The Life of Pi: Incommensurability in Shakespeare's play ‘Measure for Measure Faculty of Arts
Speaker: Prof. Simon Haines (Department of English)
Date: 19 October 2012 (Fri)
Time: 4:00pm
Venue: G24, Fung King Hey Building, CUHK
Language: English
Abstract: The mathematical symbol “pi” is used to express a geometric relationship that cannot otherwise be expressed. The Oxford English Dictionary calls pi “the incommensurable quantity”. “Incommensurability” refers to things which have no common unit of measurement and so are hard to compare. This talk began by considering some influential accounts of incommensurability in science and ethics. It then turns to one Shakespeare play which seems to be all about moral measuring. A corrupt politician tries to seduce a novice nun: potentially a tragic situation, with a central values clash between Christian chastity and corrupt power. But the ruler of the state is actually controlling all the action, so the tragedy can’t happen. The result is that we actually feel cheated of the true values clash we expect from all tragedy. This seems to suggest that we actually need values clashes (as in tragedy) in order to know that we have values at all.


the life of pi incommensurability 1  the life of pi incommensurability 2


For the presentation material of the talk, please click here (Summary, Quote).