Tag Archives: Pascal

Three Against Antiquity

“Men have been kept back as by a kind of enchantment from progress in the sciences by a reverence for antiquity… The opinion touching it which men entertain is quite a negligent one, and scarcely consonant with the word itself. For the old age of the world is to be accounted the true antiquity; and this is the attribute of our own times, not of that earlier age of the world in which the ancients lived.”

~ Francis Bacon, Novum Organum

“Those whom we call the ancients are really those who lived in the youth of the world, and the true infancy of man; and as we have added the experience of the ages between us and them to what they knew, it is only in ourselves that is to be found that antiquity which we venerate in others.”

~ Pascal, Pensees

“Properly understood, the question of the pre-eminence of the ancients or the moderns comes down to this: were there once larger trees growing in the countryside than there are today? If there were, then Homer, Plato, and Demosthenes can never be equaled in our time. But if our trees are as tall as those of past times, then Homer, Plato, and Demosthenes can be equaled.”

~ Fontenelle, Digression on the Ancients and the Moderns

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Marginalia, no.19

This roving humor…I have ever had, & like a ranging spaniel, that barks at every bird it sees, leaving his game, I have followed all, saving that which I should, and may justly complain, and truly (for who is everywhere is nowhere)…, that I have read many books, but to little purpose, for want of good method; I have confusedly tumbled over divers authors in our libraries, with small profit, for want of art, order, memory, judgment.

~ Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

Wasn’t it Pascal who named Distraction mankind’s universal foe, the catholic goad of nature, preventing us at every turn from attending to life’s proper tasks? Though periodically re-lamented (as if just discovered), the habit of distraction must confer certain benefits.  A too constant focus on life’s mortal intentions toward us can be a downer, after all, and there are just so damn many books to read – most of which, like Burton’s, are themselves the happy products of distraction.

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