Tuesday, October 8, 2013

"Treatise on the Arithmetical Triangle"

I don't have much to add to what I've already said in my blog entry about Nicomachus' Introduction to Arithmetic. In this short treatise, mathematics once again proves to be almost uncannily elegant and logical and I can easily see it affecting Pascal's religious beliefs. And, as in the last third of the Introduction to Arithmetic, I found much of the "Treatise" hard to understand, because math is decidedly not my strong suit.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Books Read in September 2013

Ingo by Helen Dunmore (re-read)

The thing that struck me about Ingo the first time I read it, more than plot, characters etc., was the setting. The setting in Air (the name of the human world, as opposed to Ingo, the mermaid world) is a sleepy seaside town in Cornwall, England. The way Cornwall was described affected me so much, that I've seriously contemplated moving to Cornwall once I leave my childhood home. I found the lonely, seaside atmosphere very appealing. The other setting is Ingo. Oddly enough I didn't find Ingo as aesthetically pleasing or interesting as Cornwall, but nonetheless the idea of swimming through the sea with no need of oxygen is also a really compelling aesthetic idea to me. One thing I forgot about the plot was the ominous nature of Ingo. For much of the book you're not sure what to make of Ingo and I think most readers will think it is a dangerous place that Sapphire should be avoiding before it completely sucks her in. It's been too long since I've read these books, but I'm guessing this ominous nature of Ingo is downplayed in future books or I'm sure I would have remembered it more clearly. 

Saint Thomas Aquinas by G. K. Chesterton

Although this book was relatively small, it took me quite a while to finish. Overall, I enjoyed this book, but something about it felt off. I felt like Chesterton was rambling a bit in places and sometimes I even forgot that this book was about Thomas Aquinas. I was expecting more of a straight-up biography and that is probably part of the reason this book felt off. Chesterton reminded me of my favourite author C. S. Lewis. He seemed to hold the same general philosophy, but I found Chesterton come off as more opinionated or pretentious and less genial or readable than Lewis. I think I was also, for whatever reason, expecting this book to be lighter reading, and while Chesterton only skims Aquinas's philosophy, I would say this is primarily a philosophical book.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


The Pensees were a very interesting read, because they had a good mix of things I agree with and things that disagree with and/or question. The Pensees are a collection of writings by Blaise Pascal concerning the apologetic defence of Christianity. Pascal was planning to write a book titled Apology for the Christian Religion, but never got around to it. The Pensees were his "notes". The Pensees cover a wide range of theological topics, so I'll just write my thoughts on whatever caught my attention.

Pascal begins by describing man's miserable state without God. While I may object here or there, I ultimately agree with Pascal on this topic. You can call me pessimistic if you wish, but without God, I can only see humanity's lot in the universe as random, meaningless, and wretched. A cruel joke, if only the universe could be cruel or could possess intent. Pascal said that men fill their lives with distractions to avert their attention from their misery and that human society is based on mutual deception (if people knew what they really were they would have nothing to do with each other). Ouch. I can't really argue though.

Pascal insists that the immortality of the soul makes "an entire difference to morality" or in other words that the hope of future reward and the fear of future punishment in the hereafter makes this "entire difference". I agree that there is a difference made, but I have to point out that I think morality should be pursued for its own sake rather than for reward. I remember as a kid being baffled at the obedience of Old Testament figures like Moses and David. I thought that, if these people were unaware of hope in a future life through Christ, why would they obey God? I am now ashamed of this type of thinking, because it reveals my attitude of "do this so I will get this" rather than "do this simply because it is the right thing to do". I think pagan philosophers like Plato and Aristotle understood this, I would say to their credit, even if Pascal seems to be accusing them of foolishness (though that could be a misunderstanding on my part). I sometimes wonder if Christian parents should hold off on teaching their children about hope in the next life for a while and focus on teaching their children to love God and to love what is good, virtuous etc. first. I expect the secret would be impossible to hide, but it's a thought I had.

Pascal's Wager goes something like this. Because we cannot prove or disprove the existence of God, a wager must be made. If we choose to believe Christianity and we are wrong, we lose nothing, but if we are right, we gain everything. However, if we choose to not believe in Christianity and we're right, we gain nothing, but if we're wrong, we lose everything. Hence, Pascal says, the most prudent course is to choose Christianity over scepticism. Interestingly, Pascal seems to make short work of the other religions, not considering them as sophisticated as Christianity. Some readers may be annoyed by this. Even for someone like me who also believes Christianity is the most sophisticated and therefore true religion, I thought he dismissed the other religions a little easily.

Pascal wrote some excellent thoughts about the duality between greatness and wretchedness in Man. I agree wholeheartedly that any philosophy that leaves out either Man's wretchedness (like modern self help gurus) or Man's greatness (like evolutionary psychology) is misguided. The evidence for both seems self evident and it's one of the most intriguing things about humanity.

Finally, Pascal wrote some interesting things about the typology in the Bible. I've heard this kind of thing before, but it always fascinates me. It reminds me of Plato's Theory of the Forms, the lower coming from the higher. For example figures like Moses, David, Joseph etc. are "types" or foreshadowing of Jesus Christ. The hope of the life to come is "typified" in Old Testament imagery.