Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE GREATNESS AND LITTLENESS OF MAN. - The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal
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THE GREATNESS AND LITTLENESS OF MAN. - Blaise Pascal, The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal 
The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal, translated from the text of M. Auguste Molinier by C. Kegan Paul (London: George Bell and Sons, 1901).
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GREATNESS, Littleness.—The more light we have, the more greatness and the more baseness we discover in man.
Ordinary men . . .
The more cultivated . . .
They astonish ordinary men.
Christians. They astonish Philosophers.
Who then will be surprised to see that Religion only makes us know deeply what we already known in proportion to our light.
For Port Royal.Greatness and Littleness.
Littleness being correlative to greatness, and greatness to littleness, some have inferred man’s littleness all the more because they have taken his greatness as a proof of it, and others have inferred his greatness with all the more force, because they have inferred it from his littleness; all that the one party was able to say for his greatness having served only as an argument of his littleness to others, because we are low in proportion to the height from which we have fallen, and the contrary is equally true. So that the one party returns on the other in an endless circle, for it is certain that in measure as men possess light the more they discern both the greatness and the littleness of man. In a word, man knows he is little. He is then little because he is so; but he is truly great because he knows it.
Man knows not in what rank to place himself. He has evidently gone astray and fallen from his true place, unable to find it again. Disquieted and unsuccessful he seeks it everywhere in impenetrable darkness.
Though we see all the miseries which close upon us and take us by the throat, we have an irrepressible instinct which raises us.
The Greatness of Man.—We have so great an idea of the human soul that we cannot bear to be despised, or to he under the disesteem of any soul, and all the happiness of men consists in that esteem.
The search after glory is the greatest vileness of man. Yet it is also the greatest mark of his excellence, for whatever riches he may have on earth, whatever health and advantage, he is not satisfied if he have not the esteem of men. He rates human reason so highly that whatever privileges he may have on earth, he is not content unless he stand well in the judgment of men. This is the finest position in the world, nothing can turn him from this desire, which is the most indelible quality of the human heart.
And those who most despise men, and place them on the level of the brutes, still wish to be admired and believed by men, and are in contradiction with themselves through their own feelings; their nature, which is stronger than all else, convincing them of the greatness of man more powerfully than reason convinces them of their vileness.
The vileness of man in that he submits himself to the brutes, and even worships them.
Instinct and reason, marks of two natures.
Description of man. Dependence, desire of independence, bodily needs.
Contradiction. To despise existence, to die for nothing, to hate our existence.
Man is neither angel nor brute, and the misfortune is that whoever would play the angel plays the brute.
If man is not made for God, why is he happy only in God?
If man is made for God, why is he so contrary to God?
Contraries. Man is naturally credulous and incredulous, timid and rash.
A corrupt nature.—Man does not act by reason, which constitutes his essence.
The nature of man is his whole nature, omne animal.
There is nothing we cannot make natural, nothing natural we cannot lose.
The true nature being lost, all becomes natural. As the true good being lost, all becomes truly good.
Misery.—Solomon and Job best knew, and have best spoken of human misery; the former the most fortunate, the latter the most unfortunate of men; the one knowing by experience the vanity of pleasure, the other the reality of evil.
It is dangerous to prove to man too plainly how nearly he is on a level with the brutes without showing him his greatness; it is also dangerous to show him his greatness too clearly apart from his vileness. It is still more dangerous to leave him in ignorance of both. But it is of great advantage to show him both.
How comes it that we have so much patience with those who are maimed in body, and so little with those who are defective in mind? Because a cripple recognises that we have the true use of our legs, but the fool maintains that we are they whose understanding halts; were it not so we should feel pity and not anger.
Epictetus puts it yet more strongly: “How comes it that we are not angry if a man says we have an headache, but are angry if told we use a weak argument or make a wrong choice?” The reason of this is that we are quite certain we have no headache, or are not lame, but we are not equally sure that our judgment is correct. So having no assurance but that we see with our whole powers of sight, we are startled and confounded when another with equal powers sees the exact opposite, especially when a thousand others laugh at our decision; for then we must prefer our light to that of so many others, a daring and difficult matter. There is never this contradiction in feeling as to a cripple.
Man is so framed that by dint of telling him he is a fool he believes it, and by dint of telling it to himself he makes himself believe it. For man holds a secret communing with himself, which it behoves him well to regulate: Corrumpunt mores bonos colloquia prava. We must keep silent as much as possible, and converse with ourselves only of God, whom we know to be true, and thus we persuade ourselves of truth.
I will not suffer him to rest on himself, nor on another, so that being without a resting place or repose . . .
If he exalt himself I humble him, if he humble himself I exalt him, and ever contradict him, till he comprehend that he is an incomprehensible monster.
The greatness of man consists in thought.
A thinking reed.—Not from space must I seek my dignity, but from the ruling of my thought. I should have no more if I possessed whole worlds. By space the Universe encompasses and swallows me as an atom, by thought I encompass it.
Man is but a reed, weakest in nature, but a reed which thinks. It needs not that the whole Universe should arm to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water is enough to kill him. But were the Universe to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which has slain him, because he knows that he dies, and that the Universe has the better of him. The Universe knows nothing of this.
All our dignity therefore consists in thought. By this must we raise ourselves, not by space or duration, which we cannot fill. Then let us make it our study to think well, for this is the starting-point of morals.
The greatness of man is great in that he knows he is miserable. A tree does not know that it is miserable.
It is therefore little to know ourselves little, and it is great to know ourselves little.
Thus his very infirmities prove man’s greatness. They are the infirmities of a great lord, of a discrowned king.
The greatness of man is so evident that it is even proved by his littleness. For what in animals is nature we call in man littleness, whereby we recognise that his nature being now like that of animals he is fallen from a better nature which once was his.
For what man ever was unhappy at not being a king, save a discrowned king? Was Paulus Emilius unhappy at being no longer consul? On the contrary, all men thought him happy in having filled that office, because it was involved in it that it should be but temporary. But Perseus was thought so unhappy in being no longer king, because the condition of royalty involved his being always king, that it was thought strange he could bear to live. No man thinks himself unhappy in having but one mouth, but any man is unhappy if he have but one eye. No man was ever grieved at not having three eyes, but any man is inconsolable if he have none.
Perseus, King of Macedon.—Paulus Emilius reproached Perseus for not killing himself.
There is no misery apart from sensation. A ruined house is not miserable. Man only is miserable. Ego vir videns.
It is then thought which makes man’s being, and without this we cannot conceive him. What is it in us which feels pleasure? The hand? The arm? The flesh? The blood? We see that it must be something immaterial.
I can easily conceive a man without hands, feet, head, for it is only experience which teaches us that the head is more necessary than the feet. But I cannot conceive a man without thought; he would be a stone or a brute.
Man is evidently made for thought, this is his whole dignity and his whole merit; his whole duty is to think as he ought. Now the order of thought is to begin with self, and with its author and its end.
Now of what thinks the world? Never of these things, but of dancing, playing the lute, singing, making verses, tilting at the ring, etc., of fighting, making ourselves kings, without thinking what it is to be a king, or what to be a man.
Thought.—The whole dignity of man lies in thought. But what is this thought? how foolish it is!
Thought is then in its nature admirable and incomparable. It must have strange defects to be despicable, but it has these, and so nothing is more ridiculous.
How great it is in essence, how vile in defects!
Contraries. After having shown the vileness and the greatness of man.—Let man now estimate his value. Let him love himself, because he has a nature capable of good, but let him not therefore love the vileness which exists in that nature. Let him despise himself, because this capacity is void, but let him not therefore despise his natural capacity. Let him hate himself, let him love himself: he has in himself the power of knowing the truth and being happy, and yet has found no truth either permanent or satisfactory.
I would then lead man to the desire of finding it; to be free from passions and ready to follow it where he may find it, knowing how his knowledge is obscured by the passions. I would that he should hate in himself the desires which bias his judgment, that they may neither blind him in making his choice, nor obstruct him when he has chosen.
I blame equally those who take on themselves to praise man, those who take on themselves to blame him, and those who merely amuse themselves; I can approve those only who seek with tears.
The stoics say, “Retire within yourselves, there will you find your rest;” which is not true. Others say, “Go out of yourselves, seek your happiness in diversion;” nor is that true, for sickness may come.
Happiness is neither without us nor within us; it is in God, both without us and within us.
[P. 44.]The Greatness and Littleness of Man. The title suggested by Pascal, in many passages of the autograph MS.
[P. 44, l. 12.]For Port Royal. The letters A. P. R. occur in several places in Pascal’s MS. It is generally thought that they mean à Port-Royal, and are intended to indicate subjects to be developed later in conférences or lectures at that house.
[P. 46, l. 1.]Man is neither angel nor brute. This is closely borrowed from Montaigne, Essais, l. iii. ch. xiii.
[P. 47, l. 16.]Corrumpunt mores bonos colloquia prava. 1 ad Cor. xv. 33, but the Vulgate reading has mala.
[P. 48, l. 19.]Paulus Emilius. The example is taken from Montaigne, Essais, l. i. ch. xix. See also Cic. Tuscul. v. 40.
[P. 48, l. 33.]Ego vir videns, Lament. iii. 1.