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”?


Written by Michael Graham

October 1, 2009 at 8:53 am

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