Pascal's Modernity

05 Feb 2018

Pascal can be readily inserted into familiar characterizations of the emergence of modernity (man’s alienation from the cosmos). He himself theorized the proper relationship between innovation (legitimate in the physical sciences) and traditional authority (legitimate especially in theology). While accepting the mechanistic philosophy and in particular the rigid Cartesian distinction between immaterial and corporeal substance, he registers its divergence from our spontaneous understanding of experience; we find him encountering the view of one of his religious mentors that Cartesian science has deprived the cosmos of its spiritual significance as an image of the creator. His relationship to Latour’s conception of (non-)modernity is considered. Though many of his attitudes are uncongenial to modern secular humanism, his theologically-motivated rejection of the concept of nature as normative has surprising echoes in aspects of twenty-first century thought and culture.