Tuesday, October 26, 2004

The Simple and the Wise

327. The world is a good judge of things, for it is in natural ignorance, which is man's true state. The sciences have two extremes which meet. The first is the pure natural ignorance in which all men find themselves at birth. The other extreme is that reached by great intellects, who, having run through all that men can know, find they know nothing, and come back again to that same ignorance from which they set out; but this is a learned ignorance which is conscious of itself. Those between the two, who have departed from natural ignorance and not been able to reach the other, have some smattering of this vain knowledge and pretend to be wise. These trouble the world and are bad judges of everything. The people and the wise constitute the world; these despise it, and are despised. They judge badly of everything, and the world judges rightly of them.

Pascal, Pensees. Learned Ignorance or "ignorance savante" (not to be confused with the ignorance of the learned) is a major theme in philosophical history, deriving from its Socratic-Platonic side. One of the more famous works on the subject is Nicholas of Cusa's De Doctrina Ignorantia (PDF). How much of this tradition Pascal actually has in mind is hard to determine, as much of what we need to know to interpret properly the Pensées is hard to determine.

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