Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes. Proverbs 26
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own eyes. Proverbs 26:4,5
Blaise Pascal, a Catholic theologian, scientist and brilliant thinker, wrote these letters to defend his Jansenist friends against charges of heresy by the Jesuits.
I tend to think that Pascal is a kindred spirit of Kierkegaard. First, they both strongly object to the academics of their time who substitute abstraction and speculation for the concrete and specific moral demands of Christianity on the individual. Second, they both employ irony to great effect, following the tradition of Church Fathers such as Tertullian and Augustine. One cannot help but feel their passion when they laugh at the folly of their opponents, and weep over their blindness at the same time.
Pascal criticizes the Society of Jesus for holding many contradictory doctrines. It doesn't surprise me, since minds as diametrically opposed as Voltaire and Descartes both came from their midst. As Aristotle put it, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
The Jesuits' moral reasoning, casuistry, seems to be an attempt to reconcile the Christian doctrine of Charity with secular social norms, such as the concept of honour as demonstrated in the practice of dueling and honour killing, and the concept of reciprocal justice known as "an eye for an eye".
Pascal sharply criticizes the Jesuits for condoning calumny and murder on plausible pretences. For example, some Jesuits write, “Honour is more than life; it is allowable to kill in defence of life; therefore it is allowable to kill in defence of honour." One might replace "honour" with "liberty" or "property", or anything else he deems valuable, to justify murder, as Locke justifies killing in defence of private property in his treatise on government.
Locke criticizes, Sir Robert Filmer, a proponent of divine right of kings, for not defining terms clearly and building an edifice of political theoryLocke criticizes, Sir Robert Filmer, a proponent of divine right of kings, for not defining terms clearly and building an edifice of political theory on a dubious foundation. I find it ironic that he makes the same mistake, and consequently, “there was never so much glib nonsense put together in well-sounding English”.
Objections from Philosophy
Locke's political philosophy is based on some a priori notions of good, namely, life, equality and freedom -- it is not a blank slate. He asserts the natural right of men provided by "the law of nature". But, nowhere does he give a definition of right, what “right” is, how the concept of right can be constructed from simpler concepts, and how it relates to other concepts, such as obligation and freedom. Despite claims to the contrary, these notions are not “self-evident" at all, neither to sense nor to reason.
Being and right are two different categories. From the fact that one is a human being, it doesn't follow that he has the right to be a human being, as opposed to an amoeba; Desire and right are also two different categories. One might desire and choose a high standard of living by joining a state that provides it, but it does’t follow that he has the right to a high standard of living.
Locke's notion of property is also full of non sequiturs. A human being has de facto use of the creatures and other things for his subsistence, it doesn't follow that he therefore has ownership of those same creatures and things. Ownership and usage are two different realities. Without ownership, a human being has no right to destroy other creatures at will.
If, as Locke argues, a person can claim something as his private property if he labours for its acquisition and formation, an argument can be made that a citizen is a property of the State, because the State contributes a great deal to his coming into existence, his education and formation as a human being. The same logic would prove that children are the property of their parents.
Objections from Politics
Firstly, government by the consent of the governed is a contradiction in terms.
The government envisioned by Locke is essentially an extension of the individual. The purpose of the government must be in line with that of the individual, viz. to protect his life and property. The government is legitimate only when it represents and executes the collective will of the people, which is the will of the individual writ large. Hence "the government of the people, by the people and for the people."
However, the government qua government must have absolute authority independent of the consent of the governed. Locke acknowledges that government is the ultimate arbiter of conflicts and disagreements among its people, for the wills of the people are seldom unanimous. By joining the state, the individual implicitly consents to relinquish control, to submit to the authority of the government, even when it acts against his person, property and will. In other words, the individual must give consent before he is governed by an authority other than himself, but he has no say in how he is to be governed by said authority.
Secondly, are there laws which are independent of the will of the people, by which they are governed, and which they transgress at their own peril?
Plato, Cicero and other proponents of natural law would argue that the laws governing civil society are like the laws of nature, which are independent of the will of the people. The society can only thrive if the people abide by those objective laws, just as a person can be healthy only if he heeds the laws of health sciences. Unless the people are willing and able to exercise self-control according to law and reason, the will of the people would be no different from the will of a tyrant. This is in fact part of Plato's original conception of social contract in Crito. It is important to Plato that everybody, including the guardians of the state, respect the law, and nobody is above the law.
What concerns me the most about Locke’s political theory is his exaltation of right to the neglect of obligation. Individuals or groups can put themselves above the law any time they perceive an offence against themselves, and have no shortage of “reasons” to justify their lawlessness. When everything is evaluated in terms of rights and not obligations, nobody is obligated to safeguard another’s right, consequently, no rights are safeguarded. If the state has no obligation to defend the right of its citizens, the rights of citizens become void; if the citizens have no obligation to abide by the laws of the commonwealth, the commonwealth disintegrates.
Conciseness has always seemed to me to be the most essential problem in art. To fit his destiny to a man so nicely as to leave no vacuum, to inclose h
Conciseness has always seemed to me to be the most essential problem in art. To fit his destiny to a man so nicely as to leave no vacuum, to inclose him as radiantly as the ember does the fly and yet the while preserve every detail of his being has, of all tasks, ever been the dearest to me. –Stefan Zweig
Stefan Zweig was an Austrian journalist and playwright, with a Ph.D. in philosophy. He was a pacifist and a friend of Romain Rolland. Emulating Rolland's style, Zweig wrote many biographies, including Balzac, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Casanova, Stendhal, and Tolstoy. As a Jew, he was forced into exile after the rise of Nazis, and eventually committed suicide together with his wife in Brazil, far away from his homeland.
Through the story of an old art connoisseur, Zweig conveys a haunting sense of loss and nostalgia: Having fallen on hard times during the war, the old man's family was forced to sell his prized collection of prints and engravings to survive, despite his firm instructions not to sell them, for they were his life. Opportunistic dealers took advantage of their ignorance, and swindled them out of their most valuable possession. The old man had been blinded by illness, so his family concealed the loss from him by replacing the prints with blank sheets. Hence, the "invisible" collection--one that exists only in the old man's memory. The story reaches a climax when the grandson of an art dealer who had previously sold the old man some engravings came to visit him, with the intent to buy them back.
The story of the invisible collection is an allegory of the values of human life. The moral and spiritual values that are most important to us have been and are being eroded, by the incessant demands of our material lives, by our own lack of courage, integrity and discernment, by the vain opinions and influences of the fallen powers around us, little by little, day by day, such that our values eventually become either entirely invisible, or fossilized like fly in ember, no longer possessing vitality and energy of life, but only retaining abstract and lifeless forms, of interest to none but few academics....more