Modern Pensées

Reconsidering theology, philosophy, culture, economics, and politics

The Power of Aphorism

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Merriam Webster’s Dictionary defines “aphorism”  as follows:

Main Entry: aph·o·rism
Pronunciation: \ˈa-fə-ˌri-zəm\
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle French aphorisme, from Late Latin aphorismus, from Greek aphorismos definition, aphorism, from aphorizein to define, from apo- + horizein to bound — more at horizon
Date: 1528

1 : a concise statement of a principle
2 : a terse formulation of a truth or sentiment : adage

Pascal wrote mainly in aphoristic style.   I promise you that in brief sentences Pascal wrote, he said more than others could say in a volume.   The power of aphorism is that it makes you think.  In this regard, I think the power of aphorism is similar to the power of parable.  Pascal does not lay out a thorough line of argumentation of premises and conclusion.   He gives you some provocative nugget that gets at the heart of a matter and whets your appetite enough to make your own brain do some legwork.

One of my favorites:

“Descartes is useless and uncertain.”

Rene Descartes

Best and most succinct critique of Descartes that I’ve ever read.  What is Pascal getting at when he says “useless” and “uncertain”?

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Written by Michael Graham

October 1, 2009 at 8:53 am

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