Saturday, 31 March 2012


Today is the birthday of philosopher Rene Descartes, born in La Haye en Touraine, France (1596), called the father of modern philosophy, but he considered himself a mathematician and scientist. He became interested in philosophy when he heard that the church persecuted Galileo for his scientific theories. Descartes realized some of his own theories were also controversial, so he wrote a book called Discourse on Method (1637), about the necessity of doubt in scientific inquiry. He also wrote about beginning to doubt everything about his life, even the fact of his own existence. But in the process of doing so, he realized that he couldn't doubt the existence of his own thoughts, and he produced his most famous line: "Cogito ergo sum" - I think, therefore I am." Some years ago, I adapted this pithy phrase for my mother, who almost single-handedly supported the post-WWII retail boom: "Depenso ergo sum" - I shop, therefore I am.

Today is also the birthday of the poet Andrew Marvell, born in Winestead, England (1621). His most famous poem is "To His Coy Mistress," a favourite with undergraduates in my time, written to convince a woman to sleep with him: "Had we but world enough, and time, this coyness, lady, were no crime," .... "But at my back I always hear Time's winged chariot hurrying near."

The Archbishop of Canterbury has commented this morning (Sat March 31) on the finding that less than half of all British children know the words of the Lord's Prayer. He points out that, quite aside from being deprived of a vehicle specifically recommended by Our Lord, those children are also unable to recognise the many allusions in our whole literature and culture to such core equipment. On my bookshelves this morning for instance, I noticed Andrew O'Hagan's novel Our Fathers (surely an allusion to the first line of the prayer). Even the title of this year's British entry in the Eurovision Song Contest 'Love Will Make You Free' echoes the New Testament lines John 8: 32 'And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free'.

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