By Gerda Reith
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Additional resources for Age of Chance: Gambling in Western Culture (Routledge Studies in Social and Political Thought, Number 22)
Roberts et al. state categorically that ‘explicit theories of chance do not appear in primitive cultures’ (Roberts et al. 1959, p. 602), where the unexpected event instead has a meaningful place as part of an anthropomorphic universe of spirits and powers. It is in classical Greek philosophy that we first find anything approximating a consideration of chance, but here, as in primitive thought, the approach was never entirely divorced from religious ideas of the existence of the gods. From Socrates and Plato, through to the Stoics and Boethius, the existence of chance (tyche), luck and also timeliness (kairos) was consistently subsumed under more important questions of divine providence, determinism and the role of free will.
Neither the man who buried the gold nor the one who tilled the field expected the gold to be found; its finding was simply an intersection of causes which were explicable in terms of pattern and design. In all these philosophers we can see a strict determinism which encompasses notions of fate, divine providence, order and cause, and which resonates throughout the classical world, consistently obscuring, or at best marginalising, the study of chance as pure randomness. These issues were carried over into the Middle Ages, a period in which, despite the subsumption of philosophy to theology, the heritage of the classical thinkers excited ‘fervent curiosity’ and frequently ‘deep respect’ (Marenbon 1983, p.
Both these connotations appeared in the seventeenth century, from the Anglo-French risqué; the first instance of the term being cited in 1661 as ‘Risqué—peril, jeopardy, danger, hazard, chance’ (in The Oxford English Dictionary 1989, vol. 13, p. 987). Slightly later the sense of risk as something linked with commercial exploits was made explicit. ’ And later still, we find it linked (as it often is today) specifically with insurance against commercial loss. In 1750, it is described as ‘A Contract or Agreement by which one or more Particulars… take on them the Risqué of the Value of the things insured’ (in The Oxford English Dictionary 1989, vol.