In five stages, this essay works out an account of the aphorism as a philosophical genre. First, I outline a preliminary, general strategy for elucidating the aphorism as an expression of “aphoristic consciousness.” Then I discuss Blaise Pascal's aphoristic style, concentrating on exegetical issues surrounding his Pensées. Next, I demonstrate that aphoristic consciousness (understood in an appropriately epistemological sense) has been a constant (though now largely unrecognized) theme in the history of Western philosophy. Following this survey of Pascal's predecessors, I show how Pascal's own epistemological account of the aphorism reiterates and encapsulates this traditional understanding in its own distinctive way. And finally, I provide a new theoretical account of the aphorism as a literary and philosophical form, for which Pascal's thought provides both a theoretical framework and an excellent example.

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