Plato & pascal

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  • Publié le : 24 septembre 2010
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As Plato and Pascal’s dialectic arguments reach their climax, both philosophers turn their attentions to the immediate data that can be gleaned from language – data which no form of reasoning canfully quantify or describe. It is in this metaphysical arena, however (where the subtlest of differences have the most drastic consequences), that Pascal parts ways with Plato. He accuses Plato of stillwanting to find truth in words that can offer nothing but mystery. Is there any benefit to asserting that man is ‘a two-legged featherless animal’? Do we learn any more from this statement than wewould through simple personal observation? Pascal accepts that he must ‘humble this proud power of reasoning, which claims the right to be the judge of things chosen by the will’, but only because he isconvinced that definitions, or ‘the arbitrary application of names to objects which are clearly designated in perfectly recognisable terms’, are created only ‘to designate what is being named, and notto reveal its nature’. This forces him to conclude that some ‘mots primitifs’ (or basic terms) ‘are indefinable’, such as space, time, movement, number, equality, or even being, ‘which cannot bedefined without beginning it is, thus using the word to be defined within the definition’. Consequently, ‘humans are by nature perpetually unable to establish absolute and immutable order in any area ofscience’. Plato, on the other hand, is convinced that language holds an essential truth, and so refuses to set any limits on our dialectic power. His geometric principles are similar to Pascal’sequally hypothetical ‘mots primitifs’. However, they can still clarify aspects of an object’s basic nature – admittedly not aspects of its ‘sensible’ nature, as his contemporaries believed possible, but ofits ‘intelligible’ reality. For this reason, Plato does not agree with Pascal’s statement that ‘what is beyond geometry is beyond us’. Instead, he maintains that dialectic has the right to aim...
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