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Force and Justice

In 'The Need for Roots', Simone Weil points out the absurdity of the 18th century divide of an amoral world and moral society, rooted in Descartes' cleavage of mind and body. Weil reminds us that humans are as much a part of the universe as everything else, and therefore subject to the same rule of amoral force.

 

She writes:

For the past two or three centuries there is a belief that force is the sole master of all natural phenomena, and, at the same time, that men can and should establish their mutual relationships on justice, as determined by reason. This is a patent absurdity.

It is not conceivable that everything in the universe be absolutely subject to the empire of force but that man can avoid it, while he is made of flesh and blood, and his thought drifts along with perceptual impressions.

There is only one choice to make. Either one must perceive another principle besides force at work in the universe, or one must acknowledge that force is also the sole master of human relations.

Force is not a machine to create justice automatically. It is a blind mechanism from which just and unjust effects come out by chance, indifferently. The passage of time does nothing; it does not augment the tiny proportion of just effects by chance from this mechanism's function.

If force reigns absolutely, justice is absolutely unreal. But it is not. We know this by experience. Justice is real at the bottom of men's hearts.

The structure of a human heart is a reality among realities of this universe, as real as the trajectory of a planet.

As long as man tolerates having his soul full of his own thoughts, of his personal thoughts, he is entirely subject, including his most intimate thoughts, to the mechanical play of force. If he thinks it otherwise, he is in error.

But everything changes when, by virtue of true attention, he empties his soul in order to let the thoughts of eternal wisdom penetrate him. He then carries within him the very thoughts that force is subject to.

The operation of intelligence in scientific study makes necessity's sovereignty over matter appear to thought as a network of relationships that is immaterial and without force. Necessity is only perfectly conceived when the relationships appear as completely immaterial. They are then present to thought only by the effect of an elevated and pure attention, which stems from a point in the soul that is not subject to force.

The true definition of science is that it is the study of the beauty of the world. As soon as one thinks of it, this is obvious. Matter, blind force are not the object of science. Thought cannot attain them; they flee before it. The thought of a scientist never attains anything but the relationships that seize matter and force in an invisible, impalpable and inalterable netword of order and harmony. "The net of the sky is vast, says Lao-Tsu; its netting is large; however nothing passes through it."

How could human thought have any other object than thought? There is here a difficulty so well known in the theory of knowledge that one renounces to consider it, one puts it aside like a platitude. The object of human thought is, itself, thought. The scientist has for a goal the union of his own spirit with the mysterious wisdom eternally inscribed in the universe. How could there then be opposition or even separation between the spirit of science and that of religion? Scientific investigation is but a form of religious contemplation.

The forces down here are determined by sovereign necessity: necessity is constituted of relationships which are thoughts; therefore force which is sovereign down here is sovereignly dominated by thought. Man is a thinking creature; he is on the side of that which commands force.

-Simone Weil, The Need for Roots

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let's discuss freely in light of this passage.  No background reading is expected.

 

OPTIONAL: Weil, on The Iliad and Force. http://people.virginia.edu/~jdk3t/WeilTheIliad.pdf

 

 

Join or login to comment.

  • Nathan T.

    Comment

    November 3, 2013

    • Brian

      Yes not enough comments !

      November 4, 2013

  • Brian

    A well-balanced and comprehensive discussion - Thanks all

    November 2, 2013

  • Brian

    <3

    November 2, 2013

    • Brian

      Glad everyone's happy =]

      1 · November 2, 2013

    • jean p.

      Au revoir

      1 · November 2, 2013

  • Rick O.

    I am not sure where religion is defined as "maximizing bias," nor am I familiar where science is defined as "eliminating bias," but perhaps those are my own limitations. This does, however, remind me of one of my (several hundred) favorite sections of Nietzsche, from "Truth and Lies..."

    "If I make up the definition of a mammal, and then, after inspecting a camel, declare "look, a mammal" I have indeed brought a truth to light in this way, but it is a truth of a very limited value."

    Not sure if this adds anything, I just like quoting Nietzsche.

    Science, understood as a knowledge of dead things (ref: Lacan), works well for understanding robots. But if we want to use this methodology to understand living things we are going astray.

    November 1, 2013

    • Chad B.

      A whale is a fish!

      November 2, 2013

    • Rick O.

      Ivan - there is a certain beauty in what you say (don't take that the wrong way) - thanks

      November 2, 2013

  • jean p.

    In conclusion,sometimes it pays to see just how sausage is made even if it is not pretty and Rick we cannot spend any more time on topic as you already gave away the ending.

    November 2, 2013

  • Jack

    Although the meeting is full, can we allow Ivan to join us as a UN observer?

    1 · November 2, 2013

    • jean p.

      Getting metaphysical not physical.

      1 · November 2, 2013

    • Chad B.

      Due to lack of sleep I will probably have to surrender my spot. See you in my dreams.

      November 2, 2013

  • Brian

    Any initial thoughts?

    October 29, 2013

    • jean p.

      Only as a failing.

      1 · November 2, 2013

    • jean p.

      Excuse the aphoristic nature of my posts as I text and drive.

      November 2, 2013

  • Rick O.

    Okay, now I'm really confused (happens to me a lot). I just read the essay - not being familiar with Weil I somehow assumed the essay was critical towards Homer - a criticism of 'brute force.'

    I think, though, that Weils criticism is we have forgotten what the Poem tells us, not that the Poem deals with 'the wrong path.'

    Or, not that Homer was wrong, but that we have stopped listening to Homer.

    November 1, 2013

    • jean p.

      Right no one can control brute force

      November 1, 2013

    • Rick O.

      But also that brute force is not something to be denied? - that the Greeks, in embracing it, had something that we have lost? - "Nothing the peoples of Europe have produced is worth the first known poem that appeared among them" - the Illiad - the poem of force. Maybe my confusion comes from reading too much poetry!

      1 · November 1, 2013

  • jean p.

    I always knew that I could count on Pascal to aid me in my convictions, but now Nietzche....life does indeed give us strange bedfellows.

    November 1, 2013

  • Rick O.

    Re: science and beauty:

    To quote from other recent meetups:
    Plato, in Philebus, maps out the hierarchy of the levels of Good:
    1) Measure
    2) Beautiful
    3) Reason
    4) Science
    5) Pleasures

    So, yes, science is not the same as the search for beauty - it is actually two steps below.
    (couldn't resist)

    November 1, 2013

  • jean p.

    Familiarity with the Platonic concept of metaxy might prove useful .

    1 · October 29, 2013

    • Brian

      Also, The Meno. Socrates' resolution to Menos Paradox

      1 · October 31, 2013

    • jean p.

      Thanks ,I really should reread any dialogue concerning virtue.

      November 1, 2013

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