Actions and Objects

0804770522Over at Stanford University Press, the introduction of Jonathan Kramnick's Actions and Objects:

Things happen. Often we try to explain them. When Edmond Halley looked back on records of passing comets, he noticed that one seemed to appear every seventy-six years. He then thought hard about orbital velocity and gravity, drawing on what he knew about mathematics and physics. When a fashionable young man cut off a lock of hair belonging to a fashionable young woman, Alexander Pope wrote a poem. He thought hard about human actions, drawing on what he knew about motivation and desire. Halley and Pope both understood that neither comets nor cuttings come into the universe from nothing. Yet for Halley, the comet’s return didn’t have anything to do with beliefs or decisions. the comet didn’t choose to shoot by earth. Rather, its particular mass and distance from the sun put it on an unalterable ellipse. For Pope, the cutting of the lock had little to do with the properties of metal shears or strands of hair. The Baron chose to cut Belinda’s hair. Pope would like to know why he did so:

Say what strange motive, Goddess! cou’d compel
A well-bred Lord t’assault a gentle Belle?
Oh say what stranger cause, yet unexplor’d,
Cou’d make a gentle Belle reject a Lord?