Well, I don’t know. I don’t know Chinese. I haven’t seen the relevant evidence.

From Paul Feyerabend’s The Tyranny of Science (pg.76).  To me Feyerabend often feels pretty careless and free-wheeling in his treatment of early Greek thinkers and theories – in his ability as an heir of the western intellectual tradition to comment on his forerunners as though he understood them, their culture, and their concepts in full – so it’s half amusing, half telling of this bias that it’s only in approaching non-western culture that he ever feels the need to concede his limitations.

Not all early thinkers belonged to the Xenophanes-Parmenides category. In China scientists used a multiple approach corresponding to the many different regions of nature and the variety of her products.  There was a unity – but it was a loose connection between events, not an underlying essence.  This view was more practical than its western alternative and indeed, Chinese technology, medicine included, was for a long time far ahead of the West. I say ‘it was far ahead of the West’ as if I knew.  Well, I don’t know.  I don’t know Chinese.  I haven’t seen the relevant evidence.  I only read a few books, some volumes of Needham’s monstrous work on Chinese science included, and this is what they say.

An anxious quest in a frozen universe of solitude

From Jacques Monod’s Chance and Necessity (pg.170), on the scientific world view and its insistence on empirical knowledge as the only authentic source of truth

… proposing no explanation but imposing an ascetic renunciation of all other spiritual fare was not [an idea] of a kind to allay anxiety but aggravated it instead.  By a single stroke it claimed to sweep away the tradition of a hundred thousand years, which had become one with human nature itself. It wrote an end to the ancient animist covenant between man and nature, leaving nothing in place of that precious bond but an anxious quest in a frozen universe of solitude.  With nothing to recommend it but a certain puritan arrogance, how could such an idea win acceptance? It did not; it still has not. It has however commanded recognition; but that is because, solely because of its prodigious power of performance

It would, moreover, be interesting to psychologize some historical psychologists.

From Pierre Hadot’s The Inner Citadel: The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius (pg 257, translation of  La Citadelle Intérieure. Introduction aux Pensées de Marc Aurèle).  Hadot in his writing – and even more so in the little I’ve read of his personal side – was typically as gentle and easygoing as befits a former priest turned scholar of Greek and Roman philosophy as lived philosophy.  But every now and then some of the more enterprising revisionists set him off and you get a glimmer of his wit sharpened to a different direction:

I believe I have sufficiently demonstrated the workings of a certain type of historical psychology.  Generally speaking, it is based upon ignorance of the modes of thought and composition of ancient authors, and it anachronistically projects modern representations back upon ancient texts.  It would, moreover, be interesting to psychologize some historical psychologists; I believe we could discover in them two tendencies. One is iconoclastic: it takes pleasure in attacking such figures as Plotinus or Marcus Aurelius, for example, who are naively respected by right-thinking people. The other is reductionist: it considers that all elevation of soul or of thought, all moral heroism, and all grandiose views of the universe can only be morbid and abnormal.  Everything has to be explained by sex or drugs.

The sophism which ruined me

From volume 2 of Rousseau’s Confessions.  I am reading Marcus Aurelius and Epictetus at the moment and this could pass for an excerpt from either, minus the Christian toning.

(I don’t like this translation at all but it is free on Gutenberg and I’m feeling too lazy to type another one.)

The sophism which ruined me has had a similar affect on the greater part of mankind, who lament the want of resolution when the opportunity for exercising it is over. The practice of virtue is only difficult from our own negligence; were we always discreet, we should seldom have occasion for any painful exertion of it; we are captivated by desires we might readily surmount, give into temptations that might easily be resisted, and insensibly get into embarrassing, perilous situations, from which we cannot extricate ourselves but with the utmost difficulty; intimidated by the effort, we fall into the abyss, saying to the Almighty, why hast thou made us such weak creatures? But, notwithstanding our vain pretexts, He replies, by our consciences, I formed ye too weak to get out of the gulf, because I gave ye sufficient strength not to have fallen into it.

Le sophisme qui me perdit est celui de la plupart des hommes, qui se plaignent de manquer de force quand il est déjà trop tard pour en user. La vertu ne nous coûte que par notre faute, et si nous voulions être toujours sages, rarement aurions-nous besoin d’être vertueux. Mais des penchants faciles à surmonter nous entraînent sans résistance ; nous cédons à des tentations légères dont nous méprisons le danger. Insensiblement nous tombons dans des situations périlleuses, dont nous pouvions aisément nous garantir, mais dont nous ne pouvons plus nous tirer sans des efforts héroïques qui nous effrayent, et nous tombons enfin dans l’abîme en disant à Dieu : « Pourquoi m’as-tu fait si faible ? » Mais malgré nous il répond à nos consciences : « Je t’ai fait trop faible pour sortir du gouffre, parce que je t’ai fait assez fort pour n’y pas tomber. »

Often but a little at a time

From early in the first volume fo Du Cote de Chez Swann.  I’ve taken the same habit as the narrator’s grandfather – whose few appearances, incidentally, usually involve him pronouncing a summing epigram (in a scene nearby he quotes, in relation to wife’s sisters, a line from Corneille – Seigneur, que de vertus vous nous faites haïr!, Lord what virtues you make us detest).

Il ne put pourtant pas se consoler de la mort de sa femme, mais pendant les deux années qu’il lui survécut, il disait à mon grand-père : « C’est drôle, je pense très souvent à ma pauvre femme, mais je ne peux y penser beaucoup à la fois. » « Souvent mais peu à la fois, comme le pauvre père Swann », était devenu une des phrases favorites de mon grand-père qui la prononçait à propos des choses les plus différentes.

He was not, however, able to be consoled after the death of his wife but during the two years that he survived her he said to my grandfather: “It’s curious, I think quite often of my poor wife but I can’t think of her much at any one time.”  “Often but a little at a time, like poor papa Swann” became one of the favorite phrases of my grandfather, who said it in relation to the most different sorts of things.