Definitions

Pensées

Pensées

[pahn-seyz, pahn-; Fr. pahn-sey]
The Pensées (literally, "thoughts") represented a defense of the Christian religion by Blaise Pascal, the renowned 17th century philosopher and mathematician. Pascal's religious conversion led him into a life of asceticism, and the Pensées was in many ways his life's work."Pascal's Wager" is found here. The Pensées is in fact a name given posthumously to his fragments, which he had been preparing for an Apology of Christian Religion which was never completed.

Although they appear to consist of ideas and jottings, some of which are incomplete, it is believed that Pascal had, prior to his untimely death in 1662, already planned out the order of the book. Those responsible for his effects, failing to recognise the basic structure of the work, handed them over to be edited, and they were published in 1670. The first English translation was made in 1803 by Thomas Chevalier, a British surgeon of French Huguenot descent. It was not until the beginning of the 20th century that scholars began to understand Pascal's intention. In the 1990s, decisive philological achievements were made, and the edition by Philippe Sellier of the book contains his "thoughts" in more or less the order he left them.

Several attempts have been made to arrange the notes systematically; notable editions include those of Brunschvicg, Louis Lafuma, and (most recently) Sellier. (See, also, the monumental edition of his Oeuvres complètes (1964–1991), which is known as the Tercentenary Edition and was realized by Jean Mesnard; this edition reviews the dating, history, and critical bibliography of each of Pascal's texts.) Although Brunschvicg tried to classify the posthume fragments according to themes, recent research has prompted Sellier to choose entirely different classifications, as Pascal often examined the same event or example through many different lenses .

The original layout of the individual notes was in fact recorded in situ, although this was not reflected in published editions of the work until recently, because the colleagues of Pascal who edited his notes after his death switched the order of the book's two main sections. Early editions led off with the traditional Christian content, leaving Pascal's reflections on the human condition until the end. The structure of the apology Pascal intended is best described by H. F. Stewart D.D. in the preface to his translation of the Pensees: Part I shows "from Nature" that man is wretched without God, Part II shows "from Scripture" that Jesus is the Redeemer of mankind. Part I subdivides into Ia (man without God) and Ib (man with God) to show man's inherent wretchedness. The themes of Part I are largely in the tone of vanitas mundi, after the tradition of the Hebrew Bible's book of Ecclesiastes, while the many short maxims inserted into the text are reminiscent of the Book of Proverbs.

Quotations

On the abysses

"Let man contemplate Nature entire in her full and lofty majesty; let him put far from his sight the lowly objects that surround him; let him regard that blazing light, placed like an eternal lamp to illuminate the world; let the earth appear to him but a point within the vast circuit which that star describes; and let him marvel that this immense circumference is itself but a speck from the viewpoint of the stars that move in the firmament. And if our vision is stopped there, let imagination pass beyond... All this visible world is but an imperceptible element in the great bosom of nature. No thought can go so far... It is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere, and whose circumference is nowhere. This is the most perceivable feature of the almightiness of God, so that our imagination loses itself in this thought."

"The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me."

Le silence éternel de ces espaces infinis m'effraie.

"He who sees himself thus will be frightened by himself, and, perceiving himself sustained... between these two abysses of infinity and nothing, will tremble... and will be more disposed to contemplate these marvels in silence than to explore them with presumption. For in the end, what is man in nature? A nothing in respect to the infinite, everything in respect to the nothing, a halfway between nothing and all. Infinitely far from comprehending the extremes, both the end and the beginning or principle of things are invincibly hidden in an impenetrable secret; he is equally incapable of seeing the nothing whence he has been drawn, and the infinite in which he is engulfed."*

* "The French language," said Sainte-Beuve, "has no finer pages than the simple and severe lines of this incomparable picture."

On reason

"The wisest reason takes as her own principles those which the imagination of man has everywhere rashly introduced."

"Nothing is so conformable to reason as to disavow reason."

"To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher."

On heart and head

"The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing"
Le cœur a ses raisons que la raison ne connaît pas.

On soul and body

"It is impossible that our rational part should be other than spiritual; and if any one maintain that we are simply corporeal, this would far more exclude us from the knowledge of things, there being nothing so inconceivable as to say that matter knows itself. It is impossible to imagine how it should know itself."

"What a Chimera is man! What a novelty, a monster, a chaos, a contradiction, a prodigy! Judge of all things, an imbecile worm; depository of truth, and sewer of error and doubt; the glory and refuse of the universe. Who shall unravel this confusion?"

Quelle chimère est-ce donc que l'homme? quelle nouveauté, quel monstre, quel chaos, quel sujet de contradictions, quel prodige? Juge de toutes choses, imbécile ver de terre, dépositaire du vrai, cloaque d'incertitude et d'erreur, gloire et rebut de l'univers. Qui démêlera cet embrouillement?

On Man's fallen nature

"Man is only a disguise, a liar, a hypocrite, both to himself and to others."

"All men naturally hate one another; there could not be four friends in the world."

"How hollow is the heart of man, and how full of excrement!"

On vanity

"We would never travel on the sea if we had no hope of telling about it later... We lose our lives with joy provided people talk about it... Even philosophers wish for admirers."

Yet Man is noble

"The grandeur of man is great in that he knows himself to be miserable."

"Man is but a reed, the most feeble (thing) in nature; but he is a thinking reed.* The entire universe need not arm itself in order to crush him; a vapor, a drop of water, suffices to kill him. But when (even if) the universe would (were to) crush him, man would (still) yet be more noble than that which kills him, because he knows that he is dying (that he dies) and the advantage (which) the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of it (of this)."

* ''L'homme n'est qu'un roseau, le plus faible de la nature, mais c'est un roseau pensant. Il ne faut pas que l'univers entier s'arme pour l'écraser; une vapeur, une goutte d'eau suffit pour le tuer. Mais quand l'univers l'écraserait, l'homme serait encore plus noble que ce qui le tue, parce qu'il sait qu'il meurt et l'avantage que l'univers a sur lui; l'univers n'en sait rien."
(Original text quoted from "Cours Supérieur" AMSCO School Publications, 1970.)

Regarding the Wager

For more information, see Pascal's Wager.
"You must wager; it is not optional... Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God exists... If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists."

"Bless yourself with holy water, have Masses said, and so on; by a simple and natural process this will make you believe, and will dull you*—will quiet your proudly critical intellect."

* cela vous fera croire, et vous abêtira

"Go to confession and communion; you will find it a relief and a strengthening."

On Futility

"Picture a number of men in chains, and all condemned to death; each day some are strangled in the sight of the rest; those who remain see their own condition in that of their fellows, looking at one another with sorrow and without hope, each awaiting his turn. This is the picture of the condition of man."

The mystery of God

"It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible that He should not exist; that the soul should be joined to the body, and that we should have no soul; that the world should be created, and that it should not be created, etc.; that original sin should be, and that it should not be."

"We understand nothing of the works of God unless we take it as a principle that He wishes to blind some and to enlighten others."

"This is what I see, and what troubles me. I look on all sides, and everywhere I see nothing but obscurity. Nature offers me nothing that is not a matter of doubt and disquiet. If I saw no signs of a divinity, I would fix myself in denial. If I saw everywhere the marks of a Creator, I would repose peacefully in faith. But seeing too much to deny [Him], and too little to assure me, I am in a pitiful state, and I would wish a hundred times that if a God sustains nature it would reveal Him without ambiguity."

On the Bible

In Pensees' Section X "Typography", Pascal presents an unusual proof for a "double meaning" interpretation of The Bible.

642. Proof of the two Testaments at once.--To prove the two at one stroke, we need only see if the prophecies in one are fulfilled in the other. To examine the prophecies, we must understand them. For if we believe they have only one meaning, it is certain that the Messiah has not come; but if they have two meanings, it is certain that He has come in Jesus Christ.

The whole problem then is to know if they have two meanings.

That the Scripture has two meanings, which Jesus Christ and the Apostles have given, is shown by the following proofs:

1. Proof by Scripture itself.
2. Proof by the Rabbis. Moses Maimonides says that it has two aspects and that the prophets have prophesied Jesus Christ only.
3. Proof by the Kabbala.
4. Proof by the mystical interpretation which the Rabbis themselves give to Scripture.
5. Proof by the principles of the Rabbis, that there are two meanings; that there are two advents of the Messiah, a glorious and an humiliating one, according to their desert; that the prophets have prophesied of the Messiah only--the Law is not eternal, but must change at the coming of the Messiah--that then they shall no more remember the Red Sea; that the Jews and the Gentiles shall be mingled.
6. Proof by the key which Jesus Christ and the Apostles give us.

Pascal subsequently identifies the major problem of a "double meaning" reconciliation.

648. Two errors: 1. To take everything literally. 2. To take everything spiritually.

In the fields of Mathematics, Computer science and Information theory Pascal is widely regarded to be the "father of modern probability theory", the branch of science that underpins Cryptography. Pascal's strangely disembodied conclusion to his closing argument for the "double meaning" divinity of the Bible, and his choice of the word "cipher", which was the technical word for "cryptogram" in its day, has been cited frequently in the context of "Bible codes", referring to information that is purported to be encrypted in the Torah of the Old Testament.

691. If one of two persons, who are telling silly stories, uses language with a double meaning, understood in his own circle, while the other uses it with only one meaning, any one not in the secret, who hears them both talk in this manner, will pass upon them the same judgment. But, if, afterwards, in the rest of their conversation one says angelic things, and the other always dull commonplaces, he will judge that the one spoke in mysteries, and not the other; the one having sufficiently shown that he is incapable of such foolishness and capable of being mysterious; and the other that he is incapable of mystery and capable of foolishness.

The Old Testament is a cipher.

On atheists

"Atheism shows strength of mind, but only to a certain degree."

See also

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