Book Review: Pensées by Blaise Pascal (Part One)
Five Stars (provisional)
“Do you wish people to believe good of you? Don’t speak.”
Pascal was the master of the one liner. Pensées is laced with aphorisms. It also overflows with serious considerations. Not to be read fast or superficially. (Unfortunately my first reading in the 1960s was both.) Therefore, this review will be in sections, as I read the major subdivisions of the text.
“The last thing one settles in a book is what one should put in first.”
Since Pensées was not published before Pascal died in 1662, textual inclusion and order are disputed. This 1958 English translation (available free on Project Gutenberg) includes an excellent Introduction by Nobel laureate T. S. Eliot.
“It is far better to know something about everything, than to know all about one thing.”
Being an unfinished work, inconsistency of flow and expression are not surprising. What is unexpected is that he beat the Enlightenment by a century and even anticipated some modern thinking.
“Who doubts that our soul, being accustomed to see number, space, motion believes that and nothing else?”
One of the greatest mathematical and scientific theorists of his time, Pascal intended Pensées to be a defense of the Christian religion, but boldly admitted the case of the sceptic. Pascal’s other great work, Provincial Letters, addressed the abuses of contemporary Catholicism even though Pascal remained a communicant his whole life. He died in Paris at age 39.
“What is a man in the infinite?”