21L.017 | Spring 2008 | Undergraduate

The Art of the Probable: Literature and Probability


Note: The discussions in the individual sections will vary from section to section; the exact reading for each week will be further specified by your section instructor.

Further, the schedule does not mean that the lectures will focus entirely on the readings listed — their content and emphasis will vary from week to week, depending on the nature of the topic being covered and which of three faculty members is responsible for that week’s lecture. But you are expected to keep up with the reading as described below.

Week 1: Aristotle, Sophocles

Sophocles. Oedipus Rex. In The Three Theben Plays. Introduction by Bernard Knox; translated by Robert Fagles. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 2000. ISBN: 9780140444254.

Aristotle. Aristotle’s Physics (written 350 BCE). Extracts from Book II, Chapters 1-9. Translated by R. P. Hardie and R. K. Gaye; adapted, revised, and edited by Prof. A. C. Kibel. (PDF)

Week 2: Cardan, Pascal and Fermat, Hamlet

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 2005. ISBN: 9788589533386.

Cardano, Gerolamo. Section 11, end of Section 14, beginning for Section 15, and beginning of Section 20 from Book on Games and Chances. Translated from the Latin by Sydney Henry Gould. In Ore, Oystein. Cardano, The Gambling Scholar. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1953 (reprinted Dover Publications, 1965), pp. 194-96, 202-203, and 215-19.

Pascal, Blaise. Penseés and The Provincial Letters. Translated by Thomas M’Crie. New York, NY: The Modern Library, 1941, pp. 380-383 and 388-393, provincial letters 5 and 6 (excerpts). (PDF)

Correspondence between Blaise Pascal and Perre Fermat on “The Problem of Points,” 1654.
 (a) Pascal to Fermat, July 29; (b) Pascal to Fermat, August 24; (c) Fermat to Pascal, August 29 in A Source Book in Mathematics. Translated by Vera Stanford, edited by D. E. Smith. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1984. ISBN: 9780486646909.
(d) Fermat to Pascal September 25; (e) Pascal to Fermat, October 27 in Games, Gods and Gambling. Translated by Maxine Merrington, edited by F. N. David. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1998. ISBN: 9780486400235.

Pascal, Blaise. “Discourse Concerning the Machine.” Chapter XLV in Penseés and Other Writings. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1995, pp. 153-58. ISBN: 9780192829900.

Week 3: Newton, Leibniz, Pope, de Moivre, Huygens

Newton, Sir Isaac. Selections from “The Method of Natural Philosophy,” “Collected Letters,” and “The Third Book of Opticks, Part I.” (PDF)

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. “Preface to the General Sciences.” In Leibniz: Selections. Edited by Philip P. Wiener. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951, pp. 12-16. ISBN: 9780684125510. (Download an alternate translation; read just the first section.)

———. “Abridgement of the Argument” In Theodicy. Translated by G. M. Duncan, 1890. Adapted and emended by Prof. A. C. Kibel. (PDF)

Pope, Alexander. Excerpts from An Essay on Man, 1734. (PDF)

Huygens, Christiaan. “Preface to Franciscus van Schooten,” in Bernoulli, Jacob. The Art of Conjecturing, Together with Letter to a Friend on Sets in Court Tennis. Translated by Edith Dudley Sylla. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, pp. 131-134. ISBN: 9780801882357. (View this work in Google Books.)

De Moivre, A. Excerpt from The Doctrine of Chances: or, A Method of Calculating the Probabilities of Events in Play. 3rd ed., 1756. (PDF)

Week 4: Leibniz, Port Royal, Voltaire

Nicole, Pierre, and Atoine Arnauld. Logic, or The Art of Thinking (aka “Port-Royal Logic.”). Translated by Jill Vance Buroker. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp. 262-65 and 272-75, fourth part, chapters 13, 15, and 16. ISBN: 9780521483940. (View this work in Google Books; download the complete book in a different translation (Thomas Spencer Baynes, 1850) from the Internet Archive.)

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. Excerpts from Leibniz: Selections. Edited by Philip P. Wiener. New York, NY: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1951, pp. 82-83, 85-87, 94-96. ISBN: 9780684125510.

———. “Necessary and Contingent Truths (c. 1686).” In Leibniz: Philosophical Writings. Edited by G. H. R. Parkinson. London, UK: Dent, Rowman and Littlefield, 1983, pp. 96-105. ISBN: 9780460119054.

Voltaire. Candide. Translated by John Butt. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 1950. ISBN: 9780140440041.

———. “Bien (tout est): All is good,” “Certain, certitude: Certain, certainty,” and “Nécessaire: Necessary.” In Philosophical Dictionary. Edited and translated by Theodore Besterman. New York, NY: Penguin, 1984, pp. 68-74, 105-107, and 323-325. ISBN: 9780140442571. (Download an alternate translation of this work from Project Gutenberg.)

Weeks 5-6: Hume, Sterne

Hume, David. “Of Probability.” Section VI in Enquiries Concerning Human Understanding and Concerning the Principles of Morals. 3rd ed. Edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge and P. H. Nidditch. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1975, pp. 56-59. ISBN: 9780198245360.

———. A Treatise of Human Nature. 2nd ed. Edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge and P. H. Nidditch. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1978, pp. 74-107, 124-141, book I, part III, sections II-XIII and XI-XII. ISBN: 9780198245889.

Sterne, Lawrence. A Sentimental Journey. New York, NY: Penguin Classics, 2002. ISBN: 9780140437799.

For Prof. Kibel’s students

Hume: Basic Outline (PDF)

For Prof. Raman’s students

Hume, David. “Of Personal Identity.” Book 1, Part IV, Section VI in A Treatise of Human Nature. 2nd ed. Edited by L. A. Selby-Bigge and P. H. Nidditch. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1978, pp. 251-262. ISBN: 9780198245889.

Weeks 6-7: Wordsworth et al., Hume, Hartley

Wordsworth, William. “The Thorn.” In William Wordsworth: The Major Works. Edited by Stephen Gill. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008, pp. 59-66. ISBN: 9780199536863. (Online at Read Print)

Coleridge, Samuel Taylor. “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” In The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Other Poems. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 1992. ISBN:9780486272665. (Download a version of this poem from the Project Gutenberg.)

Byron, Lord. Canto II, stanzas 1-108, from Don Juan. In Lord Byron: The Major Works. Edited by Jerome J. McGann. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2008. ISBN: 9780199537334. (Download a version of this poem from Project Gutenberg.)


Hartley, David. “To Explain the Nature of Assent and Dissent, and to Show from What Causes They Arise.” Chapter III, Section II, Prop. 86 in Observations on Man, His Frame, His Duty, and His Expectations. Gainsville, FL: Scholarly Facsimiles, 1966 (reproduction of 1749 edition), pp. 324-334. (View a different edition of this work in Google Books, pp. 204-210.)

For Prof. Kibel’s students

Wordworth, William. “Lines, Composed a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey on Revisiting the Wye During a Tour.” July 13, 1798. (PDF)

Week 8: Bernoulli, Laplace, Bayes

Bernoulli, Jacob. “The Use and Application of the Preceding Doctrine in Civil, Moral, and Economic Matters.” Part Four in The Art of Conjecturing, Together with Letter to a Friend on Sets in Court Tennis. Translated by Edith Dudley Sylla. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005, pp. 315-339. ISBN: 9780801882357. (View this work in Google Books.)

Bayes, Rev. Thomas. “An Essay towards solving a Problem in the Doctrine of Chances,” with Prof. Raman’s notes on the Essay (PDF)

Weeks 8-9: Quetelet, D. Bernoulli, Dostoevsky

Quetelet, M. A. A Treatise on Man and the Development of His Faculties. Edinburgh, Scotland: William and Robert Chambers, 1842, pp. iii-x, 98-101, and 103-105, preface, book four chapter I.2-I.3 and chapter II (excerpt). (PDF - 1.4 MB)

Bernoulli, Daniel. “Exposition of a New Theory on the Measurement of Risk (1738).” Translated by Dr. Louise Sommer. Econometrica 22, no. 1 (January 1954): 23-36.

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. “Notes From Underground.” In Notes from Underground, The Double and Other Stories. Edited by D. A. Martinsen, translated by C. Garnett. New York, NY: Barnes Noble Classics, 2003. ISBN: 9781593080372. [Public domain version (PDF)]


Hooper, George. “A Calculation of the Credibility of Human Testimony,” 1699. (PDF)

Excerpts from Jeremy Bentham, “An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation,” (1789); and John Stuart Mill, “Utilitarianism.” (1861). (PDF)

Weeks 9-10: Darwin, Wells, Arbuthnot, Galton

Darwin, Charles. The Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. Excerpts from the 6th ed., 1872, modified slightly for the sake of continuity. (PDF)

———. Descent of Man. Excerpts from Chapter XXI - General Summary and Conclusion, abridged and elided for the sake of continuity, 1871. (PDF)

Wells, H. G. The Island of Dr. Moreau. New York, NY: Signet Classics, 2005. ISBN: 9780451529893.

Arbuthnot, John. “An Argument for Divine Providence, taken from the constant Regularity observ’d in the Births of both Sexes.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 27 (1710): 186-190. (PDF) (Typeset version courtesy of Peter M. Lee. Used with permission.)

Week 11: Peirce, Borges, Mallarmé

Borges, Jorge Luis. “The Garden of Forking Paths,” “The Lottery in Babylon,” “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote,” and “The Library of Babel.” In Labyrinths: Selected Stories & Other Writings. Edited by D. A. Yates and J. E. Irby. New York, NY: New Directions, 2007. ISBN: 9780811216999.

Mallarmé, Stéphane. “Preface,” and “A Throw of the Dice (Un Coup De Dés) (1914).” In Collected Poems. Translated by Henry Weinfield. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1996, pp. 121-144. ISBN: 9780520207110.

Peirce, Charles. “The Doctrine of Necessity Examined.” The Monist 2, no. 3 (April 1892): 321-337.

Week 12: Pychon, Boltzmann

Pynchon, Thomas. The Crying of Lot 49. New York, NY: Harper Perennial, 2006. ISBN: 9780060913076.

Maxwell, James Clerk. “Letter from Maxwell to Peter Guthrie Tait, December 11, 1867,” and “Letter from Maxwell to Peter Guthrie Tait (undated) ‘Catechism on Demons.’” In Maxwell on Heat and Statistical Mechanics. Edited by Elizabeth Garber et al. Bethlehem, PA: Lehigh University Press, 1995, pp. 176-180. ISBN: 9780934223348.

Week 13: Bohr, Stoppard

French, A. P. and P. J. Kennedy, eds. “The Bohr-Einstein Dialogue.” In Neils Bohr: A Centenary Volume. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985, pp. 121-140. ISBN: 9780674624153.

Stoppard, Tom. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead. New York, NY: Grove Press, 1994. ISBN: 9780802132758.

Course Info

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Spring 2008
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