Interpreting a statement of Pascal's that appears in Dostoevski

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themotionofnothing
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Jan 19 2012 21:19
Interpreting a statement of Pascal's that appears in Dostoevski

This is an exchange between Stepan Trofimovich Verkhovensky and Varvara Stavrogina in The Devils or Demons by Fyodor Dostoevski:

"I said, on trouve toujours plus de moines que de raison, and as I thoroughly..."

"I'm sure that's not your saying. You must have taken it from somewhere."

"It was Pascal said that."

The french seems to translate ruffly as: 'there are more priests then reason(s)'.

Stepan Trofimovich seems to be asserting the dearest Dostoevskian prerogative. He is not obliged to bend to rational conclusions, no matter how many 'reasons' the experts throw at him. He has his conscious to get his back.

I don't, however, understand Pascal's argument. What is he saying? This apparently comes from a letter of Pascal's. As far as I can make out he is saying that it is hard to translate a conviction of conscious into the language of reason. Why does he say there are more priests? It seems to suggest those savants that practice reason are more rigorous and should be heard.

Can someone give their take on this. I feel like the statement is meant as a witticism, the purport of which should come suddenly, as it is it strikes me only as ponderous. Why does this make Stephan Trofimovich's point?

akai
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Jan 19 2012 22:25

No, something completely different. The discussion is about rational thinking and particularly atheism. Verkhovenski is defending his right to think rationally instead of believing in god, Varvara is implying that other people can be wiser and that they might know something he doesn´t. So the Pascal quote makes perfect sense here and you are going off in a wild direction. Just take the Pascal quote literally in the context.

themotionofnothing
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Jan 20 2012 03:21

Pascal is (was), however, no atheist. Interesting. Thanks.

I forgot that in those 'forgone' days 'free thinker' meant, opposing the vulgar supremacy of Christendom (its sway).

So you interpret the saying to tell us that the priests have faith and not reason, and that reason is the currency of what one calls rationality?

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no.25
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Jan 20 2012 04:15

Lol, Pascal.

To answer your question, yes. Don't mind me, I'm just a cretin. I haven't read Dostoyevsky, and I doubt that I'll ever do so.

To be honest, I'm getting pretty fed up with theory. I can't speak for anybody else.

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Jan 20 2012 04:17
no.25 wrote:
Lol, Pascal.

To answer your question, yes. Don't mind me, I'm just a cretin. I haven't read Dostoyevsky, and I doubt that I'll ever do so.

To be honest, I'm getting pretty fed up with theory. I can't speak for anybody else.

Fed up with theory seems a bit brash, but in the context of this thread, yes, very boring. Libcom isn't an alternative wikipedia for you to get help with your pascal paper

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no.25
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Jan 20 2012 04:23
Arbeiten wrote:
no.25 wrote:
Lol, Pascal.

To answer your question, yes. Don't mind me, I'm just a cretin. I haven't read Dostoyevsky, and I doubt that I'll ever do so.

To be honest, I'm getting pretty fed up with theory. I can't speak for anybody else.

Fed up with theory seems a bit brash, but in the context of this thread, yes, very boring. Libcom isn't an alternative wikipedia for you to get help with your pascal paper

Lol, yeah, maybe I'm just getting impatient.

themotionofnothing
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Jan 21 2012 00:11

I think this is the wrong attitude. Because the movement of thought, even if we take only the Enlightenment as our grounds, is a flow and not just a matter of isolated facts. I think to construct a proper understanding of the current situation requires something in excess of the facticity presented by any given question or individual thinker's particular take on the world situation: Marx was an interpreter of Smith and Ricardo & influenced by the Germans who sprang like the gorgon's head out of the great Western tradition of philosophy, he debated with the Russians of Dostoevskie's time, Bakunin and so on. A peristaltic flow of ideas, stopping only momentarily in the lock boxes of certain damns, and a sifting through the material of certain thinker's catch basins.

I came here because in past I have seen people treating contemporary thinkers/theorists. Zizek, for instance. To be sure I don't know who is read here. But if they are worth anything they must have constructed an understanding of the development of ideas of the last several hundred years.

Again, I would argue that this book of Dostoevskies' is about a strain of thought that lead through people like Nechayev on to Lenin and so forth: The ideas are not only isolated or eccentric divagations of obscure philosophers and writers, but rather indicative of mass transformations of thought and revolutions such as those precipitated by the watchmaker's son from Geneva, Rousseau.

Why is there such antagonism towards, a question that in this case was well answered, and such serious minded inquiry in general? Well, if there is a better forum that is up on contemporary theory in a broader sense, I wish someone will point me to it.

The particular question, however, is our door into the larger picture. Just as if we were to inquire into the nature of the Starbucks, we should ask about their practice of handing out free drink certificates, and only here, on this grounds, might we begin to allow the Starbucks to reveal itself to us in its greater meaning.

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Jan 21 2012 00:38

Yeah, I apologize. I was being sort of a dick.

I'm reading a book by Istvan Meszaros at the moment, it's titled 'Social Structure and Forms of Consciousness: The Social Determination of Method." So far it's pretty good, it addresses various philosophers, and the limitations of their philosophy within the structure of their society. I think that you might find it both interesting and relevant, so maybe check it out.

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Jan 21 2012 03:11

it just means there are more bullshit merchants than rational people

akai
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Jan 21 2012 12:35

The question is a bit unusual in relation to usual topics on Libcom but I have written academically on Dostoyevsky, so I couldn't resist. smile Actually, many of the ideas posed in Dostoyevsky are quite relevant to libertarian thought as he wrote in clear response and reference to thinkers such as Bakunin or Chernyshevski. And many of his arguments are quite relevant. I always felt that dismantling the logic and arguments of Dostoyevsky is quite good practice for anybody who would need to face various objections to anarchist or utopian thought, especially those based on some type of anti-socialistic determinism.

If anybody is interested in Russian political thought of that era, I would recommend both "the Possessed" and "Notes from the Underground". (The former being the more common and original English translation of "Besy", also known as "Demons" or "Devils".)

The character of Piotr Verkhovensky is based on Nechayev and Bakunin's thought is present and challenged in the novel. The thoughts of other prominent thinkers of the time, such as Granovsky, are also present.

"Notes" is a clear response to "What is to be Done".

Anyway, there is much about the anti-utopian thought of Dostoyevsky, but enough for now.

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Jan 21 2012 17:26

In the middle of World War II new complete editions of Dostoyevsky’s works were published in both the Soviet Union and the Nazi-occupied part of Russia, which gives some idea of the scope of his anti-utopian appeal.

bzfgt
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Jan 21 2012 19:57
Quote:
"Notes" is a clear response to "What is to be Done".

Written 40 years prior...

bzfgt
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Jan 21 2012 21:36
bzfgt wrote:
Quote:
"Notes" is a clear response to "What is to be Done".

Written 40 years prior...

Sorry, I just got straightened out on that:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/What_Is_to_Be_Done%3F_(novel)

akai
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Jan 21 2012 23:04

Just out yourself as a Leninist? hehe smile

bzfgt
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Jan 21 2012 23:40

I guess so.

themotionofnothing
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Jan 23 2012 01:59

@no.25
"it addresses various philosophers, and the limitations of their philosophy within the structure of their society" ... triggers a 'parsimoniously frugal' ramification free talk session in the parlance of an 'expressionistic evocation": Foucault's political thought that is born of Heidegger's deep water analysis which is pegoratized (if that is a word) by more Chomskyan 'pragmatic' circles. Althusser who makes abominably clear the lack of a point of entry into ideology: From where do they speak?, some interpellation field under the ice of an 'Ideological State Plexus'? I'm trying to think about this through Plato now because I'm still retarded, I'm wondering if performativity is the lens everyone and their sister are using to get at this issue today. Interesting para association for me is Do Economists Make Markets. Shakespeare is in the nonfiction section of your local library, was he an 'ideological state apparatus' an interpellation machine?

What I'm looking at particularly is the way that the Germans treat this material through a 'portable mental window', an outlook, that because it is more subtle and rigorous - so I claim - is reproduced in 'materialist' and 'pragmatic' discourses at a loss (but reproduced! as if in a retreat from the scene of real austere questioning), and the original hurled head long into the heap of trash. Example: If one accepts Proudhon's "property is theft" as a slogan for sheer power of communicating rage, then is it not difficult when Stirner, in typically stern and economical style corrects the logical mistake: "Is the concept 'theft' at all possible unless one allows validity to the concept 'property'?, Marx and Engels laudably went along with the correction, but I can readily imagine trying to explain it to someone on the street and being answered: "Those are just words! Turbid claptrap & 'literary theory'! They steal from us and you go along with it."

@ 888
I'm not sure. I wonder if it means that priests have little reason. That the priests have little enough reason, since they don't use the stuff. There are more peasants(poor) then thalers(dollars)...

It's interesting that Varvara says, trusting the translator's acumen, there may be some who are more "intelligent" then you. Not wise (parenthetically, I associate this pitiably maligned word with philosophy) or have more faith (a more fitting opposite for critical reason, or so it seems to me). In the Brother's Karamazov Smerdyakov says notably, 'it's always interesting to talk with an intelligent man'. An ominous passage, ineluctably, from moral crime to actual murder, is connected to the utterance. As if intelligence for Dostoevsky is deeply intertwined with the stress fractures of the unconscious within the ego itself, or as it constitutes us.

@ akai
I'm wondering what "anti-socialistic determinism" turns out to be when unpacked? And the "anti-Utopian' thought of Dostoevsky": meaning that utopia is a state of pure instrumentality after the Marxian prognostication of the dissolve of 'politics' into pure bureaucracy?

@ Karetelnik

I hear some of the visual artists after the fall of the S.S.R. did not know any work beyond Matisse, or had not learned of it until they were in their forties and part of dissonant art factions, which were tolerated after the death of Stalin. One wonders what conditions would have resulted, if as some wished, the entirety of culture had been torn away and the nation started up out of whole cloth, with its 'Socialist Realism' art the only medium of imagination, this stuff that is stylistically streamlined regardless of the artist. People, when they have no model of another time before them, have difficulty formulating rebellion, does glasnost actually indicate the window opening on the West and not on internal reflection. What could be more threatening to power then the look of another regime and world that is actual and real?

Dostoevsky, to be sure, believed in the 'Utopian' future, was against it in some ways (though he said to his publisher "would you call the police if the czar were about to be assassinated" "no" "neither would I", but was sure of its monstrous becoming. Dostoevsky's dedication to the historical reality was to great to falsify his novels with merely sanctimonious polemics.

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Jan 23 2012 06:34

http://www.dico-citations.com/on-trouve-toujours-plus-de-moines-que-de-raisons-pascal-blaise/
This seems to show the origin, but not actually have it.

As a general rule when Verkhovensky speaks French he is talking rubbish, as the narrator highlights.

I think the idea that there are more priests than reason could easily be a criticism of priests or a positive comment on faith. Verkhovensky pretends to be an atheist most of the time so he probably means the former, although as it's Verkhovensky it's hard to say.

In terms of the treatment of his son, Akai is right and I would recommend Dostoyevsky not just for politics but also psychoanalytic ideas and basically everything because Dostoyevsky is one of, if not the, finest writers ever. It's true that revolutionary politics (apart from a vague idea of liberation theology) are put in there to be attacked and dismissed and the characters believing in them are either bad, or misguided.

Dostoyevsky's mistrust of intelligence is more a mistrust of peole who have studied, especially those who have studied foreign writers. With his view of the Russian character Dostoyevsky seems to think that there is an innate spiritual identity that too much learning can damage.

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Jan 23 2012 09:09

Pascal's comment makes sense against the background of his theological (and spiritual) commitment to Jansenism: -

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jansenism

Jansenism was quite a protestant formulation of Catholicism (and was eventually denounced as a heresy), which emphasises faith over reason. This chimes with Pascal's other comment (much vaunted by Althusser) that the practice of prayer precedes faith, not vice versa.

So in terms of the alternative readings that jef gives above, I think the comment is definitely a positive comment on faith rather than a criticism of priests. In effect, Pascal is saying "Argue all you want -- but faith has got numbers on its side".

Or something.

bzfgt
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Jan 23 2012 18:34

Oh my God, you bourgeois fuckers are in danger of having an interesting conversation.

themotionofnothing
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Jan 24 2012 23:21

@jef costello

For some reason the link won't load for me.

"As a general rule when Verkhovensky speaks French he is talking rubbish, as the narrator highlights." Nice: Ornamental 'Europeanism', as the 'jouissance' of the Europeanized Russian oddball's pretense of quasi-useful mentation! The orchestration of other men's serious thoughts into the jargon of those who, although they understand the meaning, don't make proper use of the movable type face. The ticklish question is 'who's who?'. Printing wood block prints to whet the appetite of the people, or merely 'hysterically masturbating' to the pornography of French theory?

"could easily be a criticism of priests or a positive comment on faith." - Yes, I felt this too. Precisely because if you mend the Enlightened pejoration of faith the lack of reason becomes a bonus.

"Dostoyevsky's mistrust of intelligence is more a mistrust of people who have studied..." I think the precise use of the word intelligence is wrongheaded here and may presume that it means the 'rational purveying of facts'. Often in Dostoevsky, trusting the translations, intelligence is the quality of the quick answering peasant as in the Brother's Karamazov, or of the priests that Varvara Stavrogina presumably refers to when she says some people may be more intelligent then us. This intelligence is not about having intelligence as information abut externality, but of having it as inner quality.

"especially those who have studied foreign writers. With his view of the Russian character" I agree. He has (had) a kind of mad faith in Russia's power to effect the absolute repair of the world. However, on his view as he shows in one of the first essays in the second volume of his writer's diary, this is invariably the case of all great peoples. A kind of psychological artistry that involves the coordination under the direction of utopic motivators (Is this not, parenthetically, the reason Nozick abandons his notion of the 'minimal state', for it must be yoked to some great concert idea.)

@the button

I'm out of my ken or the argument is. It sounds like, first, one should separate Jesuit and Catholic thought - that to my mind has become precisely what we today call scientific or instrumental rationalism, what Heidegger calls, 'truth as correctness' - from irrational doctrines of transcendent faith which as Jung puts it: "go beyond the point where critical reason comes to a halt".

This transformation of Catholicism (which means notably Universalism, just as today scientism guys - 'Brights' - say that there will no longer be this or that morality but world morality established by the scientific community [as once there was Arabic science and European]) is masterfully - or if you like at least convincingly enough - demonstrated by Max Stirner and others.

Calvinism, I understand as the identification of earthy success and so elite and privileged living on earth, with divine approbation as sign of god's favor.

I think Dostoevsky - actually - denies both these paths (in fact he searches for a kind of Truth, this could be held against him, but it is not the common Truth of organized fractious groups but if you like, an insubordinate Truth).

"Argue all you want -- but faith has got numbers on its side" If we allow this to evoke Kant we are totally upside-down. Since Kant says argue all you want against the rational principle of autonomy and the yoke of the self made law, but follow it. Whereas this statement of yours seems to say argue all you want with your rational 'blanks' (as Kant describes the academics' weapons as firing), but the heap of bodies guided by absurd and thoughtless life will not yield. ( Sloterdijk says "the taming of man has failed.")

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Jan 25 2012 10:36
Quote:
It sounds like, first, one should separate Jesuit and Catholic thought

The Jesuit position became Catholic orthodoxy during the reformation. The Jansenists, on the other hand, were denounced as heretics.

If you want to read some Pascal (and he is a very good writer) I'd recommend reading "The provincial letters" rather than the "Pensees." The letters are a sustained polemic against the Jesuits' casuistical approach to ethics (that is, examine ethical problems case-by-case; lying is OK sometimes; so is assassinating tyrants) from the Jansenist losing side, which emphasised moral absolutes and the impossibility of knowing whether you were in a state of grace.

As for the relationship between Kant & Pascal, that's got me thinking.... beardiest

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Jan 25 2012 19:41

@ the button
"the Jesuit position became Catholic orthodoxy" : It is meant to read Jesuit/Catholic thought.

"denounced as heretics (choice takers!)" Yet, of course, this way of stating it makes their position subordinate. It might also have its own ground? Or is it only possible as a turning away from reason?

Dostoevsky seems to share a trajectory with the Jansenists. This is Heidegger's outlook as well. He does not think more examples will make foundational matters any more convincing, one must have an absolute entry. That of the austerity of staying with the question.

Dostoevsky said time was an idea (a Form), this amounts, if we follow Plato, to the same conclusion of Heidegger (since Dasein is time, and a being among beings but not Being or Agathos or the Absolute potential of beings). It is possible to consider that Heidegger's position is the same, yet it is brought into its fullest yet 'unconcealedness'. Because the call to the absolute is really directing itself at the place of primordial potential outside the yoke of metaphysics. Heidegger was able to formulate this as an end to subject-object based modes of perception, and sense ineligibility.