This is the second in our estival feature here at CLR Forum. For its origin and inspiration, see this post.
One of the pervading themes of Pascal’s Pensées is the conflict between reason
Pascal (Reasoning or Imagining?)
and emotion, sentiment, and the imagination. Consistent with the Calvinist orientation of Jansenism (and in contradistinction to older views of the consilience of reason and faith), Pascal sees them as quite distinct. And he believes that, man being fallen, emotion and the imagination are the primary movers in achieving whatever satisfactions and happinesses man can reach in this world.
But Pascal goes further, observing that not only individual satisfaction, but also worldly reputation, is obtained not through reason but through the exercise and effect of the imaginative faculties. And the fruits of imagination in this respect very much affect and pertain to law and the perception of its authority—that is, its legitimacy.
As we are in the month of June, the yearly apotheosis of public fascination with the judiciary, here is an extended passage that treats in part of judicial legitimacy:
Would you not say that this magistrate, whose venerable age commands the respect of a whole people, is governed by pure and lofty reason, and that he judges causes according to their true nature without considering those mere trifles that affect the imagination of the weak? See him go to sermon, full of devout zeal, strengthening his reason with the ardour of his love. He is ready to listen with exemplary respect. Let the preacher appear, and let nature have given him a hoarse voice or a comical cast of countenance, or let his barber have given him a bad shave, or let by chance his dress be more dirtied than usual, then however great the truths he announces, I wager our senator loses his gravity.
If the greatest philosopher in the world find himself on a plank wider than actually necessary, but hanging over a precipice, his imagination will prevail, though his reason convince him of his safety….
Love or hate alters the aspect of justice. How much greater confidence has an advocate, retained with a large fee, in the justice of his cause! How much better does his bold manner make his case appear to the judges, deceived as they are by appearances! How ludicrous is reason, blown with a breath in every direction!….
Our magistrates have known well this mystery. Their red robes, the ermine in which they wrap themselves like furry cats, the courts in which they administer justice, the fleurs-de-lis, and all such august apparel were necessary; if the physicians had not their cassocks and their mules, if the doctors had not their square caps and their robes four times too wide, they would never have duped the world, which cannot resist so original an appearance. If magistrates had true justice, and if physicians had the true art of healing, they would have no occasion for square caps; the majesty of these sciences would of itself be venerable enough. But having only imaginary knowledge, they must employ those silly tools that strike the imagination with which they have to deal; and thereby in fact they inspire respect….