Blaise Pascal

Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) wrote his Pensées in order to provide an apology for the Christian religion. He contrasts the geometric spirit (esprit géometrique = Descartes’ method of reducing complex whole to simple elements, ideas, or principles followed by deductive reconstruction) with the spirit of finesse (esprit de finesse) in which we intuitively see things at a glance and not through progressive analysis and reasoning. Finally, there is experimental method (Bacon’s method of appealing to experiential facts). The first part of the Pensées concerns the “Wretchedness of man without God” or “Nature is corrupt, proved by nature itself.” The second part concerns the “Happiness of man with God,” or “the Redeemer proved by Scripture.” For Pascal the infinity of greatness outside us is opposed to the infinity of smallness within. Man is “a middle point between the all and nothing.” Alone,terrified and anxious in the indifferent universe indifferent to him, man is “a thinking reed” who goes beyond himself and nature by knowing he is dying and that the universe has the advantage over him. Man is made wretched by his self-deception and self-love, living a life of inconstancy, boredom and restlessness. He flees from himself in diversions, which end up being worse than the boredom he’s trying to get away from. “Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride,” and “knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair.” Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not the God of the philosophers, who cannot account for man’s wretchedness and true grandeur. Mans grandeur stems from his divine origin, his misery from the fall, and his redemption from Christ. For Pascal, we follow our brother Jesus Christ by entering into the supernatural order, of charity and following the “reasons of the heart, which reason does not know” (Frederick Lawrence, Philosophers and Theologians, Boston College).

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