Intros to European Philosophy: Pascal

BLAISE PASCAL (1623-1662)

Previously read: I have forgotten, so this was a welcome section of European Philosophers from Descartes to Nietzsche (ed. Monroe Beardsley).

Key texts: Thoughts or Pensees.  Basically, these are scraps from his diary.

Overall impression: Most famous for his ‘wager’, he at least attempted a less rational argument for following God, but still one based in fear.  At least he did not try to defend rationality as grounds for a Christian defense.  Further, Pascal pointed to those who had chosen to submit their passions to God rather than the strength of an argument.

But Pascal is most interesting for me when he speaks of what we are as humans.  For instance, ‘we are something, and we are not everything’ (p. 103).  We are caught between the Infinite of the great and the Infinite of the little.

Surprise:

“77.  I cannot forgive Descartes.  In all his philosophy he would have been quite willing to dispense with God.  But he had to make Him give a fillip to set the world in motion; beyond this, he has no further need of God. (p. 105)”

“397.  The greatness of man is great in that he knows himself to be miserable. (p. 129)”

“792.  The infinite distance between body and mind is a symbol of the infinitely more infinite distance between mind and charity; for charity is supernatural. (p. 132)” 

Yep, that last one stings; especially as I read pieces of these ‘thoughts’ on the subway – surrounded by the mystery of other people and least disposed to anything resembling charity.  My lasting impression of Pascal has little to do with the wager and yet I wonder if I have any more need of God in my works than Descartes.  So for me Pascal is a sobering voice, but I invite better readers of him to fill out the picture with better colours than I have managed here.

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