Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE PHILOSOPHERS. - The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
THE PHILOSOPHERS. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
THE principal arguments of the sceptics—to omit those of less importance—are that we have no certainty of the truth of these principles apart from faith and revelation, save so far as we naturally perceive them in ourselves. Now this natural perception is no convincing evidence of their truth, since, having no certainty apart from faith, whether man was created by a good God, by an evil demon, or by chance, it may be doubted whether these principles within us are true or false or uncertain according to our origin.
And more than this: That no one has any certainty, apart from faith, whether he wake or sleep, seeing that in sleep we firmly believe we are awake, we believe that we see space, figure, and motion, we are aware of the lapse and measure of time; in a word we act as though we were awake. So that half of our life being passed in sleep, we have by our own avowal, no idea of truth, whatever we may suppose. Since then all our sentiments are illusions, who can tell but that the other half of life wherein we fancy ourselves awake be not another sleep somewhat different from the former, from which we wake when we fancy ourselves asleep?
And who doubts that if we dreamt in company, and if by chance men’s dreams agreed, which is common enough, and if we were always alone when awake, we should believe that the conditions were reversed? In a word, as we often dream that we dream, and heap vision upon vision, it may well be that this life itself is but a dream, on which the others are grafted, from which we wake at death; having in our lifetime as few principles of what is good and true, as during natural sleep, the different thoughts which agitate us being perhaps only illusions like those of the flight of time and the vain fantasies of our dreams. . . .
These are the principal arguments on one side and the other, setting aside those of less importance, such as the talk of the sceptics against the impressions of custom, education, manners, climate, and the like; and these though they influence the majority of ordinary men, who dogmatise only on vague foundations, are upset by the least breath of the sceptics. We have only to see their books if we are not convinced on this point, and we shall soon become assured of it, perhaps only too much.
I pause at the only strong point of the dogmatists, namely, that speaking sincerely and in good faith we cannot doubt of natural principles.
Against this the sceptics set in one word the uncertainty of our origin, which includes that of our nature. Which the dogmatists have been trying to answer ever since the world began.
So then war is opened among men, in which each must take a side, ranging himself either for dogmatism or for scepticism, since neutrality, which is the part of the wise, is the oldest dogma of the sceptical sect. Whoever thinks to remain neutral is before all things a sceptic. This neutrality is the essence of the sect; who is not against them is pre-eminently for them. They are not for themselves, they are neutral, indifferent, in suspense as to all things, themselves included.
What then shall man do in such a state? Shall he doubt of all, doubt whether he wake, whether you pinch him, or burn him, doubt whether he doubts, doubt whether he is? We cannot go so far as that, and I therefore state as a fact that there never has been a perfect finished sceptic; nature upholds the weakness of reason, and prevents its wandering to such a point.
Shall he say on the contrary that he is in sure possession of truth, when if we press him never so little, he can produce no title, and is obliged to quit his hold?
What a chimæra then is man! how strange and monstrous! a chaos, a contradiction, a prodigy. Judge of all things, yet a weak earth-worm; depositary of truth, yet a cesspool of uncertainty and error; the glory and offscouring of the Universe.
Who will unravel such a tangle? This is certainly beyond the power of dogmatism and scepticism, and all human philosophy. Man is incomprehensible by man. We grant to the sceptics what they have so loudly asserted, that truth is not within our reach nor to our taste, that her home is not on earth but in heaven, that she dwells within the breast of God, and that we can only know her so far as it pleases him to reveal her. Let us then learn our true nature from truth uncreate and incarnate.
Nature confounds the sceptics, and reason the dogmatists. What then will become of you, O men! who by your natural reason search out your true condition? You can neither avoid both these sects nor live in either.
Know then, proud man, how great a paradox thou art to thyself. Bow down thyself, weak reason; be silent, thou foolish nature; learn that man is altogether incomprehensible by man, and learn from your master your true condition which you ignore. Hear God.
For in a word, had man never been corrupt he would innocently and securely enjoy truth and happiness. And had man never been other than corrupt he would have no idea of virtue or blessedness. But wretched as we are, and even more than if there were no greatness in our condition, we have an idea of happiness and cannot attain it, we feel an image of truth and possess a lie only, alike incapable of absolute ignorance and of certain knowledge, so manifest is it that we once were in a degree of perfection from which we have unhappily fallen!
Yet it is an astonishing thing that the mystery most removed from our knowledge, that of the transmission of sin, should be a thing without which we can have no knowledge of ourselves. For it is certain that nothing more shocks our reason than to say that the sin of the first man rendered those culpable, who, being so distant from the source, seem incapable of participation in it. This transfusion does not only seem to us impossible, but even most unjust, for there is nothing so repugnant to the rules of our miserable justice as to damn eternally an infant incapable of will, for a sin in which he seems to have so scanty a share, that it was committed six thousand years before he was in being. Certainly nothing shocks us more rudely than this doctrine, and yet without this mystery, the most incomprehensible of all, we are incomprehensible to ourselves. The tangle of our condition takes its plies and folds in this abyss, so that man is more inconceivable without the mystery than the mystery is inconceivable to man.
Whence it appears that God, willing to render the difficulty of our being unintelligible to us, has concealed the knot so high, or rather so low, that we cannot reach it; so that it is not by the arrogant exertion of our reason, but by the simple submission of reason, that we can truly know ourselves.
These foundations solidly established on the inviolable authority of Religion make us understand that there are two truths of faith equally constant—the one, that man in his state at creation or in that of grace is elevated above the whole of nature, made like unto God and sharer of his divinity—the other, that in the state of corruption and sin he has fallen from his former state and is made like unto the brutes. These two propositions are equally fixed and certain. The Scripture declares this plainly to us when it says in some places: Deliciæ meæesse cum filiis hominum.Effundam spiritummeum super omnem carnem.Dii estis,etc.; and in other places, Omnis caro fœnum.Homo assimilatus estjumentis insipientibus et similis factus est illis.Dixi in corde meode filiis hominum . . . Eccles. iii.
By which it clearly appears that man by grace is made like unto God, and a sharer in his divinity, and that without grace he is like the brute beasts, etc.
Scepticism—I shall here write my thoughts without order, yet not perhaps in undesigned confusion, that is true order, which will always denote by object by its very disorder.
I should do too much honour to my subject if I treated it with order, because I wish to show that it is incapable of it.
Scepticism.—All things here are true in part, and false in part. Essential truth is not thus, it is altogether pure and true. This mixture dishonours and annihilates it. Nothing is purely true, and therefore nothing is true, understanding by that pure truth. You will say it is true that homicide is an evil, yes, for we know well what is evil and false. But what can be named as good? Chastity? I say no, for then the world would come to an end. Marriage? No, a celibate life is better. Not to kill? No, for lawlessness would be horrible, and the wicked would kill all the good. To kill then? No, for that destroys nature. Goodness and truth are therefore only partial, and mixed with what is evil and false.
Were we to dream the same thing every night, this would affect us as much as the objects we see every day, and were an artisan sure to dream every night, for twelve hours at a stretch, that he was a king. I think he would be almost as happy as a king who should dream every night for twelve hours at a stretch that he was an artisan.
Should we dream every night that we were pursued by enemies, and harassed by these painful phantoms, or that we were passing all our days in various occupations, as in travelling, we should suffer almost as much as if the dream were real, and should fear to sleep, as now we fear to wake when we expect in truth to enter on such misfortunes. And, in fact, it would bring about nearly the same troubles as the reality.
But since dreams are all different, and each single dream is diversified, what we see in them affects us much less than what we see when awake, because that is continuous, not indeed so continuous and level as never to change, but the change is less abrupt, except occasionally, as when we travel, and then we say, “I think I am dreaming,” for life is but a little less inconstant dream.
Instinct, reason.—We have an incapacity of proof which no dogmatism can overcome. We have an idea of truth, which no scepticism can overcome.
Nothing more strengthens scepticism than that some are not sceptics; were they all so, they would be in the wrong.
This sect draw their strength from their enemies more than from their friends, for the weakness of man appears much more in those who are not, than in those who are conscious of it.
Against scepticism.—We suppose that we all conceive of things in the same way, but it is a gratuitous supposition, of which we have no proof. I see indeed that the same words are applied on the same occasions, and that every time two men see a body change its place, they both express their view of the same object by the same word, both saying that it has moved, and from this sameness of application we have a strong conviction of a sameness of idea; but this, though it may be enough to justify us in wagering the affirmative, is not finally or completely convincing, since we know that we often draw the same conclusions from different premisses.
This is enough, at any rate, to confuse the matter, not that it wholly extinguishes the natural light which assures us of these things; the academicians would have won, but this obscures it, and troubles the dogmatists to the glory of the sceptical cabal, which consists in this ambiguous ambiguity, and in a certain doubtful haze, from which our doubts cannot take away all the light, nor our natural light banish all the darkness.
Good sense.—They are obliged to say, “You do not act in good faith; we are not asleep,” etc. How I like to see this proud reason humiliated and suppliant. For this is not the language of a man whose right is disputed, and who defends it with the mailed power of his hand. He does not trifle by saying that men are not acting in good faith, but he punishes this bad faith with might.
It may be that there are true demonstrations, but it is not certain. Thus this proves nothing but that it is not certain that all is uncertain, to the glory of scepticism.
Ex senatus consultis etplebiscitis scelera exercentur.
Nihil tam absurdedici potest quod non dicatur ab aliquo philosophorum. Quibusdam destinatis sententiis consecrati quæ non probant coguntur defendere.
Ut omnium rerumsic litterarum quoque intemperantiâ laboramus.
Id maximequemque decet quod est cujusque suum maxime.
Hos natura modosprimum dedit.
Paucis opus est litteris ad bonam mentem.
Si quando turpe non sit, tamen non est non turpe quum id a multitudine laudetur.
Mihi sic usus est,tibi ut opus est facto, fac.
The falsity of those philosophers who do not discuss the immortality of the soul. The falsity of their dilemma in Montaigne.
It is beyond doubt that the mortality or immortality of the soul must make an entire difference in morals; yet philosophers have treated morality independently of the question. They discuss to pass the time.
Plato, to dispose towards Christianity.
The soul is immaterial. Philosophers have subdued their passions. What matter could do that?
Atheists should say things which are perfectly clear, but it is not perfectly clear that the soul is material.
Atheism is a mark of strength of mind, but only to a certain degree.
Against those philosophers who believe in God without Jesus Christ.—They believe that God alone is worthy to be loved and admired, and they have desired to be loved and admired of men, and know not their own corruption. If they feel themselves full of feelings of love and adoration, and if they find therein their chief joy, let them think themselves good, and welcome! But if they find themselves averse from him, if they have no inclination but the wish to establish themselves in the esteem of men, and if their whole perfection consists not in constraining, but yet in causing men to find their happiness in loving them, I say that such a perfection is horrible. What! they have known God, and have not desired solely that men should love him, but that men should stop short at loving them. They have wished to be the object of the voluntary joy of men.
All the principles of sceptics, stoics, atheists, etc., are true; but their conclusions are false, because the opposite principles are also true.
But perhaps the subject goes beyond the reach of reason. We will therefore examine what she has to say on questions within her powers. If there be anything to which her own interest must have made her apply herself most seriously, it is the search after her sovereign good. Let us see then in what these strong and clearsighted souls have placed it, and whether they agree.
One says that the sovereign good consists in virtue, another in pleasure, another in the knowledge of nature, another in truth: Felix qui potuitrerum cognoscere causas, another in total ignorance, another in indolence, others in neglect of appearances, another in the lack of wonder, nihil mirariprope res una quæ possit facere et servare beatum, the true sceptics in their indifference, doubt and perpetual suspense, and others, more wise, think they can find a better way. And this is all we get from them!
We must needs see if this fine philosophy have gained nothing certain from a research so lengthy and wide, at least perhaps the soul has learned to know herself. We will hear the rulers of the world on this matter. What have they thought of her substance?
Have they been more happy in fixing her seat?
What have they discovered about her origin, duration and departure?
Search for the true good.—Ordinary men place their good in fortune and external goods, or at least in amusement. Philosophers have shown the vanity of all this, and have placed it where best they could.
Philosophers reckon two hundred and eighty-eight sovereign goods.
The sovereign good. Dispute about the sovereign good.—Ut sis contentus temetipso et ex te nascentibus bonis. There is a contradiction, for finally they advise suicide. Ah! happy life indeed, from which we are to free ourselves as from the plague.
It is well to be weary and harassed by the useless search after the true good, that we may stretch our arms to the Redeemer.
Conversation.—Great words: Religion. I deny it.
Conversation.—Scepticism aids Religion.
Philosophers.—We are full of matters which take us out of ourselves.
Our instinct suggests that we must seek our happiness outside ourselves; our passions hurry us abroad, even when there are no objects to excite them. The objects outside us tempt and call us, even when we do not think of them. And thus it is in vain for philosophers to say, “Enter into yourselves, and you will find your good there;” we believe them not, and those who believe them are the most empty and the most foolish.
This civil war between reason and passion divides those who desire peace into two sects, the one, of those who would renounce their passions and become gods, the other, of those who would renounce their reason and become brute beasts.—Des Barreaux. —But neither has succeeded, and reason still exists, to condemn the baseness and injustice of the passions, and to trouble the repose of those who give themselves over to their sway, and the passions are still vigorous in those who desire to renounce them.
The Stoics.—They conclude that what has been done once may be done always, and that because the desire of glory gives some degree of power to those possessed by it, others can easily do the same.
These are the movements of fever, which health cannot imitate.
Epictetus concludes that since there are consistent Christians all men can easily be so.
The three kinds of lust have made three sects, and philosophers have done no other thing than follow one of the three lusts.
What the Stoics propose is so difficult and so idle.
The Stoics lay down that all who are not at the highest degree of wisdom are equally frivolous and vicious, as those who are in two inches under water . . .
Philosophers.—A fine thing to cry to a man who does not know himself, that of himself he should come to God. And a fine thing also to say to a man who knows himself.
[P. 105.]The Philosophers. The title of this chapter is that given by Molinier to the collection of fragments contained in it. A few expressions and thoughts are from Montaigne, many more from Descartes, Discours de la Méthode.
[P. 108, l. 26.]Deliciæ meæ Prov. viii. 31.
[P. 108, l. 27.]Effundam spiritum. Joel ii. 28.
[P. 108, l. 27.]Dii estis, Ps. lxxxii. 6.
[P. 108, l. 28.]Oninis caro fœnum. Is. xl. 6.
[P. 108, l. 28.]Homo assimilatus est. Ps. xlix. 20.
[P. 108, l. 30.]Dixi in corde meo. Eccl. in. 18.
[P. 111, l. 3.]Ex senatus consultis. Seneca, Ep. xcv., sec. 30.
[P. 111, l. 4.]Nihil tam absurde. Cic. De Divin. ii. 58.
[P. 111, l. 7.]Ut omnium rerum. Seneca, Ep. cvi. But the real reading is Quemadmodum—omnium rerum.
[P. 111, l. 9.]Id maxime. Cic. De Off. i. 31.
[P. 111, l. 10.]Hos natura modos. Virg. Georg. ii. 20.
[P. 111, l. 14.]Mihi sic usus est. Ter. Hea. i. 1, 28.
[P. 111, l. 16.]falsity of their dilemma in Montaigne. Essais, l. ii. ch. xii. “Si l’âme est mortelle, il est absurde de craindre la mort, si elle est immortelle elle ne peut aller qu’en s’ameliorant.”
[P. 112, l. 24.]Felix qui potuit. Virg. Georg. ii. l. 489.
[P. 112, l. 27.]nihil mirari. Hor Epist. 1, vi. l. 1. The whole passage is,
[P. 113, l. 28.]two sects. Epicureans and Stoics.
[P. 113, l. 31.]Des Barreaux. Jacques Desbarreaux was an Epicurean poet born in Paris in 1602, died in 1673, who in his poems paraded his unbelief. Curiously enough, his only extant verses were written when he lay ill, and are addressed to God.
[P. 114, l. 9.]Epictetus concludes. Encheiridion, iv. 7.
[P. 114, l. 11.]three sects. Pascal no doubt refers the libido sentiendi to the Epicureans, the libido dominandi to the Stoics, and the libido sciendi to the dogmatic schools of Plato and Aristotle, of which Cicero always speaks as though they taught one and the same philosophy.
[P. 114, l. 17.]two inches under water, are equally drowned with those who are at the bottom.