“Pensées” by Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) Selections from Parts 2-5

Blaise Pascal’s headshot for “Despicable Me”

“Pensées” by Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)

I. Thoughts On Mind And On Style

II. The Misery Of Man Without God

72 – Man’s Disproportion

  • This is where innate knowledge leads us
    • If not, there’s no truth in man
    • If so, he’ll find a cause of humiliation
  • Man should focus on nature & not small & unimportant things
    • Gazing on the earth & sun & know they are a point of comparison for gazing at the stars
    • if we can’t see further than that, we can at least imagine beyond
    • What’s visible is just a drop in the bucket & we can’t even come close to uncovering it all
      • It’s a sign of God that imagination can get lost in that thought
  • When you return thoughts to man, & realize that you’re living in a tiny corner of nature with kingdoms & cities but what’s your place in infinity?
  • Show man something small – a mite with its legs, joints, blood, etc.
    • Perhaps he’ll think this is the smallest point of nature
      • But there’s an abyss beyond what’s visible & man can only see an abridged version of an abridged version
      • There is an infinite number of universes with infinite skies, planets, animals & mites
        • Vastness & minuteness – you get lost in the size & smallness without end/cessation
    • Not too long ago we had no idea that our bodies were both insignificantly tiny & colossally large with respect to the universe
    • It’s frightening to think of yourself between the two abysses of infinity & nothingness. Once this sets in, & curiosity changes into admiration, man can contemplate them in silence then with presumption
  • What is man in nature? The midway point between nothing & everything
    • Because man’s so removed from understanding the extremes, the beginnings & endings are hidden like an impenetrable secret. He’s unable to see nothingness & infinity
    • He can only look at the appearance of things in the middle & wonder about their beginnings & ends, & the smallness & largeness of everything
      • Only the author of these things can truly understand them
  • Through failure to contemplate infinity, man’s started an examination in to nature as if he was in a proportion to it
    • They try to understand the beginning in an effort to understand the whole thing with a presumption as infinite as nature. But the design can’t be formed without presumption or capacity as infinite as nature
  • Nature & its author has put its stamp on everything, so that there’s a double infinity
    • Sciences are an infinity in their specific researches
      • Geometry has an infinite number of problems to solve
    • Also, there’s an infinity in sciences’ multitude & finiteness of their premises. They build off each other & continue endlessly. This has infinity among the sciences & infinity within its own field
      • Often with 2 infinities, the larger one dominates our thinking, stopping claims of knowing all things because we can’t deal with the vastness of the universe
    • The infinity of the little is more difficult. Many philosophers try but usually fail. Titles like “first principles” or “principles of philosophy” are absurd
  • Naturally we think of ourselves as much more able of getting to the center of things than embracing their circumference
    • We think we are better equipped for the small stuff
  • Let’s look at our compass: we are something but not everything
    • But we don’t know how we came from nothing & the finite is too large for us to see our place in it
    • Our intellect can only get us so far in this quest
    • We’re impotent in our quest because our senses can’t take in the extremes – too much overwhelms, too little shows us nothing
      • The extremes hinder the mind & they leave us wanting
  • This is the state we’re in – incapable of certain knowledge but also of full ignorance
    • Once we feel secure in knowledge or our place, it slips through our hands
    • Nothing is permanent or certain. This irks us because we desperately need something firm & sure to base ourselves on & we can have it
    • So, let’s not look for certainty & stability because we can always be fooled & our minds can comprehend it anyway
  • If we get this, each one of us can be comfortable in our place. We can inch our way by expanding knowledge but what really is another inch further out in either the large infinity or the small infinity? It’s painful to see how small the progress made was for all the effort
    • If man himself was the first subject studied, he’d see he can’t make much progress
      • You can learn some things but since everything’s so interconnected that you can’t really understanding any part without understanding the whole
      • Man is related to everything around him – his home houses him, the elements compose him, food feeds him, etc.
      • He’s in balance with everything. Flame can’t exist without air. You have to have one to have the other
    • Everything is a cause & effect, dependent & supporting
  • What makes all this hard to know is it’s simple & we humans are complicating it because we are made of 2 opposing natures: mind & body
    • Our rational & spiritual parts tend to confuse us with different inputs about a thing
      • If we’re purely material, we can’t know anything & if we’re mind & matter, we can’t know simple things – spiritual & corporeal
      • Philosophers speak of material things in a spiritual sense & of material things in a spiritual sense
        • Speaking of tendencies of material things: seeking, having inclinations, sympathies – all mental attributes
        • Speaking of tendencies of spiritual things: in movements, in places – all physical/corporeal attributes
      • Those should just be things we contemplate in both manners
  • We can barely make sense of these things in a pure form but it’s hard to combine them even though a man is a combination of mind & body

82 – Imagination

  • The fact that deceit in men isn’t absolute, makes it all the worse because if it were much worse, the truth would be more apparent
    • The fact that wise men are so error-prone & deceitful makes it worse because they are usually the most persuasive & they make errors & lies seem more “truthful”
      • This part make men experience extremes: happy/sad, health/sick, rich/poor
      • Makes reason to believe, doubt & deny
      • Makes senses dull
  • Those with a lively imagination are more satisfied than reason makes them
    • They look down on others, argue strongly, giving them more credibility than reason does
  • Imagination doesn’t make fools wise but it can make them happy
    • This what gives people a reputation & respect, & gives veneration to laws, people & works. Without it you are nothing.
  • Magistrates don’t rule by reason alone, they use imagination of men to give them power, influence of respect
    • Reason might make a philosopher wise but that wisdom doesn’t mean much without that imagination of others
    • Love & hate change how justice is seen
      • A lawyer on a large retainer commands more respect with the judge beyond his ability to reason
  • Reason is obliged to yield to the imagination of men
    • This is why magistrates are dressed in robes & wigs, & doctors have special dress. With lack of evidence of competence, the signals of tradition give the doctor & magistrate the appearance of competence
      • Without these, we don’t trust their reason or skills
  • Robes & downs don’t make them better but they fire the imaginations of those unable to judge ability
    • Soldiers don’t work this way because force is much more easily demonstrable than competence of an arcane skill
    • Kings in robes don’t demonstrate power, but having powerful guards does
      • Some books’ names carry weight even though hardly anybody’s read them
  • In some cases, novelty misleads us in the same way
    • Believing in things we believed in as children sounds silly
  • An error in diseases is that they spoil judgments & sense
    • A just man can’t be his own judge because being accused clouds the judgment & senses

83 – Deceptive Powers

  • Man is full of error, natural & ineffaceable without grace
    • He never sees truth & everything deceives him
  • 2 sources of truth: reason & senses, which deceive each other
    • Senses mislead reason with false appearances
    • Reason return the favor
  • Passions of the soul fool senses & reason

100 – Self-Love

  • The nature of self-love & the ego is to love & consider only oneself
    • You can’t stop yourself from having wants & faults
    • Man wants to be great but sees himself as small
    • Man wants to be happy but sees himself as miserable
    • Man wants to be perfect but thinks his faults make him only worthy of contempt
      • Man’s constantly at odds with the truth he sees himself in because it keeps him from being what he wants to be
      • He wants to destroy this fact so he goes out of his way to hide his faults from himself & others
  • It’s bad to have faults but worse not to recognize them, adding yet another fault – delusion
    • But we don’t like others to fool us so it’s not right for us to fool them
    • Most of our faults & vices are mostly harmless, even good by reminding us we aren’t perfect
  • But how does this really affect us?
    • We don’t hate the truth or those who tell us it
    • We don’t like being lied to about our faults
      • We Catholics confess our sins which still keeps them away from everyone except the priest who knows all our secrets but he’s bound to keep quiet – What a relief!
        • But even the corruptions of man find this practice harsh & causes many to rebel from the Church
      • How horrible to feel this way that you’d want to deceive all men
  • All aversion to the truth is based in self-love
    • People “lessen” their faults to make excuses for them & build self-esteem which still does nothing to correct the faults
  • Those who want to be loved by us will go out of their way to lie to us to please this self-love
    • We hate the truth so they hide it from us
    • We want to be flattered & deceived, so they do that.
  • God luck often makes this problem worse
    • Kings & princes surround themselves with flatterers & avoid those who tell the truth
    • Telling the truth benefits the recipient but hurts the one telling it
      • Liars serve their own interests & don’t serve these they lie to
  • This is most common among the rich but the poor do it too since there’s always an advantage to doing to
    • Human life is a perpetual illusion with men lying to others & themselves
      • No one says exactly to our faces what they say behind our backs
    • Society is founded on mutual deceit
      • Few friendships would survive the truth
  • Man is a disguise, falsehood & hypocrisy with respect to himself & others
    • So far from reason this comes from the heart

128 –

  • We can be very comfortable in our place & experience something – see a particularly good-looking woman or have a particularly good time doing something – & you can never go back to your old way of thinking & life

131 – Weariness

  • Nothing is worse to a man than to sit still passionless without anything to occupy him. He Feels like nothing – lost, weak, dependent & empty. He will become, sad & desperate.

139 – Diversion

  • All unhappiness comes from people’s inability to sit quietly in a room
    • If a man had enough to live on & he knew how to stay at home with pleasure, he wouldn’t leave to go to sea or to battle
    • If leaving town is hard, he’ll sit around playing games & talking because doing nothing is so hard
    • Nothing can comfort us if we really think closely of it
  • Think about royalty
    • They have everything you could want or need but if they don’t get entertainment, they start thinking about all the bad stuff – both potential & real
    • Without diversion, he’d be just as miserable as any poor man
    • They don’t actually enjoy playing or hunting for their own sake but do them to keep busy
      • This is why men like noise & activity – to occupy the mind
    • A king has an entire court to distract him so he won’t think bad thoughts
  • Hunting hare is not about getting food to avoid starving to death but to avoid thinking of it
    • Men who get this avoid rest & idleness like the plague
      • Not about thrill-seeking but diversion
  • When we fault men for seeking what won’t satisfy them, we should know they only do so to stop from thinking about themselves
    • Wise men know they do this. Unwise men don’t.
      • Dancing requires concentrating on foot placement & rhythm
  • Men have the instinct to avoid boredom & seek amusement & occupation to avoid unhappiness
    • Another instinct is that feeling happiness only consists of rest & not action
      • These are contradictor
    • Men seek rest in a struggle against difficulties but once they are solved, they rest in intolerance because there’s always more problems
    • Men grow weary from all their problems but playing billiards is enough to make him happy
  • But what’s the point of all this need for action?
    • Bragging rights & accomplishments others haven’t had
    • Men study not for wisdom but to show they’ve learned something
  • You can give a man all that he could earn or win at gambling or any activities & he’d still be miserable
    • Make him play without stakes & he’s bored. He has to have something able to distract him & make him happy if just for a bit
    • Without amusement, there’s no joy
    • With amusement, there’s no sadness
      • People in high place are very happy because they’re so busy all the time. When alone or out of office, they become miserable.

142 – Diversion

  • Isn’t it enough for a king to be happy just thinking about his high status as a king?
    • Why does he need to divert his attention from the ordinary folk?
    • A normal man is made happy by learning to dance
      • Is that also true with a king?
        • If he were left alone without distraction, worries or society, I think he’d go crazy
        • Maybe it’s not a bad thing the king is surrounded by diversions, so he won’t go crazy being all alone with his thoughts

143 – Diversion

  • The first responsibility given to infants is care for their own honor, property & friends’ property & honor
    • They become overwhelmed by business, studying languages & exercise
      • They learn they can’t be happy unless their health, honor, fortune & those of their friends are all in good shape
      • They jump out of bed with that on their minds, which is a great recipe for misery
      • If they didn’t have to worry with all that, they’d start to focus on the meaning of life, relaxation & happiness

171 –

  • The only thing that consoles us in misery is diversion & that fact is our greatest misery because it stops us from reflecting on our current misery & leads us to ruin
    • Without diversion, we’d be so weary that we’d actually do something about it
    • Diversion is fun but leads us to our doom

III. Of The Necessity Of The Wager

194 –

  • People should learn the religion they attack before they attack it
    • It’d make sense if the religion claimed to have a clear view on God – & to attack it would be to say nothing provides us with this clarity
    • But it claims man is estranged from God who’s hidden from him & gave him & gave him the Bible as a map
      • Religion tries to establish 2 things
        • 1 – God established in the Church signs for those who honestly want to know him
        • 2 – He’s hidden to all but those who search for him with all their heart
    • What do people do who can’t understand God & think the Church isn’t worth giving the time of day
      • A good attack comes out of an honest effort to seek God everywhere, especially according to the Church’s proposals
      • This is the best way. Unfortunately, most critics will read a few lines of the Bible & will know all they need to know to attack the religion
  • The question of the immortality of the soul is very important so we ought to do more than cursory research
    • It’s a tough thing to doubt God & religion so I take this question seriously
    • But it’s altogether careless to walk away from the journey of seeking God & understanding the nature of the soul
    • It doesn’t require massive intelligence to realize that there’s no lasting satisfaction, pleasure is only vanity, our evils are infinite & we are all within a few years either going to be dead or very unhappy
      • It’s real & it’s not fun. But that’s reality
      • There’s no good in this life but in the hope of the next one & we get happier as it approaches & woes die off once we believe in the afterlife
    • It might be tough to doubt but we owe it to ourselves to investigate. Anyone who doesn’t is full of vanity & is silly
      • What joy is there in hopeless misery of expecting nothing? Why boast that we’re in impenetrable darkness? We think:
        • “I don’t know how I got here, why I’m here & what the world is. I don’t understand any of this. Why do I live now & here? All I see is infinity & the only thing I can be sure of is death.
        • “All I know is that I’ll be worm food or at the mercy of a pissed-off God. I could look into the matter but to hell with it, I’ll take my chances…”
  • The Church is lucky to have such enemies because they can’t really contradict it
  • The Christian faith tries to establish 2 facts
    • 1 – Corruption of nature
    • 2 – Redemption through Jesus Christ
      • Most men clearly display the corruption of man as natural
  • Nothing is more important to a man than his own state & nothing is more formidable than eternity
    • So, a man should be worried about losing this & eternal suffering
      • People get more upset & worried about losing a job but is fine with death as the end of everything. Such a strange difference between things
      • One’s important & the other isn’t important at all.
  • It’s hard to say if people talk about this genuinely
    • They are trying to look hard in order to appear honorable, faithful, judicial, etc.
    • What do we say of a man who’s “thrown off the yoke” & stopped believe in God & considers himself his own true master?
      • Does he want to be the guy people turn to for answers & so he doesn’t believe in God? Or does he just want to appear to have his shit together? It usually doesn’t convert people to his side because he seems vain & arrogant.
    • It’s better to have no answer & admit it, to avoid arrogance & be honest
      • 2 kinds of reasonable people
        • 1 – those who serve God because they know him
        • 2 – those who seek God because they don’t know him
      • Those who don’t seek aren’t fit to guide others & need the charity of the very religion they deride
        • We should at least encourage them to seek for answers

195 –

  • Before proving Christianity, I should say that it’s sinful that men are indifferent to the most important things
    • Doubtlessness is the one thing that makes them so foolish & blind to even common sense & natural feelings
    • Our lives only last a moment & death is eternal & all over actions have so many consequences that it’s impossible to do a thing without thinking of our ultimate end
      • Would be unreasonable to do otherwise because they think by ignoring the question of eternity, they make it go away in order to make themselves happy
      • We should be open to the explanation of the eternal because it exists in order to be prepared for nothing or eternity
  • The doubt is of terrible consequence because they risk eternal damnation in order to avoid the inconvenience of exploring the immortality of the soul
    • The don’t know the answer & refuse to admit & even if they do, they don’t explore & are happy saying “I don’t know” & then not do anything as a consequence of that.

219 –

  • The question of mortality/immortality of the soul plays a huge role in morality. But somehow philosophers went ahead & constructed ethics without answering the question. Their discussions are just killing time – from Plato to Christianity

229 –

  • I see this & it bothers me:
    • Everywhere I look, I see darkness
      • Nature shows me what causes me to think only of doubt & concern
        • If I saw no sign of God, I’d be upset
        • If I saw signs of him everywhere, I’d be at peace & be faithful
    • But I see too much to deny & too little to be sure
      • I wish that nature would either amplify or mute these signs to show me the way to go
    • I don’t know what to do. I don’t know my condition or duty
      • My heart wants to know true good to follow it & this is all I really live for
    • I envy those who live with the carelessness of faith but I think if I were sure, I’d make more with the knowledge

233 – Infinite – Nothing

  • Our soul is put into a body which gives it its finite nature & it reasons based on that fact
    • You don’t extend infinity by adding to it
    • The finite is dwarfed by infinity
    • The justice of God is as large as his compassion but his justice to the outcast is smaller & less shocking to us that his mercy to the chosen ones
    • We know there’s an infinite but we don’t know much about it [if it’s odd or even, etc.]
      • It’s possible there’s a God without knowing what he is
    • We can understand the finite because we ourselves are are finite
      • We know of the infinite but understand it so little because we aren’t infinite, like God who’s without limit
  • If there’s a God, he’s infinite & incomprehensible, so much so that we can’t know what he is or if he exists
    • Makes sense that Christians are so inarticulate about faith & God
    • We can’t even use reason to explain or understand him
      • If a game of heads or tail is being played on the other end of the universe, what do you choose? Do you choose at all?
      • You have to see what’s the best or worst…
  • Say there’s an equal chance of God being or not being
    • It’s wisest to choose to believe he exists because the possible outcome is eternal life or nothing at all
      • You can’t use proofs of God to help you but you can reason by scaling back your passions & get faith, although the path is unclear
    • You start by acting as if you believe which will end up cause you to believe later
      • You will have virtuous habits & qualities & a chance at eternal life if God does exist

234 –

  • If we can only act on certainty, the we can’t act on religion because it’s uncertain
    • But we do a lot we’re not certain about – sailing, battles, etc.
    • We work to provide tomorrow which is uncertain
    • We only see effects of uncertainty’s circumstances but never the causes
      • We can only use our sense to guide our intellect on matters of uncertainty

IV. Of The Means Of Belief

242 –

  • I admire those with the audacity to speak of God
    • They try to show proof of God by pointing to nature
      • That works with the already faithful but not with atheists
    • If you tell them they only need to look at the smallest things or point to the stars & planets to see God, they’ll only think the evidence for the rationality of the religion is non-existent & they’ll have contempt for it
      • But scripture tells us that God is hidden & man is so corrupt that he’s in darkness & only Jesus & communion can lead you to God

273 –

  • If everything were subject to reason, religion would have no mystery or supernatural. But if we go against reason, our religion seems absurd & ridiculous

277 –

  • The heart has a reason outside of reason. We can see this in so many things. The heart loves the Universal Being, as well as itself. It hardens to one or the other. Do you love yourself out of reason?

282 –

  • We know truth by reason & the heart
    • Our first principles come from the heart & reason tries to impugn them
      • Skeptics work on this without results, making reason to be pretty weak
      • The uncertainty of all our knowledge remains
    • Knowledge of the first principles come from reason but they themselves come from intuition which comes from the heart
      • Can’t demand proofs from the heart before admitting them. Just as useless to ask intuition from reason
    • This inability should humble reason
      • We won’t know everything by instinct & intuition unless God allows it but he doesn’t. We use both to understand what we can
  • Those who are religious by intuition are luck & convinced
    • Those who aren’t, rely on reasoning, waiting for God to give them a spiritual insight without which faith is just a human faculty & useless for salvation

289 – Proof

  1. Christianity has established itself so strongly & gently but contrary to nature
  2. Sanctity, dignity & humility of a Christian soul
  3. Miracles of Scripture
  4. Jesus Christ
  5. The Apostles
  6. Moses & prophets
  7. The Jewish people
  8. Prophecies
  9. Perpetuity
  10. Doctrine that everything has a reason
  11. Sanctity of No. 10
  12. Course of the world
    • We should follow the religion & at least not laugh at those who follow it

V. Justice And The Reason Of Effects

298 –

  • What’s just should be obeyed & what’s strongest should be obeyed
    • Justice without might is helpless & might without justice is tyranny
    • We should combine the 2 to make what’s just strong & what’s strong just
  • Justice is debatable but might is easily recognized but not disputed
    • Can’t give might to justice because might contradicts justice & made itself to be “justice”
      • Since we can’t make the just strong, we’ve made the strong just

303 –

  • Power rules the world, not opinion. But opinion uses might & might makes opinion. Gentleness is seen as beautiful, but why? Because a man dancing on a rope is alone & I can find a ton of people who’ll think it’s stupid

320 –

  • The most unreasonable things in the world seem reasonable because of unruly men. What’s less reasonable than selecting the eldest son of a specific woman to be king? We don’t choose the captain of a ship from the best family of passengers
  • That’d be stupid & unjust but because men are the way they are, this is the best option. Who would we choose? The most virtuous & most able? We have a fight on our hand because many people claim to be that. The only way without dispute is to choose the king’s eldest son. It’ll have to do because it’s better than civil war

323 –

  • What’s the Ego?
    • If a man sits by a window to watch people passing by, can I say he’s sitting there to see me?
      • No, because he was there to watch people & not me specifically
    • If a man love someone for beauty’s sake, does he love that person?
      • No because if she gets disfigured, he won’t love her anymore
    • If someone loves me for my ability to judge or remember, he won’t love me anymore if I lose the qualities without dying
  • Where’s the ego if it’s not in the body or soul?
    • These are my qualities without really constituting me & people love me for my qualities demonstrated no my body or soul
      • That means we shouldn’t jeer at ranks or offices because we love a person only for borrowed qualities

325 –

  • Custom should be followed purely out of custom, not because it’s rational or just
    • People who follow it, only do so because they think it’s just
    • They will only submit to reason/justice & wouldn’t follow it for any other reason
      • Custom without justice looks like tyranny
      • Sovereignty of reason & justice is no more tyrannical than that of desire
  • It’s right obey them because they’re laws but there’s no truth or justice to introduce into them & we should follow what’s accepted
    • People can’t accept this because hey think truth exists in laws & customs & take antiquity as proof of truth
    • They revolt if they see no value in them

330 –

  • The power of kings is based on the reason & folly of the people, especially folly. The biggest & most important thing in the world is based on weakness. This is the surest way. What seems wise would be the worst basis of power

331 –

    We only think of Plato & Aristotle in great academic robes. They were honest men. They laugh with their friends. They only wrote “The Laws” & “Politics” as a part of those laughs. That part of their lives were the least philosophic & least serious. The most philosophic is to live quietly & simple. Their writings were the grounds rules for living in an insane asylum because their words were for people who thought of themselves as kings & emperors. They made their writings to make their madness as little harmful as possible.

Leave a Reply