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A Budget of Paradoxes, Volume II   By: (1806-1871)

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BY AUGUSTUS DE MORGAN

A BUDGET OF PARADOXES

REPRINTED WITH THE AUTHOR'S ADDITIONS FROM THE ATHENAEUM

SECOND EDITION EDITED BY DAVID EUGENE SMITH

WITH A NEW INTRODUCTION BY ERNEST NAGEL

PROFESSOR OF PHILOSOPHY, COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY

UNABRIDGED EDITION TWO VOLUMES BOUND AS ONE

Volume II

DOVER PUBLICATIONS, INC., NEW YORK

This new Dover Edition, published in 1954, is an unabridged republication of the Second Edition of 1915, with a new introduction by Professor Ernest Nagel.

Copyright 1954 by Dover Publications, Inc. Manufactured in the United States of America

{1}

A BUDGET OF PARADOXES.

VOLUME II.

ON SOME PHILOSOPHICAL ATHEISTS.

With the general run of the philosophical atheists of the last century the notion of a God was an hypothesis. There was left an admitted possibility that the vague somewhat which went by more names than one, might be personal, intelligent, and superintendent. In the works of Laplace,[1] who is sometimes called an atheist from his writings, there is nothing from which such an inference can be drawn: unless indeed a Reverend Fellow of the Royal Society may be held to be the fool who said in his heart, etc., etc., if his contributions to the Philosophical Transactions go no higher than nature . The following anecdote is well known in Paris, but has never been printed entire. Laplace once went in form to present some edition of his "Système du Monde" to the First Consul, or Emperor. Napoleon, whom some wags had told that this book contained no mention of the name of God, and who was fond of putting embarrassing questions, received it with "M. Laplace, they tell me you have written this large book on the system of the universe, and have never even mentioned its Creator." Laplace, who, though the most supple of politicians, was as stiff as a martyr on every point of his philosophy or religion (e. g., even under Charles X he never concealed his dislike of the priests), drew himself up and answered {2} bluntly, "Je n'avais pas besoin de cette hypothèse là."[2] Napoleon, greatly amused, told this reply to Lagrange, who exclaimed, "Ah! c'est une belle hypothèse; ça explique beaucoup de choses."[3]

It is commonly said that the last words of Laplace were, "Ce que nous connaissons est peu de chose; ce que nous ignorons est immense."[4] This looks like a parody on Newton's pebbles:[5] the following is the true account; it comes to me through one remove from Poisson.[6] After the publication (in 1825) of the fifth volume of the Mécanique Céleste , Laplace became gradually weaker, and with it musing and abstracted. He thought much on the great problems of existence, and often muttered to himself, Qu'est ce que c'est que tout cela! [7] After many alternations, he appeared at last so permanently prostrated that his family applied to his favorite pupil, M. Poisson, to try to get a word from him. Poisson paid a visit, and after a few words of salutation, said, "J'ai une bonne nouvelle à vous annoncer: on a reçu au Bureau des Longitudes une lettre d'Allemagne annonçant que M. Bessel a vérifié par l'observation vos découvertes théoriques sur les satellites de Jupiter."[8] Laplace opened his eyes and answered with deep {3} gravity, " L'homme ne poursuit que des chimères ."[9] He never spoke again. His death took place March 5, 1827.

The language used by the two great geometers illustrates what I have said: a supreme and guiding intelligence apart from a blind rule called nature of things was an hypothesis . The absolute denial of such a ruling power was not in the plan of the higher philosophers: it was left for the smaller fry. A round assertion of the non existence of anything which stands in the way is the refuge of a certain class of minds: but it succeeds only with things subjective; the objective offers resistance... Continue reading book >>


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