Front Page Titles (by Subject) VARIOUS THOUGHTS. - The Thoughts of Blaise Pascal
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VARIOUS THOUGHTS. - 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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MATHEMATICS, Tact.—True eloquence makes light of eloquence, true morality makes light of morality, that is to say, the morality of the judgment makes light of the morality of the intellect, which has no rules.
For perception belongs to judgment, as science belongs to the intellect. Tact is the part of judgment, mathematics of the intellect.
To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher.
The nourishment of the body is little by little, too much nourishment gives little substance.
There is an universal and essential difference between the actions of the will and all others.
The will is one of the principal organs of belief, not that it forms belief, but because things are true or false according to the side from which we regard them. The will, pleased with one rather than the other, turns the mind from the consideration of that which has the qualities it cares not to see, and thus the intellect, moving with the will, stays to regard the side it loves, and thus judges by what it sees.
The heart has its reasons, which reason knows not, as we feel in a thousand instances. I say that the heart loves the universal Being naturally, and itself naturally, according as it gives itself to each, and it hardens itself against one or the other at its own will. You have rejected one and kept the other, does reason cause your love?
It is the heart which is conscious of God, not the reason. This then is faith; God sensible to the heart, not to the reason.
Reason acts slowly and with so many views, on so many principles, which it ought always to keep before it, that it constantly slumbers and goes astray, from not having its principles at hand. The heart does not act thus, it acts in a moment, and is always ready to act. We must then place our faith in the heart, or it will be always vacillating
Men often mistake their imagination for their heart, and they believe they are converted as soon as they think of being converted.
Those who are accustomed to judge by the heart do not understand the process of reasoning, for they wish to understand at a glance, and are not accustomed to seek for principles. And others on the contrary, who are accustomed to reason by principles, do not at all understand the things of the heart, seeking principles and not being able to see at a glance.
If we wished to prove those examples by which we prove other things, we should have to take those other things to be examples. For as we always believe the difficulty is in the matter we wish to prove, we find the examples clearer and aids to demonstration.
Thus when we wish to demonstrate a general proposition, we must give the rule special to a case, but if we wish to demonstrate a particular case, we must begin with the particular rule. For we always find the thing obscure which we wish to prove, and that clear which we employ as proof; for when a matter is proposed for proof we first fill ourselves with the imagination that it is therefore obscure, and on the contrary that what is to prove it is clear, and so we understand with ease.
Far from believing a thing because you have heard it, you ought to believe nothing without having put yourself in the same position as if you had never heard it.
What should make you believe is your own assent to yourself, and the constant voice of your reason, not that of others.
Belief is so important!
A hundred contradictions might be true.
If antiquity were the rule of faith then the men of old time had no rule. If general consent, if men had perished . . .
False humility is pride.
Lift the curtain.
You may try as you please. You must either believe, or deny, or doubt.
Have we then no rule?
We judge that animals do well what they do. Is there no rule whereby to judge men?
To deny, to believe, and to doubt well are to a man what paces are to a horse.
Memory is necessary for every operation of the reason.
Memory and joy are feelings, and even mathematical propositions become so, for reason makes what is felt natural, and natural feelings are effaced by reason.
All our reasoning is reduced to yielding to feeling.
But fancy is like yet contrary to feeling, so that we cannot distinguish between these contraries. One man says that my feeling is fancy, another that his fancy is feeling. We must have a rule. Reason offers herself, but she is pliable in all directions, and so there is no rule.
Reason commands us much more imperiously than a master, for in disobeying the one we are unhappy, and in disobeying the other we are fools.
When we are accustomed to use bad reasons for proving natural effects, we do not wish to receive good reasons even when they are discovered. An example may be taken from the circulation of the blood, to give a reason why the vein swells below the ligature.
We are usually better persuaded by reasons which we have ourselves discovered, than by those which have come into the mind of others.
M. de Roannez said: “Reasons come afterwards, but at first a thing pleases or shocks me, without my knowing the reason, and yet it displeased me for the reason which I only discover later.” But I believe, not that he was displeased for those reasons which he afterwards discovered, but that those reasons were only discovered because the thing was displeasing.
The difference between the mathematical mind and the practical mind.—In the one the premisses are palpable, but removed from ordinary use, so that from want of habit it is difficult to look in that direction, but if we take the trouble to look, the premisses are fully visible, and we must have a totally incorrect mind if we draw wrong inferences from premisses so plain that it is scarce possible they should escape our notice.
But in the practical mind the premisses are taken from use and wont, and are before the eyes of every body. We have only to look that way, there is no difficulty in seeing them; it is only a question of good eyesight, but it must be good, for the premisses are so numerous and so subtle, that it is scarce possible but that some escape us. Now the omission of one premiss leads to error, thus we must have very clear sight to see all the premisses, and then an accurate mind not to draw false conclusions from known premisses.
All mathematicians would then be practical if they were clear-sighted, for they do not reason incorrectly on premisses known to them. And practical men would be mathematicians if they could turn their eyes to the premisses of mathematics to which they are unaccustomed.
The reason therefore that some practical men are not mathematical is that they cannot at all turn their attention to mathematical premisses. But the reason that mathematicians are not practical is that they do not see what is before them, and that, accustomed to the precise and distinct statements of mathematics and not reasoning till they have well examined and arranged their premisses, they are lost in practical life wherein the premisses do not admit of such arrangement, being scarcely seen, indeed they are felt rather than seen, and there is great difficulty in causing them to be felt by those who do not of themselves perceive them. They are so nice and so numerous, that a very delicate and very clear sense is needed to apprehend them, and to judge rightly and justly when they are apprehended, without as a rule being able to demonstrate them in an orderly way as in mathematics; because the premisses are not before us in the same way, and because it would be an infinite matter to undertake. We must see them at once, at one glance, and not by a process of reasoning, at least up to a certain degree. And thus it is rare that mathematicians are practical, or that practical men are mathematicians, because mathematicians wish to treat practical life mathematically; and they make themselves ridiculous, wishing to begin by definitions and premisses, a proceeding which this way of reasoning will not bear. The mind does indeed the same thing, but tacitly, naturally and without art, in a way which none can express, and only a few can feel.
Practical minds on the contrary, being thus accustomed to judge at a glance, are amazed when propositions are presented to them of which they understand nothing and the way to which is through sterile definitions and premisses, which they are not accustomed to see thus in detail, and therefore are repelled and disheartened.
But inaccurate minds are never either practical or mathematical. Mathematicians who are only mathematicians have exact minds, provided all things are clearly set before them in definitions and premisses, otherwise they are inaccurate and intolerable, for they are only accurate when the premisses are perfectly clear.
And practical men, who are only practical, cannot have the patience to condescend to first principles of things speculative and abstract, which they have never seen in the world, and to which they are wholly unaccustomed.
There are various kinds of good sense, there are some who judge correctly in a certain order of things, and are lost in others.
Some are able to draw conclusions well from a few premisses, and this shows a penetrative intellect.
Others draw conclusions well where there are many premisses.
For instance, the first easily understand the laws of hydrostatics, where the premisses are few, but the conclusions so nice, that only the greatest penetration can reach them. And these persons would perhaps not necessarily be great mathematicians, because mathematics embrace a great number of premisses, and perhaps a mind may be so formed that it searches with ease a few premisses to the bottom, yet cannot at all comprehend those matters in which there are many premisses.
There are two kinds of mind, the one able to penetrate vigorously and deeply into the conclusions of certain premisses, and these are minds true and just. The other able to comprehend a great number of premisses without confusion, and these are the minds for mathematics. The one kind has force and exactness, the other capacity. Now the one quality can exist without the other, a mind may be vigorous and narrow, or it may have great range and no strength.
When we do not know the truth of a thing, it is not amiss that there should be a common error to fix the mind of men, as for instance the moon, to which is attributed the change of seasons, the progress of diseases, etc. For the principal malady of man is that restless curiosity about matters which he can not understand, and it is not so bad for him to be mistaken, as to be so idly curious.
The way in which Epictetus, Montaigne, and Solomon de Tultie wrote, is the most usual, the most insinuating, the most easily remembered, and the most often quoted; because it is wholly composed of thoughts which arise out of the ordinary conversations of life. As when a man speaks of the vulgar error that the moon is the cause of all, we never fail to say that Solomon de Tultie says, that when we know not the truth of a matter, it is well there should be a common error, etc.; which is the thought above.
To write against those who plunged too deep into science. Descartes.
We must say in general: “This is made by figure and motion for it is true.” But to say what these are, and to compose the machine, is ridiculous. For it is useless, uncertain, and painful. And if it were true we do not think that all philosophy is worth one hour of pain.
I cannot forgive Descartes.
If an animal did by mind what it does by instinct, and if it spoke by mind what it speaks by instinct, in hunting, and warning its companions that the quarry is found or lost, it would certainly also speak in regard to those things which affect it more strongly, as for instance, “Gnaw me this cord which hurts me, and which I cannot reach.”
The story of the pike and frog of Liancourt. They do it always and never otherwise, nor any other thing of mind.
The calculating machine works results which approach nearer to thought than anything done by animals, but it does nothing which enables us to say it has any will, as animals have.
When it is said that heat is only the motion of certain molecules, and light the conatus recedendi which we feel, we are surprised. And shall we think that pleasure is but the buoyancy of our spirits? We have conceived so different an idea of it, and these sensations seem so removed from those others which we say are the same as those with which we compare them. The feeling of fire, the warmth which affects us in a manner wholly different from touch, the reception of sound and light, all this seems to us mysterious, and yet it is as material as the blow of a stone. It is true that the minuteness of the spirits which enter into the pores touch different nerves, yet nerves are always touched.
What is more absurd than to say that inanimate bodies have passion, fear, horror, that insensible bodies, without life, and even incapable of life, have passions, which presuppose at least a sensitive soul to feel them, nay more, that the object of their terror is a vacuum? What is there in a vacuum which should make them afraid? What can be more base and more ridiculous? Nor is this all; it is said they have in themselves a principle of motion to avoid a vacuum. Have they arms, legs, muscles, nerves?
How foolish is painting, which draws admiration by the resemblance of things of which we do not admire the originals.
In the same way that we injure the understanding we injure the feelings also.
The feelings and the understanding are formed by society, and are perverted by society. Thus good or bad society forms or perverts them. It is then of the first importance to know how to choose in order to form and not to pervert them, and we cannot make this choice if they be not already formed and not perverted. Thus a circle is formed, and happy are those who escape it.
Have you never seen persons, who, in order to complain of the little you make of them, bring before you the example of people in high position who esteem them? To such I answer, “Show me the merit by which you have charmed these persons, and I will esteem you too.”
The world is full of good maxims. All that is needed is their right application. For instance, no one doubts that we ought to risk our lives for the common weal, and many do so. But for Religion, none.
Nature diversifies and imitates, art imitates and diversifies.
The more intellect we have ourselves, the more originality do we discover in others. Ordinary people find no difference between men.
Since we cannot be universal, and know all that is to be known of everything, we should know a little of everything. For it is far better to know something of all than to know the whole of one thing, this universality is the best. If we can have both, still better, but if we must choose, let us choose the first. The world feels and acts on this, and the world is often a good judge.
Certain authors speaking of their works, say: “My book, my commentary, my history, etc.” They are like the middle-class people who have a small house of their own, and have “my house” always on the tongue. They would do better to say: “Our book, our commentary, our history, etc.”; because there is in them generally more of other people’s than their own.
A true friend is so great an advantage, even for the greatest lord, in order that he may speak well of them, and uphold them in their absence, that they ought to do all that is possible to have one. But they should choose well, for spite of all they may do for fools, whatever good these say of them would be useless, and they would not even speak well of them if they found themselves in the minority, for they are without authority. And thus they would abuse them in company.
“You are ungraceful, excuse me, I beg.” Without that excuse I had not known there was aught amiss. “With reverence be it spoken . . . ” The only evil is the excuse.
I always dislike such compliments as these: I have given you a great deal of trouble. I fear I am tiring you. I fear this is too long. For we either have our audience with us, or we provoke them.
Rivers are roads which move and carry us whither we wish to go.
In every action we must look beyond the action at our past, present and future state, and at others whom it affects, and see the relations of all these things. And then we shall be very careful.
In every dialogue and discourse we ought to be able to say to those who are offended, “Of what do you complain?”
There are many people who listen to the sermon as they listen to vespers.
When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace.
chiswick press:—c. whittingham and co., tooks court,
[P. 165, l. 29.]The allusion is probably to 2 Paralip. i. 14. Et fecit cos esse in urbibus quadrigarum, et cum rege in Jerusalem.
[P. 308, l. 35.]An example may be taken from the circulation of the blood. Apparently taken from Descartes, Discours sur la Méthode, pt. v., in which Descartes speaks of Harvey’s discovery.
[P. 309, l. 6.]M. de Roannez. Gouffier, Duc de Roannez, was a friend of Pascal, some seven or eight years younger than he. He was a devoted adherent of Port Royal, and died unmarried.
[P. 312, l. 3.]Salomon de Tultie. An anagram for Louis de Montalte, see p. 290, l. 9.
[P. 312, l. 22.]The story of the pike and frog. This story has hitherto escaped research.
[P. 312, l. 30.]conatus recedendi. Centrifugal force.
[P. 315, l. 18.]When a strong man armed. Luke xi. 21.