Adoration for the Pensées
October 14, 2020 · C.E. Carter
Author’s note: I initially omitted the accent ague on the second “e” of Pensées. Obviously it is remedied now. Cheerio.
I love Blaise Pascal’s Pensées. It’s a collection of theological and philosophical meditations with the kind of succinctness, curtness, bite, and obduration to them that’s wholly missing in most philosophy and almost all contemporary evangelicalism. Pascal was a mathematician, a physicist, an inventor, and a theologian. He writes like all of those things. Mathematicians and physicists have a particular way of speaking that is simultaneously very succinct and very thorough. I, personally, find many philosophers and theologians to be too wordy; Pascal is a breath of fresh air. Consider this:
Vanity. The cause and effect of love. Cleopatra. (Pensées 46)
In one fragment, he has discussed an entire claim and provided a proof of it with a single word.
Men should understand poetry as a tool of rhetoric. It has a place in the persuasion of the masses, the ventures of business, and the wooing of women. That said, men don’t direct other men towards practical matters of conduct and character through poetry. At least, they ought not to. Men are glad to listen to other men when they are direct, clear, and unapologetic. Statements with these qualities signify urgency and importance to the listener, of course, but more importantly they signify trust. Trust, in that I, the speaker, trust that you, the listener, are competent enough to either take my assertion or challenge it. Flowery and avoidant language signifies a mistrust in the listener, since it hedges for the possibility that he or she is irresponsible, offendable, or otherwise incompetent to handle a conversation about important matters. Speak directly, and people will listen.