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OF THE NEED OF SEEKING TRUTH. - 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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OF THE NEED OF SEEKING TRUTH.
SECOND Part. That men without faith cannot know the true good, nor justice.
All men seek happiness. To this there is no exception, what different means soever they employ, all tend to this goal. The reason that some men go to the wars and others avoid them is but the same desire attended in each with different views. Our will makes no steps but towards this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of him who hangs himself.
And yet after so many years, no one without faith has arrived at the point to which all eyes are turned. All complain, princes and subjects, nobles and commons, old and young, strong and weak, learned and ignorant, sound and sick, of all countries, all times, all ages, and all conditions.
A trial so long, so constant and so uniform, should surely convince us of our inability to arrive at good by our own strength, but example teaches us but little. No resemblance is so exact but that there is some slight difference, and hence we expect that our endeavour will not be foiled on this occasion as before. Thus while the present never satisfies, experience deceives us, and from misfortune to misfortune leads us on to death, eternal crown of sorrows.
This desire, and this weakness cry aloud to us that there was once in man a true happiness, of which there now remains to him but the mark and the empty trace, which he vainly tries to fill from all that surrounds him, seeking from things absent the succour he finds not in things present; and these are all inadequate, because this infinite void can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God himself.
He only is our true good, and since we have left him, it is strange that there is nothing in nature which has not served to take his place; neither the stars, nor heaven, earth, the elements, plants, cabbages, leeks, animals, insects, calves, serpents, fever, pestilence, war, famine, vices, adultery, incest. And since he has lost the true good, all things can equally appear good to him, even his own destruction, though so contrary to God, to reason, and to the whole course of nature.
Some seek good in authority, others in research and knowledge, others in pleasure. Others, who indeed are nearer the truth, have considered it necessary that the universal good which all men desire should not consist in any of those particular matters which can only be possessed by one, and which if once shared, afflict their possessor more by the want of what he has not, than they gladden him by the joy of what he has. They have apprehended that the true good should be such as all may possess at once, without diminution, and without envy, and that which none can lose against his will. And their reason is that this desire being natural to man, since it exists necessarily in all, and that all must have it, they conclude from it . . .
Infinite, nothing.—The soul of man is cast into the body, in which it finds number, time, dimension; it reasons thereon, and calls this nature or necessity, and cannot believe aught else.
Unity joined to infinity increases it not, any more than a foot measure added to infinite space. The finite is annihilated in presence of the infinite and becomes simply nought. Thus our intellect before God, thus our justice before the divine justice. There is not so great a disproportion between our justice and that of God, as between unity and infinity.
The justice of God must be as vast as his mercy, but justice towards the reprobate is less vast, and should be less amazing than mercy towards the elect.
We know that there is an infinite, but are ignorant of its nature. As we know it to be false that numbers are finite, it must therefore be true that there is an infinity in number, but what this is we know not. It can neither be odd nor even, for the addition of an unit can make no change in the nature of number; yet it is a number, and every number is either odd or even, at least this is understood of every finite number.
Thus we may well know that there is a God, without knowing what he is.
We know then the existence and the nature of the finite, because we also are finite and have dimension.
We know the existence of the infinite, and are ignorant of its nature, because it has dimension like us, but not limits like us. But we know neither the existence nor the nature of God, because he has neither dimension nor limits.
But by faith we know his existence, by glory we shall know his nature. Now I have already shown that we can know well the existence of a thing without knowing its nature.
Let us now speak according to the light of nature.
If there be a God, he is infinitely incomprehensible, since having neither parts nor limits he has no relation to us. We are then incapable of knowing either what he is or if he is. This being so, who will dare to undertake the solution of the question? Not we, who have no relation to him.
Who then will blame Christians for not being able to give a reason for their faith; those who profess a religion for which they cannot give a reason? They declare in putting it forth to the world that it is a foolishness, stultitiam, and then you complain that they do not prove it. Were they to prove it they would not keep their word, it is in lacking proof that they are not lacking in sense.—Yes, but although this excuses those who offer it as such, and takes away from them the blame of putting it forth without reason, it does not excuse those who receive it.—Let us then examine this point, and say, “God is, or he is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can determine nothing about it. There is an infinite gulf fixed between us. A game is playing at the extremity of this infinite distance in which heads or tails may turn up. What will you wager? There is no reason for backing either one or the other, you cannot reasonably argue in favour of either.
Do not then accuse of error those who have already chosen, for you know nothing about it.—No, but I blame them for having made, not this choice, but a choice, for again both the man who calls ‘heads’ and his adversary are equally to blame, they are both in the wrong; the true course is not to wager at all.—
Yes, but you must wager; this depends not on your will, you are embarked in the affair. Which will you choose? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which least interests you. You have two things to lose, truth and good, and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to avoid, error and misery. Since you must needs choose, your reason is no more wounded in choosing one than the other. Here is one point cleared up, but what of your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in choosing heads that God is. Let us weigh the two cases: if you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then unhesitatingly that he is.—You are right. Yes, I must wager, but I may stake too much.—Let us see. Since there is an equal chance of gain and loss, if you had only to gain two lives for one, you might still wager. But were there three of them to gain, you would have to play, since needs must that you play, and you would be imprudent, since you must play, not to chance your life to gain three at a game where the chances of loss or gain are even. But there is an eternity of life and happiness. And that being so, were there an infinity of chances of which one only would be for you, you would still be right to stake one to win two, and you would act foolishly, being obliged to play, did you refuse to stake one life against three at a game in which out of an infinity of chances there be one for you, if there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to win. But there is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to win, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite; that is decided. Wherever the infinite exists and there is not an infinity of chances of loss against that of gain, there is no room for hesitation, you must risk the whole. Thus when a man is forced to play he must renounce reason to keep life, rather than hazard it for infinite gain, which is as likely to happen as the loss of nothingness.
For it is of no avail to say it is uncertain that we gain, and certain that we risk, and that the infinite distance between the certainty of that which is staked and the uncertainty of what we shall gain, equals the finite good which is certainly staked against an uncetain infinite. This is not so. Every gambler stakes a certainty to gain an uncertainty, and yet he stakes a finite certainty against a finite uncertainty without acting unreasonably. It is false to say there is infinite distance between the certain stake and the uncertain gain. There is in truth an infinity between the certainty of gain and the certainty of loss. But the uncertainty of gain is proportioned to the certainty of the stake, according to the proportion of chances of gain and loss, and if therefore there are as many chances on one side as on the other, the game is even. And thus the certainty of the venture is equal to the uncertainty of the winnings, so far is it from the truth that there is infinite distance between them. So that our argument is of infinite force, if we stake the finite in a game where there are equal chances of gain and loss, and the infinite is the winnings. This is demonstrable, and if men are capable of any truths, this is one.
I confess and admit it. Yet is there no means of seeing the hands at the game?—Yes, the Scripture and the rest, etc.
—Well, but my hands are tied and my mouth is gagged: I am forced to wager and am not free, none can release me, but I am so made that I cannot believe. What then would you have me do?
True. But understand at least your incapacity to believe, since your reason leads you to belief and yet you cannot believe. Labour then to convince yourself, not by increase of the proofs of God, but by the diminution of your passions. You would fam arrive at faith, but know not the way; you would heal yourself of unbelief, and you ask remedies for it. Learn of those who have been bound as you are, but who now stake all that they possess; these are they who know the way you would follow, who are cured of a disease of which you would be cured. Follow the way by which they began, by making believe that they believed, taking the holy water, having masses said, etc. Thus you will naturally be brought to believe, and will lose your acuteness.—But that is just what I fear.—Why? what have you to lose?
But to show you that this is the right way, this it is that will lessen the passions, which are your great obstacles, etc.—
What you say comforts and delights me, etc.—If my words please you, and seem to you cogent, know that they are those of one who has thrown himself on his knees before and after to pray that Being, infinite, and without parts, to whom he submits all his own being, that you also would submit to him all yours, for your own good and for his glory, and that this strength may be in accord with this weakness.
The end of this argument.—Now what evil will happen to you in taking this side? You will be trustworthy, honourable, humble, grateful, generous, friendly, sincere, and true. In truth you will no longer have those poisoned pleasures, glory and luxury, but you will have other pleasures. I tell you that you will gain in this life, at each step you make in this path you will see so much certainty of gain, so much nothingness in what you stake, that you will know at last that you have wagered on a certainty, an infinity, for which you have risked nothing.
Objection.—Those who hope for salvation are so far happy, but they have as a counterpoise the fear of hell.
Answer.—Who has most reason to fear hell, the man who is in ignorance if there be a hell, and who is certain of damnation if there be; or he who is certainly convinced that there is a hell, and has a hope of being saved if there be?
“I would soon have given up pleasure,” say they, “had I but faith.” But I say to you, “you would soon have faith did you leave off your pleasures. Now it is for you to begin. If I could, I would give you faith. I cannot do this, nor discover therefore if what you say is true. But you can easily give up pleasure, and discover if what I say is true.”
Probabilities.—We must live differently in the world, according to these different suppositions:
1. That we could always remain in it. 2. That it is certain we cannot remain here long, and uncertain if we shall remain here an hour. This last supposition is the case with us.
Instability.—It is horrible to feel all that we possess slipping away from us.
By the law of probabilities you are bound to take pains to seek the truth; for if you die without adoring the true source of all things you are lost. “But,” say you, “had he willed that I should adore him, he would have left me tokens of his will.” He has done so, but you neglect them. Seek them then, it is well worth your while.
Dungeon.—I admit that it is not necessary to fathom the opinion of Copernicus, but this:
It is all our life is worth to know if the soul be mortal or immortal.
Fascinatio nugacitatis. —In order that passion may do no hurt, we should act as though we had but a week to live.
If we ought to give a week we ought to give our whole life.
In short, what is it you promise me if not ten years of self-love spent in trying hard to please without success, besides the troubles which are certain? For ten years is the probability.
Let us imagine a number of men in chains, all condemned to death, of whom some are strangled every day in the sight of the others, while those who remain see their own condition in that of their fellows, and wait their turn looking at each other sorrowfully and without hope. This is an image of the lot of man.
We must know ourselves, and if that does not serve to discover truth, it at least serves to regulate our lives, and there is nothing more just.
There are but three classes of persons: those who having found God, serve him; those who not having found him, diligently seek him; those who not having found him, live without seeking him. The first are happy and wise, the last are unhappy and fools, those between are unhappy, but they are wise.
It is certain that there is no good without the knowledge of God, that only as we approach him are we happy, and that the ultimate good is to know him certainly; that we are unhappy in proportion as we are removed from him, and that the greatest evil would be certainty of the opposite.
The ordinary world has the power of not thinking about what it does not choose to think about. “Do not reflect on those passages about the Messiah,” said the Jew to his son. So our people often act. Thus false religions are preserved, and the true also, as regards many people.
But there are those who have not thus the power of preventing thought, and who think the more the more we forbid them. These get rid of false religions, and of the true also, if they do not find solid reasons.
If we ought to do nothing save on a certainty, we ought to do nothing for Religion, for this is not certain. But how much we do on an uncertainty, as sea voyages, battles! I say then if this be the case we ought to do nothing at all, for nothing is certain, and that there is more certainty in Religion than that we shall see another day, for it is not certain that we shall see to-morrow, but it is certainly possible that we shall not see it. We cannot say so much about Religion. It is not certain that it is, but who will dare to say that it is certainly possible that it is not? But when we work for to-morrow, therefore for the uncertain, we act reasonably.
For we should work for the uncertain by the doctrine of chances already laid down.
We know truth, not only by the reason, but also by the heart, and it is from this last that we know first principles; and reason, which has nothing to do with it, tries in vain to combat them. The sceptics who desire truth alone labour in vain. We know that we do not dream, although it is impossible to prove it by reason, and this inability shows only the weakness of our reason, and not, as they declare, the general uncertainty of our knowledge. For our knowledge of first principles, as space, time, motion, number, is as distinct as any principle derived from reason. And reason must lean necessarily on this instinctive knowledge of the heart, and must found on it every process. We know instinctively that there are three dimensions in space, and that numbers are infinite, and reason then shows that there are no two square numbers one of which is double of the other. We feel principles, we infer propositions, both with certainty, though by different ways. It is as useless and absurd for reason to demand from the heart proofs of first principles before it will admit them, as it would be for the heart to ask from reason a feeling of all the propositions demonstrated before accepting them.
This inability should serve then only to humiliate reason, which would fain judge of all things, but not to shake our certainty, as if only reason were able to instruct us. Would to God, on the contrary, that we never needed reason, and that we knew every thing by instinct and feeling! But nature has denied us this advantage, and has on the contrary given us but little knowledge of this kind, all the rest can be acquired by reason only.
Therefore those to whom God has given Religion by an instinctive feeling, are very blessed, and justly convinced. But to those who have it not we can give it only by reasoning, waiting for the time when God shall impress it on their hearts, without which faith is human only, and useless for salvation.
Those to whom God has given Religion by an instinctive feeling are very blessed, and quite convinced. But as for those who have it not, we can give it them only by reasoning, waiting for the time when God himself shall impress it on their heart, without which faith is useless for salvation.
Is then the soul too noble a subject for the feeble light of man? Let us then abase the soul to matter, and see if she knows whereof is made the very body which she animates, and those others which she contemplates and moves at her will. On this subject what have those great dogmatists known who are ignorant of nothing?
This would no doubt suffice if reason were reasonable. She is reasonable enough to admit that she has never found anything stable, but she does not yet despair of reaching it; on the contrary, she is as ardent as ever in the search, and is sure that she has in herself all the necessary powers for this conquest.
We must therefore make an end, and after having examined these powers in their effects, recognise what they are in themselves, and see if reason has power and grasp capable of seizing the truth.
The Preacher shows that man without God is wholly ignorant, and subject to inevitable misery. For to will and to be powerless is to be miserable. Now he wills to be happy, and to be assured of some truth, yet he can neither know, nor not desire to know. He cannot even doubt.
This is what I see and what troubles me. I look on all sides, and see nothing but obscurity, nature offers me nothing but matter for doubt and disquiet. Did I see nothing there which marked a Divinity I should decide not to believe in him. Did I see every where the marks of a Creator, I should rest peacefully in faith. But seeing too much to deny, and too little to affirm, my state is pitiful, and I have a hundred times wished that if God upheld nature, he would mark the fact unequivocally, but that if the signs which she gives of a God are fallacious, she would wholly suppress them, that she would either say all or say nothing, that I might see what part I should take. While in my present state, ignorant of what I am, and of what I ought to do, I know neither my condition nor my duty, my heart is wholly bent to know where is the true good in order to follow it, nothing would seem to me too costly for eternity.
[P. 95, l. 7.]neither the stars.
[P. 96, l. 33.]stultitiam. 1 Cor. i. 19.
[P. 100, l. 25.]the opinion of Copernicus. Pascal no doubt refers to a passage in Montaigne, Essais, l. ii. ch. xii., in which he abstains from deciding between the rival systems of astronomy. Pascal, however, had no doubt on the matter himself, as is plain from the passage on Galileo in the Eighteenth Provincial.
[P. 100, l. 28.]Fascinatio nugacitatis. Lib. Sap. iv. 12.
[P. 101, l. 27.]So our people often act. Fénélon, Lettre à l’Evêque d’Arras, says, “Toutes les difficultés s’evanouissent sans peine des qu’on a l’esprit gueri de la présomption. Alors suivant le règle de Saint Augustin, Epist. ad Hier; on passe sur tout ce que l’on n’entend pas, et on s’edifie de tout ce qu’on entend.”
[P. 103, l. 20.]Harum sententiarum. Harum sententiarum quæ vera sit Deus aliquis viderit. Cic. Tuscul. i. 11.
[P. 103, l. 31.]The Preacher shows. The precise thought as Pascal has it here is not easy to find in Ecclesiastes. It is probably a reminiscence of Eccles. viii. 17.