Studies in Self-Interest: From Descartes to La Bruyere

By A. J. Krailsheimer | Go to book overview

8: PASCAL--PENSÉES

THE Provinciales show Pascal reactions to certain moral and religious aspects of his age, and stirred up enough controversy to bring these questions into the forefront of public discussion. Their context is essentially polemical and topical, but the brilliance of their style has ensured their survival, while the abundant contributions of other authors on both sides has been mercifully forgotten. As a commentary on religious trends the work must be taken very seriously, and La Bruyère, writing a generation later, shows how the problems remained, long after they had ceased to be exclusively associated with Jesuits or Jansenists. Whatever claim may be made for the Provinciales, however, they cannot be said to have made in the long run a positive contribution to the cause of Christianity. In the sense that they represent in some detail the negative side of an argument which is never properly balanced by its positive side they may be compared with the Maximes, also composed in the atmosphere of Port Royal. The comparison with the Maximes cannot be pushed too far, for despite obvious similarities of outlook and intention, Pascal and La Rochefoucauld finished their work in very different moods. Many of the faults castigated by La Rochefoucauld in his picture of a society dominated by amour-propre had recognizably been his own before he came under the influence of Port Royal, but with the enthusiasm of a convert he brought to his punitive task a spirit not visibly informed by charity. Given the systematically non-religious treatment of the work this may not seem too serious, and there is no evidence that La Rochefoucauld had any misgivings in this direction. The last few Provinciales tell a very different tale. Carried away at first by zeal for his unjustly persecuted friends, Pascal waged total war on the Jesuits, with startling success. As the battle wore on, he came to realize that however pure his original motives this public exchange of insults between Catholics could do no good to a Church, which already for a century had been in a state of war with heretics, who still

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Studies in Self-Interest: From Descartes to La Bruyere
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • I - Sixteenth Century Background 9
  • II - Descartes 31
  • III - Cornielle 47
  • IV - Retz 61
  • V - La Rochefoucauld 81
  • VI - Pascal: Lettres Provinciales 98
  • VII - Pascal: Method 114
  • VIII - Pascal: Pensees 126
  • IX - Moliere 152
  • X - Bossuet 173
  • XI - La Bruyere 196
  • Index 219
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