I’ve forgotten to check Eric Rasmusen’s blog lately, and in revisiting there this morning I noticed his interesting post on Pascal, proof and custom. The passage he chose to quote, from Pensees, is striking, and not something that I’ve typically associated with Pascal:
For we must not misunderstand ourselves; we are as much automatic as intellectual; and hence it comes that the instrument by which conviction is attained is not demonstrated alone. How few things are demonstrated! Proofs only convince the mind. Custom is the source of our strongest and most believed proofs. It bends the automaton, which persuades the mind without its thinking about the matter. … The reason acts slowly, with so many examinations and on so many principles, which must be always present, that at every hour it falls asleep, or wanders, through want of having all its principles present.
Wow. It would be really fun to read Pascal, Hayek and Michael Polanyi together, to tie in Hayek’s arguments on how tradition and custom shape our economic interactions and get expressed in market processes, and Polanyi’s analysis of tacit/inarticulate knowledge. How much of what we do and how we go about it in a given day do we do without having to think about it? How much do we know how to do without remembering having learned how to do it?