“Pensées” by Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) Selections from Parts 6-7

Blaise Pascal’s headshot for “Despicable Me”

VI. The Philosophers

374 –

  • What surprises me is that people aren’t surprised by their own weakness
    • They are so serious & they follow their life’s path out of certainty of what reason & justice are
    • They’re constantly deceived & they think it’s their own fault
      • Many people glorify skeptics [which they ought to be skeptical o] but that only shows that man is capable of holding extravagant opinions by not believing he’s in a state of weakness. However, he thinks he’s naturally wise.

385 – Skepticism

  • Each thing is partly true & partly false
    • Essential truth is purely & totally true
    • Truth being a mixture is dishonored & destroyed
  • Nothing is purely true & so nothing is true in a pure form
    • What is good?
    • Chastity? No because people would die out
    • Marriage? No, continence is better
    • Not killing? No, anarchy is bad & evil would kill the good
    • Killing? No, it destroys nature
  • We possess truth & good in part – mingled with lies & evil

392 –

  • It’s strange that we can’t define things without obscuring them but we speak them with assurance
    • We assume everyone thinks the same way about them even though we have no proof
    • Many words are applied by 2 people for the same thing or act – which means conformity of definitions leads to conformity of ideas
    • But we know people can draw the same conclusions with different premises
      • This is enough to obscure things – not that it does so completely – that would give victory to the academics
      • But it grinds on the skeptics because they can’t get rid of the clarity

395 – Instinct, reason

  • We have an incapacity for proof that dogmatism can’t get around. We have an idea of truth invincible to skepticism

396 –

  • 2 things tell man about his nature
    • 1 – instinct
    • 2 – experience

397 –

  • The greatness of man is that he knows he’s miserable. Plants don’t know this. It’s miserable to know you’re miserable but it also good for you

409 –

  • The greatness of man is so obvious that even his wretchedness is proof of it
    • We call in animals “nature” what we call “wretchedness” in man
      • When he lives like an animal, he’s fallen from a better nature
    • Who’s unhappy not being king except an ex-king?
    • Who’s unhappy only having 1 mouth?
    • Who’s unhappy not having 3 eyes?
      • Nobody mourns not having 3 eyes but they do not having any

412 –

  • There’s an eternal war between reason & passion in man
    • If he had reason without passion…
    • If he had passion without reason…
      • If you’ve got both, there’s going to be conflict because you’ll be without peace with one & at war with the other. You’ll be divided against & opposed to yourself

413 –

  • The internal war of reason v. passion makes a division of those who’d have peace into 2 sections
    • Those who’d renounce passion & become gods
    • Those who’d renounce reason & become animals
      • Neither can do so. Reason tries to condemn the vileness & injustice of passions & to undo the clam of those who would renounce them

416 –

  • Wretchedness & greatness serve as proof of each other in man
    • Proof of one each serves as an argument for proof of the other
      • The greater heights we climb, our fall into wretchedness only proves how high we were
      • The greater the depths we fall, our climb back up will prove how low we were
    • Each one brings about the other

418 –

  • It’s dangerous to show a man how close he is to animals without showing him his greatness – but it’s also bad to show his greatness without his vileness
    • Even worse not to show either. Very good to show both
      • Man must know he’s no angel & no animal but he must not be ignorant of either fact

VII. Morality And Doctrine

425 – Second Part – That man without faith cannot know the true good, nor justice

  • All men seek happiness but often in different ways
    • This may mean going to war & avoiding war may actually come from the same desire but from different points of view
  • After many years, no one without faith has reached a point that everyone looks for the high/low, old/young, smart/stupid, healthy/sick, etc.
    • After all this time, it should be obvious that we can’t reach our goals on our own
    • The present & past have fooled up & led us to unhappiness
  • So why was there ever a truly happy man?
    • Because the infinitely empty can only be filled by the infinitely good – God
      • He is the only true good & when we give him up, there’s nothing that can replace him
      • When you lose the only true good, things that are incapable of replacing it start to seem good & they lead man to his own destruction
  • Some seek good in authority, science or pleasure
    • Those nearer to the truth know that true good can’t consist of anything that one man can possess but that having them afflicts the owner
      • True good will be something that can’t be diminished or against one’s will

430 – For Port-Royal. The beginning, after having explained the incomprehensibility

  • The greatness & wretchedness of man are so obvious that any true religion must address & explain them
    • In order to make man happy, a religion must prove that God exists & our true happiness is in him & evil is to be separated from him
      • It must show we are full of darkness that separates us from him & our duty is to try to remain near him
  • Let’s see if non-Christian religions can do this
    • Philosophers put forward the highest good as being the good within us
      • Do they have a remedy for our ills?
      • Is pride cured by making man equal to a God? Do Muslims, who put pleasures as the highest good, have a solution to the problem of pride & lust?
      • What teaches man what good is, what our duties are what weaknesses are & how to overcome them, etc.?
        • No other religion except Christianity does this
  • Christianity says:
    • Truth & consolation isn’t to be expected from men
    • God is the one who created us, so only he can teach us what we are. He created man to be holy, innocent & perfect with intelligence & light
    • Man can’t sustain glory without descending into pride – making himself the center of existence & independence of God
    • He has withdrawn from God’s rule & has wandered from the path of happiness by allowing his senses & desires to be the master of his reasoning
      • Now man has sin as his second nature
    • Observe how the cause of contradictions has divided men into different views. All the greatness we feel can’t come from another source than God

For Port-Royal to-morrow

  • It’s in vain to seek a remedy to ills within yourself
    • The only thing you do learn from yourself is than you don’t have the cure within yourself
      • Philosophers promise that & fail you
      • They actually teach you that maladies are good & don’t need a remedy
    • If you are united to God, it’s bu grace, not nature
    • If you are humbled, it’s by penitence, not nature
      • God only asks you to have knowledge & love of him which is exactly what he is – knowledge & love
      • God doesn’t ask for love without reason & doesn’t want to tyrannize us
      • He shows us evidence of his existence through wonders
    • God wants to redeem men & give salvation to those who look for it
      • Those too stubborn to look for him will deny themselves of his love

434 –

  • Skeptics’ main argument
    • We have no certainty of truth, apart from faith & revelation, except what we perceive ourselves
      • Not a convincing proof of truth of origins of man & what principles to follow
      • Only faith guides us & without it we have to wonder if we are awake or asleep & dreaming
        • But we do see things as if we were awake when we dream. All the thoughts, feelings & beliefs are the same. But we don’t apply skepticism to those feelings, thoughts & beliefs
    • I leave our minor arguments – don’t matter too much
  • The strong point of the dogmatist: we can’t doubt natural principles
    • Skeptics remain firm that our origin is unknown, including our nature
      • Something that eludes the dogmatists
  • There’s a battle between dogmatism & skepticism
    • Neutrals are skeptics really because neutrality is the essence of skeptics – indifferent & in suspense
    • Should man doubt everything? Should he doubt if he’s awake? If he’s in pain? Having doubts? That he exists?
      • You have to stop somewhere. Really, there’s never been a pure skeptic because he’d be a raving lunatic
    • But can anyone say he really knows the truth? No. Quickly you’ll find holes in that claim
  • Man’s a bit mixed up & a contradiction
    • Judge of all things but completely error-prone, great, wretched & vain
  • Nature disproves skeptics, reason disproves dogmatists
    • Man shouldn’t take this debate so seriously & learn to master himself – through God
  • If man had never been corrupt, he’d still be innocent & this debate wouldn’t matter
    • But we are & we have an idea of happiness we can’t reach.
    • We have an image of truth & it’s a lie
      • We’re stuck between having knowledge & being ignorant & this fact drives us crazy
  • It’s amazing that the transmission of sin is not something we know something about in detail. It seems unjust & it just adds to the misery of human existence
    • Original sin is tough to be saddled with but our existence & origin are shrouded in mystery & so is original sin

435 –

  • Without divine knowledge of original sin, man can either live in the past glory or wallow in his current misery
    • Not seeing the truth, man can’t achieve perfect virtue
    • Without knowing, man will slide into pride or sloth: the 2 sources of vice
    • With knowledge, he’ll either revel in past greatness but be ignorant of corruption, avoid sloth but fall into pride
  • Christianity can cure these 2 vices through the simplicity of the Gospel
    • Teaches man how to make himself divine & that even the most ungodly can be redeemed
    • Causes the just to tremble & consoles the unjust

463 – Against the philosophers who believe in God with Jesus Christ. Philosophers –

  • Believe God should be loved & admired
  • They want to be loved & admired but they have no idea of their corruption. If their feelings are genuine, then fine, let them be
  • If they are averse to God & only care what others think of them, then that “perfection” is horrible

491 –

  • True religion must include the obligation to love God & be aware of human weakness & lust
    • It must also have remedies – one is prayer

525 –

  • Man doesn’t live in pure greatness or pure insignificance
    • Man must be humble out of penitence & must go on to greatness from grace after humiliation

526 –

  • Misery leads to despair. Pride leads to presumption. Incarnation shows him greatness of misery by how great the remedy needed for it

527 –

  • Knowledge of Jesus Christ as middle course between misery & knowledge of God

528 –

  • Jesus is a God we approach without pride & can humble ourselves without despair

529 –

  • Doesn’t make us incapable of good or doesn’t give us holiness exempt from evil

530 –

  • Someone told me of going to confession giving him joy & confidence. Another spoke of fear. Both of these would make a great man filling each other’s needs

531 –

  • Those with the most power & knowledge will have the most to answer to God

538 –

  • Does a Christian unite with God with little pride? Does a Christian compare himself to worms without humility?

543 –

  • Proofs of God are arcane to rational men & don’t leave much of an impression. If proofs persuade men, it’s temporarily & then he’ll think he was wrong later. That’s what knowledge of God without Jesus Christ is like

547 –

  • Jesus Christ is mediator between us & God. Without him, communion is useless, proofs of God are weak, prophecies are unfulfilled, scripture is shaky, original sin doesn’t hold up & God is unreachable

553 –

  • Jesus suffers from the sins men cause to inflict on him by God. If God is the one doing it, Jesus has to be a super man to put up with it
    • Jesus was abandoned by his friends & left alone in the garden, not happily like Adam, but burdened by man’s sin.
    • This was his darkest hour, full of sorrow. His friends could have comforted him but didn’t
    • He kept going even if he was afraid. Even though his friends abandoned him, he fought for their salvation
  • We beg for mercy not to leave us alone in sin but to be taken out of it
  • We are to be guided. We may have bodily chains but not spiritual. He’s loosed them for us
    • He’s more of a friend than any other because he helps more than any other
    • We’ll still sin but he’ll find a way to smooth it over. But all you have to do is accept his for it to happen

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