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THE WEAKNESS UNREST AND DEFECTS 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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THE Misery of Man.—We care nothing for the present. We anticipate the future as too slow in coming, as if we could make it move faster; or we call back the past, to stop its rapid flight. So imprudent are we that we wander through the times in which we have no part, unthinking of that which alone is ours; so frivolous are we that we dream of the days which are not, and pass by without reflection those which alone exist. For the present generally gives us pain; we conceal it from our sight because it afflicts us, and if it be pleasant we regret to see it vanish away. We endeavour to sustain the present by the future, and think of arranging things not in our power, for a time at which we have no certainty of arriving.
If we examine our thoughts, we shall find them always occupied with the past or the future. We scarcely think of the present, and if we do so, it is only that we may borrow light from it to direct the future. The present is never our end; the past and the present are our means, the future alone is our end. Thus we never live, but hope to live, and while we always lay ourselves out to be happy, it is inevitable that we can never be so.
We are so unhappy that we cannot take pleasure in a thing save on condition of being troubled if it turn out ill, as a thousand things may do, and do every hour. He who should find the secret of rejoicing in good without being troubled at its contrary evil, would have hit the mark. It is perpetual motion.
Our nature exists by motion; prefect rest is death.
When we are well we wonder how we should get on if we were sick, but when sickness comes we take our medicine cheerfully, into that the evil resolves itself. We have no longer those passions and that desire for amusement and gadding abroad, which were ours in health, but are now incompatible with the necessities of our disease. So then nature gives us passions and desires in accordance with the immediate situation. Nothing troubles us but fears, which we, and not nature, make for ourselves, because fear adds to the condition in which we are the passions of the condition in which we are not.
Since nature makes us always unhappy in every condition, our desires paint for us a happy condition, joining to that in which we are, the pleasures of the condition in which we are not, and were we to gain these pleasures we should not therefore be happy, because we should have other desires conformable to this new estate.
We must particularize this general proposition. . .
What difference in point of obedience is there between a soldier and a Carthusian? For both are alike under rule and dependent, both engaged in equally irksome labours. But the soldier always hopes to bear rule, and though he never does so, for even captains and princes are always slaves and dependents, he ever hopes and ever works to attain mastery, whereas the Carthusian makes a vow never to be aught else than dependent. Thus they do not differ in their perpetual servitude, which is the same always for both, but in the hope which one always has, the other never.
The example of Alexander’s chastity has not made so many continent as that of his drunkenness has made intemperate. It is not shameful to be less virtuous than he, and it seems excusable to be no more vicious. We do not think ourselves wholly partakers in the vices of ordinary men, when we see that we share those of the great, not considering that in such matters the great are but ordinary men. We hold on to them by the same end by which they hold on to the people, for at whatsoever height they be, they are yet united at some point to the lowest of mankind. They are not suspended in the air, abstracted from our society. No, doubly no; if they are greater than we, it is because their heads are higher; but their feet are as low as ours. There all are on the same level, resting on the same earth, and by the lower extremity are as low as we are, as the meanest men, as children, and the brutes.
Great men and little have the same accidents, the same tempers, the same passions, but one is on the felloe of the wheel, the other near the axle, and so less agitated by the same revolutions.
Would he who had enjoyed the friendship of the King of England, the King of Poland, and the Queen of Sweden have thought he should come to want, and need a retreat or shelter in the world?
Man is full of wants, and cares only for those who can satisfy them all. “Such an one is a good mathematician,” it is said. But I have nothing to do with mathematics, he would take me for a proposition. “This other is a good soldier.” He would treat me as a besieged city. I need then an honourable man who can lend himself generally to all my wants.
Men say that eclipses presage misfortune, because misfortunes are common, so that as evil often happens they often divine it; whereas to say that they presage happiness would often prove false. They attribute happiness only to rare planetary conjunctions, and thus they seldom fail in their divination.
We are fools if we rest content with the society of those like ourselves; miserable as we are, powerless as we are, they will not aid us, we shall die alone. We ought therefore to act as though we were alone, and should we in that case build superb mansions, etc.? We should search for truth unhesitatingly, and if we refuse it, we show that we value the esteem of men more than the search for truth.
The last act is tragic, how pleasantly soever the play may have run through the others. At the end a little earth is flung on our head, and all is over for ever.
I feel that I might not have been, for the ‘I’ consists in my thought; therefore I, who think, had not been had my mother been killed before I had life. So I am not a necessary being. Neither am I eternal nor infinite, but I see plainly there is in nature a necessary being, eternal and infinite.
As duchies, kingships, and magistracies are real and necessary, because power rules all, these exist every where and always. But since it is only caprice which makes one or another duke or king, the rule is not constant, and may vary, etc.
Cromwell was about to ravage the whole of Christendom, the royal family had been brought to nought, and his own dynasty for ever established, but for a little grain of sand in his bladder. Rome herself began to tremble under him, but this scrap of gravel having got there, he dies, his family falls from power, peace is established, and the king restored.
Scepticism.—Excessive or deficient mental powers are alike accused of madness. Nothing is good but mediocrity. The majority has settled that, and assails whoever escapes it, no matter by which extreme. I make no objection, would willingly consent to be in the mean, and I refuse to be placed at the lower end, not because it is low, but because it is an extreme, for I would equally refuse to be placed at the top. To leave the mean is to leave humanity. The greatness of the human soul consists in knowing how to keep the mean. So little is it the case that greatness consists in leaving it, that it lies in not leaving it.
Discourses on humility give occasion for pride to the boastful, and for humility to the humble. Those on scepticism give occasion for believers to affirm. Few men speak humbly of humility, chastely of chastity, few of scepticism doubtingly. We are but falsehood, duplicity and contradiction, using even to ourselves concealment and guile.
There are vices which only take hold of us by means of others, and these, like branches, fall with the removal of the trunk.
For we must not mistake ourselves, we have as much that is automatic in us as intellectual, and hence it comes that the instrument by which persuasion is brought about is not demonstration alone. How few things are demonstrated! Proofs can only convince the mind; custom makes our strongest proofs and those which we hold most firmly, it sways the automaton, which draws the unconscious intellect after it. Who has demonstrated that there will be a to-morrow, or that we shall die; yet what is more universally believed? It is then custom that convinces us of it, custom that makes so many men Christians, custom that makes them Turks, heathen, artisans, soldiers, etc. Lastly, we must resort to custom when once the mind has seen where truth is, in order to slake our thirst, and steep ourselves in that belief, which escapes us at every hour, for to have proofs always at hand were too onerous. We must acquire a more easy belief, that of custom, which without violence, without art, without argument, causes our assent and inclines all our powers to this belief, so that our soul naturally falls into it. It is not enough to believe only by force of conviction if the automaton is inclined to believe the contrary. Both parts of us then must be obliged to believe, the intellect by arguments which it is enough to have admitted once in our lives, the automaton by custom, and by not allowing it to incline in the contrary direction. Inclina cor meum, Deus.
The intellect believes naturally, and the will loves naturally, so that for lack of true objects, they must needs attach themselves to the false.
Eritis sicut dii,scientes bonum et malum.—Every one plays the god in judging whether anything be good or bad, and in being too much afflicted or rejoiced at circumstances.
Even if people have no interest in what they say, it must not therefore be certainly concluded they are not lying, for there are are those who lie simply for lying’s sake.
Men are of necessity so mad, that not to be mad were madness in another form.
We cannot think of Plato and Aristotle, save in pro fessorial robes. They were honest men like others, laughing with their friends, and when they amused themselves with writing the Laws or the Politics, they did it as a pastime. That part of their life was the least philosophic and the least serious; the most philosophic was to live simply and quietly. If they wrote on politics it was as though they were laying down rules for a madhouse, and if they made as though they were speaking of a great matter, it was because they knew that the madmen to whom they spoke fancied themselves kings and emperors. They entered into their views in order to make their folly as little harmful as possible.
The most important affair in life is the choice of a trade, yet chance decides it. Custom makes men masons, soldiers, tilers. “He is a good tiler,” says one, “and soldiers are fools.” But others: “There is nothing great but war, all but soldiers are rogues.” We choose our professions according as we hear this or that praised or despised in our childhood, for we naturally love truth and hate folly. These words move us, the only fault is in their application. So great is the force of custom that out of those who by nature are only men, are made all conditions of men. For some countries are full of masons, others of soldiers, etc. Nature is certainly not so uniform. Custom then produces this effect and gains ascendency over nature, yet sometimes nature gets the upper hand, and obliges man to act by instinct in spite of all custom, whether good or bad.
Men by nature are tilers and of all callings, except in their own closets.
We never teach men to be gentlemen, but we teach them everything else, and they never pique themselves so much on all the rest as on knowing how to be gentlemen. They pique themselves only on knowing the one thing they have not learnt.
People should not be able to say of a man, he is a mathematician, or a preacher, or eloquent, but he is a gentleman; that universal quality alone pleases me.—When you think of a man’s book as soon as you see himself, it is a bad sign. I would rather that none of his qualities should be recognised till you meet them, or have occasion to avail yourself of them. Ne quid nimis, for fear some one quality gain the mastery and stamp the man. Let not people think of him as an orator, unless oratory be in question, then let them think of it.
No man passes in the world as an expert in verse unless he hang out the sign of a poet, a mathematician, etc. But people who are generally accomplished need no sign and scarce recognise any difference between the trade of a poet and that of an embroiderer.
People of general accomplishment are not called poets or geometricians, etc., though they are so, and judges of all these. You do not guess what they are. When they enter a society they join in the general conversation. They do not exhibit one quality rather than another, except when they have to make use of it. Then we remember it, for it is natural to such characters that we do not say of them that they are fine speakers when it is not a question of oratory, and that we give them the praise of eloquence if occasion call for it.
It is false praise then to say of a man as soon as he enters a society that he is a clever poet, and it is a bad sign when a man is never called on to give his opinion on such a subject as verse.
Inconstancy.—Things have different qualities, and the soul different inclinations; for nothing is simple which presents itself to the soul, and the soul never presents itself simply to any subject. Hence it comes that men laugh and weep at the same thing.
Greatness of establishment, respect for establishment.
The pleasure of the great is to be able to make people happy.
The property of riches is to be given liberally.
The property of each thing should be sought out. The property of power is to protect.
Saint Augustine saw that we labour for an uncertainty, at sea, in a battle, etc.; he did not see the doctrine of chances, which demonstrates that we must do so. Montaigne saw that we are disgusted at a distorted mind, and that custom can do all things, but he did not see the reason of that effect.
All these men saw the effects, but did not see the causes; in relation to those who have discovered the causes they are as those who have only eyes are in regard to those who who have intellect. For the effects are as it were sensible, and the causes are visible only to the intellect. And though these effects too are apprehended through reason, yet is it in relation to the reason which apprehends causes, as the bodily senses are to the intellect.
Suppose a man puts himself at a window to see the passers by. If I pass I cannot say that he stood there to see me, for he does not think of me in particular. Nor does any one who loves another on account of beauty really love that person, for the small-pox, which kills beauty without killing the person, will cause the loss of love. Nor does one who loves me for my judgment, my memory, love me, myself, for I may lose those qualities without losing my identity. Where then is this ‘I’ if it reside not in the body nor in the soul, and how love the body or the soul, except for the qualities which do not make ‘me,’ since they are perishable? For it is not possible and it would be unjust to love the soul of a person in the abstract, and whatever qualities might be therein. So then we do not love a person, but only qualities. We should not then sneer at those who are honoured on account of rank and office, for we love no one save for borrowed qualities.
Time heals all pain and misunderstanding, because we change and are no longer the same persons. Neither the offender nor the offended are any more themselves. It is like a nation which we have angered and meet again after two generations. They are Frenchmen still, but not the same.
Inconstancy and singularity.—To live only by labour, and to reign over the most powerful state in the world, are very opposite things. They are united in the person of the grand Sultan of the Turks.
It pleases us to say ‘Prince’ to a king, because it lessens his quality.
Epigrams of Martial.—Men like malice, but not against one-eyed men, nor against the unfortunate, but against the fortunate and proud. Those who think otherwise make a mistake.
For sensuality is the source of all our movements, and humanity, etc.
We must please those whose feelings are humane and tender.
That epigram about the two one-eyed people is valueless, for it brings them no consolation, and only gives a point to the author’s glory. All that is merely for the sake of the author is valueless. Ambitiosa recidet ornamenta.
I put it down as a fact that if all men knew what each said of the other, there would not be four friends in the world. This is evident from the quarrels which arise from indiscreet reports made from time to time.
Those who are always hopeful in adversity, and rejoice in good luck, are suspected of being glad of failure should they not be correspondingly depressed under bad luck; they are delighted to find pretexts for hoping, in order to show that they are interested, and to hide by the joy they pretend to feel that which they really feel at the ill success of the affair.
Malignity when it has reason on its side becomes proud and displays reason in all its splendour.
If austerity or a rigid choice have not found the true good, and we must needs return to follow nature, it becomes proud by reason of this return.
A maker of epigrams,—a bad man.
Do you wish men to believe good of you? Then say none.
We ought to be much obliged to those who tell us of our faults, for they mortify us, they teach us we have been despised, they do not prevent our being so in the future, for we have many other faults which are despicable. They prepare for us the exercise of correction, and freedom from a fault.
If we would reprove with success, and show another his mistake, we must see from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is generally true, and admitting that truth, show him the side on which it is false. He will be satisfied, for he will see that he was not mistaken, only that he did not see all sides. Now, no one is vexed at not seeing every thing. But we do not like to be mistaken, and that perhaps arises from the fact that man by nature cannot see everything, and that by nature he cannot be mistaken in the side he looks at, since what we apprehend by our senses is always true.
I passed a long time in the study of the abstract sciences, and was much discouraged at finding how few were my fellow-students. When I began the study of man I saw that these abstract sciences were not fit for him, and that I was wandering more from my true state in investigating them, than others in ignoring them. I forgave their scanty knowledge. But I thought at least to find many fellow-students in the study of man, and that this was the real study which befits us. I was deceived, for there are still fewer than those who study mathematics. It is only for want of knowing how to pursue this study that we seek others. But is it not that even here is not the knowledge that man should have, and that it is better for him to be ignorant of himself in order to be happy?
The Vanity of Knowledge.—The knowledge of external things will not console me for my ignorance of ethics in time of affliction, but the science of morals will always console me for my ignorance of external knowledge.
There are plants on the earth, we see them, but they could not be seen from the moon. On these plants are hairs, and in these hairs tiny animals, but beyond that, nothing more. O, presumption! Compound bodies are made up of elements, but not the elementary bodies themselves. O presumption! Here is a fine distinction. We must not assert the existence of what we cannot see, we must then say what others say, but not think with them.
The world’s judgment is right, for it is in that condition of natural ignorance which is man’s best wisdom. The sciences have two extremes which meet. The first is that pure natural ignorance in which every man is born. The other extreme is that reached by great minds, who, having run through all that men can know, find that they know nothing, and again come round to the same ignorance from which they started; but this is a learned ignorance, conscious of itself. Those between the two, who have left their natural ignorance and not been able to reach the other, have some tincture of this vain knowledge, and assume to be wise. These trouble the world, and judge all things falsely. The people and the wise make up the world; these despise it, and are despised; they judge ill of all things and the world rightly judges of them.
Nature has made all her truths self-contained. Our art encloses them one within another, but that is not according to nature. Each holds its own place.
Spongia solis. —When we see the same effect invariably recur we conclude there is in it a natural necessity, as that there will be a to-morrow, etc. But nature often gives us the lie, and will not subject herself to her own rules.
Nature always begins the same things again, years, days, and hours, and in like manner spaces and numbers follow each other, end without end. So is made a sort of infinity and eternity, not that any thing of these is infinite and eternal, but these finite entities are infinitely multiplied.
Thus as it seems to me the number which multiplies them alone is infinite.
Nature imitates herself. A seed sown in good ground brings forth fruit. A principle cast into a good mind brings forth fruit.
Numbers imitate space, which is of an wholly different nature.
All is made and guided by one and the same master, root, branch and fruits; principles and consequences.
Nature works by progress, itus et reditus. It goes and returns, then it goes further, then twice as much backwards, then more forward than ever, etc.
So it is with the tide of the sea, and so apparently with the course of the sun.
Every one is all in all to himself, for he being dead, all is dead to him. Hence it comes that each man believes that he is all to all. We ought not to judge of nature by ourselves, but by it.
Self is hateful. You Miton, conceal self, but do not thereby destroy it, therefore you are still hateful.
—Not so, for in acting as we do, to oblige every body, we give no reason for hating us.—True, if we only hated in self the vexation which it causes us.
But if I hate it because it is unjust, and because it makes itself the centre of all, I shall always hate it.
In one word Self has two qualities, it is unjust in its essence because it makes itself the centre of all, it is inconvenient to others, in that it would bring them into subjection, for each ‘I’ is the enemy, and would fain be the tyrant of all others. You take away the inconvenience, but not the injustice, and thus you do not render it loveable to those who hate injustice; you render it loveable only to the unjust, who find in it an enemy no longer. Thus you remain unjust and can please none but the unjust.
Of Self-love.—The nature of self-love and of this human ‘I’ is to love self only, and consider self only. But what can it do? It cannot prevent the object it loves from being full of faults and miseries; man would fain be great and sees that he is little, would fain be happy, and sees that he is miserable, would fain be perfect, and sees that he is full of imperfections, would fain be the object of the love and esteem of men, and sees that his faults merit only their aversion and contempt. The embarrassment wherein he finds himself produces in him the most unjust and criminal passion imaginable, for he conceives a mortal hatred against that truth which blames him and convinces him of his faults. Desiring to annihilate it, yet unable to destroy it in its essence, he destroys it as much as he can in his own knowledge, and in that of others; that is to say, he devotes all his care to the concealment of his faults, both from others and from himself, and he can neither bear that others should show them to him, nor that they should see them.
It is no doubt an evil to be full of faults, but it is a greater evil to be full of them, yet unwilling to recognise them, because that is to add the further fault of a voluntary illusion. We do not like others to deceive us, we do not think it just in them to require more esteem from us than they deserve; it is therefore unjust that we should deceive them, desiring more esteem from them than we deserve.
Thus if they discover no more imperfections and vices in us than we really have, it is plain they do us no wrong, since it is not they who cause them; but rather they do us a service, since they help us to deliver ourselves from an evil, the ignorance of these imperfections. We ought not to be troubled that they know our faults and despise us, since it is but just they should know us as we are, and despise us if we are despicable.
Such are the sentiments which would arise in a heart full of equity and justice. What should we say then of our own heart, finding in it an wholly contrary disposition? For is it not true that we hate truth, and those who tell it us, and that we would wish them to have an erroneously favourable opinion of us, and to esteem us other than indeed we are?
One proof of this fills me with dismay. The Catholic religion does not oblige us to tell out our sins indiscriminately to all, it allows us to remain hidden from men in general, but she excepts one alone, to whom she commands us to open the very depths of our heart, and to show ourselves to him as we are. There is but this one man in the world whom she orders us to undeceive; she binds him to an inviolable secrecy, so that this knowledge is to him as though it were not. We can imagine nothing more charitable and more tender. Yet such is the corruption of man, that he finds even this law harsh, and it is one of the main reasons which has set a large portion of Europe in revolt against the Church.
How unjust and unreasonable is the human heart which finds it hard to be obliged to do in regard to one man what in some degree it were just to do to all men. For is it just that we should deceive them?
There are different degrees in this dislike to the truth, but it may be said that all have it in some degree, for it is inseparable from self-love. This false delicacy causes those who must needs reprove others to choose so many windings and modifications in order to avoid shocking them. They must needs lessen our faults, seem to excuse them, mix praises with their blame, give evidences of affection and esteem. Yet this medicine is always bitter to self-love, which takes as little as it can, always with disgust, often with a secret anger against those who administer it.
Hence it happens, that if any desire our love, they avoid doing us a service which they know to be disagreeable; they treat us as we would wish to be treated: we hate the truth, and they hide it from us; we wish to be flattered, they flatter us; we love to be deceived, they deceive us.
Thus each degree of good fortune which raises us in the world removes us further from truth, because we fear most to wound those whose affection is most useful, and whose dislike is most dangerous. A prince may be the by-word of all Europe, yet he alone know nothing of it. I am not surprised; to speak the truth is useful to whom it is spoken, but disadvantageous to those who speak it, since it makes them hated. Now those who live with princes love their own interests more than that of the prince they serve, and thus they take care not to benefit him so as to do themselves a disservice.
This misfortune is, no doubt, greater and more common in the higher classes, but lesser men are not exempt from it, since there is always an interest in making men love us. Thus human life is but a perpetual illusion, an interchange of deceit and flattery. No one speaks of us in our presence as in our absence. The society of men is founded on this universal deceit: few friendships would last if every man knew what his friend said of him behind his back, though he then spoke in sincerity and without passion.
Man is then only disguise, falsehood, and hypocrisy, both in himself and with regard to others. He will not be told the truth, he avoids telling it to others, and all these tendencies, so far removed from justice and reason, have their natural roots in his heart.
[P. 74.]Weakness, unrest, and defects of man. The arrangement of these fragments under this title is Molinier’s.
[P. 74, l. 2.]We anticipate the future. Compare Montaigne, Essais, l. i. ch. iii.
[P. 75, l. 30.]Alexander’s chastity. To attribute this virtue to Alexander is strange, but no doubt the circumstance in Pascal’s thought was his generous conduct to the family of Darius, after the battle of Issus.
[P. 76, l. 13.]the king of England. Probably Charles II., then living in exile, rather than Charles I. The King of Poland was Jean Casimir, driven from his throne by Charles X. of Sweden, after the battle of Warsaw in 1656. The Queen of Sweden was Christina, daughter of Gustavus Adolphus, who abdicated in favour of her cousin, Charles X., in 1654.
[P. 76, l. 32.]we shall die alone, “on mourra seul.” It is a curious instance of the fact how little Pascal is known in England, that Keble having quoted this sentence wrongly, probably from memory, in the first edition of the Christian Year, as “Je mourrai seul,” it has remained uncorrected and apparently unnoticed to this day.
[P. 77, l. 17.]Cromwell. As Charles II. was restored in 1660, this fragment was written about that date, two years before Pascal’s death. Cromwell’s death did not arise from the cause stated in the text.
[P. 78, l. 17.]the automaton. The expression of Descartes and his school for the animal body.
[P. 78, l. 36.]Inclina cor meum, Deus. Ps. cxix. 36. “Inclina cor meum in testimonia tua, et non in avaritiam.”
[P. 79, l. 3.]Eritis sicut dii. Gen. iii. 5.
[P. 81, l. 8.]men laugh and weep at the same thing. The thought is from Charron, Traité de la Sagesse, l. i. ch. xxxviii.
[P. 82, l. 19.]the grand Sultan. None of Pascal’s editors have discovered whence he drew this purely fictitious description of the Sultan.
[P. 82, l. 30.]That epigram about the two one-eyed people. This is not Martial’s. It is found in Epigrammatum Delectus, published by Port Royal in 1659.
[P. 82, l. 33.]Ambitiosa recidet ornamenta. Horace, De Arte Poetica, v. 447.
[P. 85, l. 8.]Spongia solis. The spots on the sun. Du Cange explains spongia by macula. Pascal seems to mean that the spots on the sun prepare us for its total extinction; that the sun will eventually expire, so that, contrary as it seems to the course of nature, there will come a day when there will be no sun.
[P. 89.]The title given to this second part is furnished by Pascal. In the first part he has wished to prove the fallen state of man, and his weakness; he now maintains that man may be restored by faith in Jesus Christ, and the practice of religion.