Simone Weil is widely recognized today as one of the profound religious thinkers of the twentieth century. Yet while her interpretation of natural science is critical to Weil’s overall understanding of religious faith, her writings on science have received little attention compared with her more overtly theological writings. The present essay, which builds on Vance Morgan’s Weaving the World: Simone Weil on Science, Necessity, and Love (2005), critically examines Weil’s interpretation of the history of science. Weil believed that mathematical science, for the ancient Pythagoreans a mystical expression of the love of God, had in the modern period degenerated into a kind of reification of method that confuses the means of representing nature with nature itself. Beginning with classical (Newtonian) science’s representation of nature as a machine, and even more so with the subsequent assimilation of symbolic algebra as the principal language of mathematical physics, modern science according to Weil trades genuine insight into the order of the world for symbolic manipulation yielding mere predictive success and technological domination of nature. I show that Weil’s expressed desire to revive a Pythagorean scientific approach, inspired by the “mysterious complicity” in nature between brute necessity and love, must be recast in view of the intrinsically symbolic character of modern mathematical science. I argue further that a genuinely mystical attitude toward nature is nascent within symbolic mathematical science itself.
Providence College, Philosophy Department Faculty Publications