- Girvetz 1004
TALK: Randomness, Fortune, and Faith
John D. Lyons (French, University of Virginia)
Wednesday, May 8 / 9:30 AM
In the early-modern period European society was shaken by turmoil that touched almost every aspect of culture, though the most visible symptoms were religious and political crises. At stake was the very framework of life: why do things happen? Is there an overarching order to the world—providence, predestination, mechanical regularity—or do things happen by chance? In popular culture, the problem of chance was arguably a factor in the extraordinary flowering of tragedy, the emergence of the novel, the growing obsession with gambling, and the fierce reaction by the Catholic Church and monarchy against the free-thinking libertins. In the very middle of the seventeenth century, the writings of Blaise Pascal bring together some of the most important threads of the debates about chance. Since Pascal was a Christian writer, one might suppose that he would attempt to refute the view, largely attributed to the libertins, that the world is apparently ruled by chance. Surprisingly, this apologist for a grace-centered religion (often described as dominated by rigid predestination), embraced chance, which he usually refers to as hasard (as opposed to the more ancient term fortune). In his lecture Lyons will look briefly at Pascal’s description of the manifestations of chance in individual and collective life and to show how Pascal’s observation-based account of human life is compatible with his theological foundation.
John D. Lyons, Commonwealth Professor of French at the University of Virginia. He has published extensively on French 17th century literature and his recent book The Phantom of Chance: From Fortune to Randomness in Seventeenth-Century French Literature (Edinburgh Critical Studies in Renaissance Culture, 2012) has received excellent reviews.