutions they may suffer.

346.  It was foretold that at the time of Messiah he would come to establish a new covenant which would make them forget how they came out of Egypt.  That he would implant his law not in outward things but in their hearts, that he would implant his fear, which had only been in outward things, in their inmost hearts.  Who cannot see the Christian law in all this?

357.  No one is so happy as a true Christian, or so reasonable, virtuous, and lovable.

136.  Telling a man to rest is the same as telling him to live happily.

Written by Michael Graham

September 29, 2009 at 7:55 pm

Posted in Pascal, Philosophy, Twitter

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Blaise Pascal was a scientist, mathematician, philosopher, and theologian.   In science, he essentially invented the hydraulic press, syringes, vacuums, and the barometer.  In mathematics, he made advances in probability theory, game theory, geometry, and foundational presuppositions to economics.     In philosophy and theology, Pascal had one work published after his death – Pensees (French for ‘thoughts’).  Pascal lived an anguishing and brief life of intense physical pain (likely stomach cancer and brain lesions/damage) and joy.  He died at age 39.

In my estimation, however, Pascal’s greatest contribution was in his philosophical and theological thoughts (Pensees).  Outside of the Bible, I have never read any other book with the same frequency, intensity, and joy.  Pascal had an uncanny ability to put his fingers squarely on the pulse with what ails man and his immediate culture.  In addition, he is utterly brilliant employing common sense arguments for the Christian faith and deconstruction of other false worldviews.  Pascal wrote in aphorisms: brief statements or paragraphs that were meant to provoke the reader to ponder and think further for themselves.

I write out of necessity and I do not pretend to have a completely original thought.  Blaise Pascal is the intellectual and existential inspiration for this blog.  Pascal was varied in his writing, musing, and thinking about his world.  The same breadth to which Pascal ventured in the Pensees will be mirrored here.  At times we will look at culture, philosophy, theology, politics, and economics.

Written by Michael Graham

September 29, 2009 at 6:10 pm

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