Pascal's Monsters: Angels, Beasts, and Human Being

Wes Williams

in Monsters and their Meanings in Early Modern Culture

Published in print May 2011 | ISBN: 9780199577026
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191728662 | DOI:
Pascal's Monsters: Angels, Beasts, and Human Being

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This chapter traces in detail the migration of monsters into the territory of metaphor, and more specifically into figures for moral philosophical enquiry into the nature of human being. Its focus is on Pascal's Pensées, here understood as part of an enduring dialogue (with Montaigne, Augustine, Aristotle, Ovid, etc.) concerning ‘brute beasts’, angels, and humans within the natural world, on the political stage, and in relation to God. The opening section sets the Pensées in a range of contexts (law, politics, theology, natural history, poetics); the second explores these contexts in more detail. The focus here is on the work of two authors (d’Aubignac and Senault) who anatomize the human soul, its contours, and its limits; throughout, civil war and hybridity emerge as conjoined, privileged figures for discussion. The final section revisits Montaigne's characterization of himself as both monster and miracle, and explores the resonance of these words across the century.

Keywords: Pascal; Montaigne; Senault; d’Aubignac; angels; animals; the human; theology; hybridity; moral philosophy

Chapter.  20186 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (1500 to 1800)

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