chapter  5
24 Pages

The Rhetoric of Uncertainty

Although the will unabashedly directs reason to bend the interpretation of objects according to its whims, it operates all the more effectively in situations of ambiguity and uncertainty. This offers the will considerably more freedom to judge because the characteristics of the object are no longer clearly illuminated and imposed by sight or reason. So beneficial are these circumstances, that in some cases the will is actually responsible for creating ambiguity and uncertainty in an otherwise clear situation, affording yet another context where concupiscence is allowed to lord its power over reason. Finally, ambiguity in general forms an important part of Pascal’s rhetorical project in respect to the will and knowledge. Notably, it helps Pascal depict a life in which the reader’s firmest convictions (e.g., his sentiments, the credibility of his knowledge) are shaken to their roots. The reader must then decide whether to subscribe to previous representations, which the apology reveals as muddled, or endorse the limpidity of Pascal’s Jansenist vision.