The Game of Probability: Literature and Calculation from Pascal to Kleist

The Game of Probability: Literature and Calculation from Pascal to Kleist

The Game of Probability: Literature and Calculation from Pascal to Kleist

The Game of Probability: Literature and Calculation from Pascal to Kleist

Synopsis

There exist literary histories of probability and scientific histories of probability, but it has generally been thought that the two did not meet. Campe begs to differ. Mathematical probability, he argues, took over the role of the old probability of poets, orators, and logicians, albeit in scientific terms. Indeed, mathematical probability would not even have been possible without the other probability, whose roots lay in classical antiquity.

The Game of Probability revisits the seventeenth and eighteenth-century "probabilistic revolution," providing a history of the relations between mathematical and rhetorical techniques, between the scientific and the aesthetic. This was a revolution that overthrew the "order of things," notably the way that science and art positioned themselves with respect to reality, and its participants included a wide variety of people from as many walks of life. Campe devotes chapters to them in turn. Focusing on the interpretation of games of chance as the model for probability and on the reinterpretation of aesthetic form as verisimilitude (a critical question for theoreticians of that new literary genre, the novel), the scope alone of Campe's book argues for probability's crucial role in the constitution of modernity.

Excerpt

The term “probability” implies the notion of reality. In Europe from antiquity to the early modern era, at least, this was long held to be the case. Speaking of probability—of what approaches or appears similar to truth—meant making a statement or assumption very different in its stance toward the actual world from the truth of science and philosophy. The standards of reliability and mutual understanding that politicians adhered to in their debates and people used in everyday life, as well as those attributed to poetry and the rhetorical arts, were not supposed to meet the criteria of truth. Instead, probability was thought to provide a kind of reliability and mutual understanding that did not owe its existence to criteria for true knowledge and efforts to define and establish them. With probability, orators and writers presupposed the existence of a reality that philosophy and science had to take into account. With its universal claims and rational imperatives, science had to prove and justify itself before reality. “Probability,” then, was the password for access to this real world that set up camp around the fortified city of the sciences.

This claim admittedly presents a partial view of what probability meant in antiquity and the persistence of this meaning into early modernity. It was not reality itself, but rather a watchword that opened the door to reality. With the term “probability,” one assumed reality and made use of this assumption. Only under the aegis of probability could reality become a subject of knowledge, whether in philosophy, science, or history. When lawyers produced probable arguments before the court, when . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.