Saturday, May 17, 2008
It is difficult to decide what to say upon reading The Pensees of Blaise Pascal. The fragments, some resembling aphorisms with a few extending to several pages of prose, were left disorganized and unedited at Pascal's death.
Readers have pondered over The Pensees (literally thoughts) ever since trying to interpret them and discern some semblance of a world view from them. In my reading I also tried to comprehend the fragmentary comments and found the views of Monsieur Pascal, to the extent that I understand them, to be foreign to my own views of life. For Pascal the human condition is wretched with man's reason a frail thing on which life ultimately cannot depend. The overwhelming importance of such concepts as immortality and original sin imbue his world view with a supernatural and other-worldly outlook that is difficult to reconcile with reality. Perhaps his personal physical ailments were the source of his view that man in general shared his hatred of the human body.
Of the many thinkers who have contemplated Pascal over the years since his Pensees were left to us in 1670, Voltaire expresses thoughts close to my own when he says, "Nature does not make us unhappy all the time. Pascal always speaks like a sick man who wants the entire world to suffer."(Philosophical Letters, "Twenty-fifth Letter, On Mr. Pascal's Pensees"). For Pascal unhappiness is our lot, the corruption of the body is complete and irredeemable, self esteem is to be abhorred, god's thoughts are impenetrable and yet, we would be better off if we accept the wager that he does exist. Well I, for one, neither accept Mr. Pascal's worldview nor his wager. I look forward to continued wonder at the mysteries of existence and I celebrate the continuing progress that, weak as we may be, we humans produce with our reason.
Pensees and other writings by Blaise Pascal. Oxford University Press, New York. 1995.