Blaise Pascal.

Pascal's Pensées online

. (page 10 of 26)
Online LibraryBlaise PascalPascal's Pensées → online text (page 10 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


which is wounding me, and which I cannot reach."


343

The beak of the parrot, which it wipes, although it is clean.


344

Instinct and reason, marks of two natures.


345

Reason commands us far more imperiously than a master; for in disobeying
the one we are unfortunate, and in disobeying the other we are fools.


346

Thought constitutes the greatness of man.


347

Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking
reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a
drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush
him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because
he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him;
the universe knows nothing of this.

All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate
ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us
endeavour, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.


348

_A thinking reed._ - It is not from space that I must seek my dignity,
but from the government of my thought. I shall have no more if I possess
worlds. By space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an
atom; by thought I comprehend the world.


349

_Immateriality of the soul._ - Philosophers[129] who have mastered their
passions. What matter could do that?


350

_The Stoics._ - They conclude that what has been done once can be done
always, and that since the desire of glory imparts some power to those
whom it possesses, others can do likewise. There are feverish movements
which health cannot imitate.

Epictetus[130] concludes that since there are consistent Christians,
every man can easily be so.


351

Those great spiritual efforts, which the soul sometimes assays, are
things on which it does not lay hold.[131] It only leaps to them, not as
upon a throne, for ever, but merely for an instant.


352

The strength of a man's virtue must not be measured by his efforts, but
by his ordinary life.


353

I do not admire the excess of a virtue as of valour, except I see at the
same time the excess of the opposite virtue, as in Epaminondas,[132] who
had the greatest valour and the greatest kindness. For otherwise it is
not to rise, it is to fall. We do not display greatness by going to one
extreme, but in touching both at once, and filling all the intervening
space. But perhaps this is only a sudden movement of the soul from one
to the other extreme, and in fact it is ever at one point only, as in
the case of a firebrand. Be it so, but at least this indicates agility
if not expanse of soul.


354

Man's nature is not always to advance; it has its advances and retreats.

Fever has its cold and hot fits; and the cold proves as well as the hot
the greatness of the fire of fever.

The discoveries of men from age to age turn out the same. The kindness
and the malice of the world in general are the same. _Plerumque gratæ
principibus vices._[133]


355

Continuous eloquence wearies.

Princes and kings sometimes play. They are not always on their thrones.
They weary there. Grandeur must be abandoned to be appreciated.
Continuity in everything is unpleasant. Cold is agreeable, that we may
get warm.

Nature acts by progress, _itus et reditus_. It goes and returns, then
advances further, then twice as much backwards, then more forward than
ever, etc.

The tide of the sea behaves in the same manner; and so apparently does
the sun in its course.


356

The nourishment of the body is little by little. Fullness of nourishment
and smallness of substance.


357

When we would pursue virtues to their extremes on either side, vices
present themselves, which insinuate themselves insensibly there, in
their insensible journey towards the infinitely little: and vices
present themselves in a crowd towards the infinitely great, so that we
lose ourselves in them, and no longer see virtues. We find fault with
perfection itself.


358

Man is neither angel nor brute, and the unfortunate thing is that he who
would act the angel acts the brute.[134]


359

We do not sustain ourselves in virtue by our own strength, but by the
balancing of two opposed vices, just as we remain upright amidst two
contrary gales. Remove one of the vices, and we fall into the other.


360

What the Stoics propose is so difficult and foolish!

The Stoics lay down that all those who are not at the high degree of
wisdom are equally foolish and vicious, as those who are two inches
under water.


361

_The sovereign good. Dispute about the sovereign good._ - _Ut sis
contentus temetipso et ex te nascentibus bonis._[135] There is a
contradiction, for in the end they advise suicide. Oh! What a happy
life, from which we are to free ourselves as from the plague!


362

_Ex senatus-consultis et plebiscitis_ ...

To ask like passages.


363

_Ex senatus-consultis et plebiscitis scelera exercentur._ Sen. 588.[136]

_Nihil tam absurde dici potest quod non dicatur ab aliquo
philosophorum._ Divin.[137]

_Quibusdam destinatis sententiis consecrati quæ non probant coguntur
defendere._ Cic.[138]

_Ut omnium rerum sic litterarum quoque intemperantia laboramus._
Senec.[139]

_Id maxime quemque decet, quod est cujusque suum maxime._[140]

_Hos natura modos primum dedit._[141] Georg.

_Paucis opus est litteris ad bonam mentem._[142]

_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._[143] Ter.


364

_Rarum est enim ut satis se quisque vereatur._[144]

_Tot circa unum caput tumultuantes deos._[145]

_Nihil turpius quam cognitioni assertionem præcurrere._ Cic.[146]

_Nec me pudet, ut istos, fateri nescire quid nesciam._[147]

_Melius non incipient._[148]


365

_Thought._ - All the dignity of man consists in thought. Thought is
therefore by its nature a wonderful and incomparable thing. It must have
strange defects to be contemptible. But it has such, so that nothing is
more ridiculous. How great it is in its nature! How vile it is in its
defects!

But what is this thought? How foolish it is!


366

The mind of this sovereign judge of the world is not so independent that
it is not liable to be disturbed by the first din about it. The noise of
a cannon is not necessary to hinder its thoughts; it needs only the
creaking of a weathercock or a pulley. Do not wonder if at present it
does not reason well; a fly is buzzing in its ears; that is enough to
render it incapable of good judgment. If you wish it to be able to reach
the truth, chase away that animal which holds its reason in check and
disturbs that powerful intellect which rules towns and kingdoms. Here is
a comical god! _O ridicolosissimo eroe!_


367

The power of flies; they win battles,[149] hinder our soul from acting,
eat our body.


368

When it is said that heat is only the motions of certain molecules, and
light the _conatus recedendi_ which we feel,[150] it astonishes us.
What! Is pleasure only the ballet 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 sensation from the fire, that warmth which affects us in a manner
wholly different from touch, the reception of sound and light, all this
appears to us mysterious, and yet it is material like the blow of a
stone. It is true that the smallness of the spirits which enter into the
pores touches other nerves, but there are always some nerves touched.


369

Memory is necessary for all the operations of reason.


370

[Chance gives rise to thoughts, and chance removes them; no art can keep
or acquire them.

A thought has escaped me. I wanted to write it down. I write instead,
that it has escaped me.]


371

[When I was small, I hugged my book; and because it sometimes happened
to me to ... in believing I hugged it, I doubted....]


372

In writing down my thought, it sometimes escapes me; but this makes me
remember my weakness, that I constantly forget. This is as instructive
to me as my forgotten thought; for I strive only to know my nothingness.


373

_Scepticism._ - I shall here write my thoughts without order, and not
perhaps in unintentional confusion; that is true order, which will
always indicate my object by its very disorder. I should do too much
honour to my subject, if I treated it with order, since I want to show
that it is incapable of it.


374

What astonishes me most is to see that all the world is not astonished
at its own weakness. Men act seriously, and each follows his own mode of
life, not because it is in fact good to follow since it is the custom,
but as if each man knew certainly where reason and justice are. They
find themselves continually deceived, and by a comical humility think it
is their own fault, and not that of the art which they claim always to
possess. But it is well there are so many such people in the world, who
are not sceptics for the glory of scepticism, in order to show that man
is quite capable of the most extravagant opinions, since he is capable
of believing that he is not in a state of natural and inevitable
weakness, but, on the contrary, of natural wisdom. Nothing fortifies
scepticism more than that there are some who are not sceptics; if all
were so, they would be wrong.


375

[I have passed a great part of my life believing that there was justice,
and in this I was not mistaken; for there is justice according as God
has willed to reveal it to us. But I did not take it so, and this is
where I made a mistake; for I believed that our justice was essentially
just, and that I had that whereby to know and judge of it. But I have so
often found my right judgment at fault, that at last I have come to
distrust myself, and then others. I have seen changes in all nations and
men, and thus after many changes of judgment regarding true justice, I
have recognised that our nature was but in continual change, and I have
not changed since; and if I changed, I would confirm my opinion.

The sceptic Arcesilaus,[151] who became a dogmatist.]


376

This sect derives more strength from its enemies than from its friends;
for the weakness of man is far more evident in those who know it not
than in those who know it.


377

Discourses on humility are a source of pride in the vain, and of
humility in the humble. So those on scepticism cause believers to
affirm. Few men speak humbly of humility, chastely of chastity, few
doubtingly of scepticism. We are only falsehood, duplicity,
contradiction; we both conceal and disguise ourselves from ourselves.


378

_Scepticism._ - Excess, like defect of intellect, is accused of madness.
Nothing is good but mediocrity. The majority has settled that, and finds
fault with him who escapes it at whichever end. I will not oppose it. I
quite consent to put myself there, and refuse to be at the lower end,
not because it is low, but because it is an end; for I would likewise
refuse to be placed at the top. To leave the mean is to abandon
humanity. The greatness of the human soul consists in knowing how to
preserve the mean. So far from greatness consisting in leaving it, it
consists in not leaving it.


379

It is not good to have too much liberty. It is not good to have all one
wants.


380

All good maxims are in the world. We only need to apply them. For
instance, we do not doubt that we ought to risk our lives in defence of
the public good; but for religion, no.

It is true there must be inequality among men; but if this be conceded,
the door is opened not only to the highest power, but to the highest
tyranny.

We must relax our minds a little; but this opens the door to the
greatest debauchery. Let us mark the limits. There are no limits in
things. Laws would put them there, and the mind cannot suffer it.


381

When we are too young, we do not judge well; so, also, when we are too
old. If we do not think enough, or if we think too much on any matter,
we get obstinate and infatuated about it. If one considers one's work
immediately after having done it, one is entirely prepossessed in its
favour; by delaying too long, one can no longer enter into the spirit of
it. So with pictures seen from too far or too near; there is but one
exact point which is the true place wherefrom to look at them: the rest
are too near, too far, too high, or too low. Perspective determines that
point in the art of painting. But who shall determine it in truth and
morality?


382

When all is equally agitated, nothing appears to be agitated, as in a
ship. When all tend to debauchery, none appears to do so. He who stops
draws attention to the excess of others, like a fixed point.


383

The licentious tell men of orderly lives that they stray from nature's
path, while they themselves follow it; as people in a ship think those
move who are on the shore. On all sides the language is similar. We must
have a fixed point in order to judge. The harbour decides for those who
are in a ship; but where shall we find a harbour in morality?


384

Contradiction is a bad sign of truth; several things which are certain
are contradicted; several things which are false pass without
contradiction. Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the want of
contradiction a sign of truth.


385

_Scepticism._ - Each thing here is partly true and partly false.
Essential truth is not so; it is altogether pure and altogether true.
This mixture dishonours and annihilates it. Nothing is purely true, and
thus nothing is true, meaning by that pure truth. You will say it is
true that homicide is wrong. Yes; for we know well the wrong and the
false. But what will you say is good? Chastity? I say no; for the world
would come to an end. Marriage? No; continence is better. Not to kill?
No; for lawlessness would be horrible, and the wicked would kill all the
good. To kill? No; for that destroys nature. We possess truth and
goodness only in part, and mingled with falsehood and evil.


386

If we dreamt the same thing every night, it would affect us as much as
the objects we see every day. And if an artisan were sure to dream every
night for twelve hours' duration that he was a king, I believe he would
be almost as happy as a king, who should dream every night for twelve
hours on end that he was an artisan.

If we were to dream every night that we were pursued by enemies, and
harassed by these painful phantoms, or that we passed every day in
different occupations, as in making a voyage, we should suffer almost as
much as if it were real, and should fear to sleep, as we fear to wake
when we dread in fact to enter on such mishaps. And, indeed, it would
cause pretty nearly the same discomforts as the reality.

But since dreams are all different, and each single one is diversified,
what is seen in them affects us much less than what we see when awake,
because of its continuity, which is not, however, so continuous and
level as not to change too; but it changes less abruptly, except rarely,
as when we travel, and then we say, "It seems to me I am dreaming." For
life is a dream a little less inconstant.


387

[It may be that there are true demonstrations; but this is not certain.
Thus, this proves nothing else but that it is not certain that all is
uncertain, to the glory of scepticism.]


388

_Good sense._ - They are compelled to say, "You are not acting in good
faith; we are not asleep," etc. How I love 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 power of armed hands. He
is not foolish enough to declare that men are not acting in good faith,
but he punishes this bad faith with force.


389

Ecclesiastes[152] shows that man without God is in total ignorance and
inevitable misery. For it is wretched to have the wish, but not the
power. Now he would be happy and assured of some truth, and yet he can
neither know, nor desire not to know. He cannot even doubt.


390

My God! How foolish this talk is! "Would God have made the world to damn
it? Would He ask so much from persons so weak?" etc. Scepticism is the
cure for this evil, and will take down this vanity.


391

_Conversation._ - Great words: Religion, I deny it.

_Conversation._ - Scepticism helps religion.


392

_Against Scepticism._ - [... It is, then, a strange fact that we cannot
define these things without obscuring them, while we speak of them with
all assurance.] We assume that all conceive of them in the same way; but
we assume it quite gratuitously, for we have no proof of it. I see, in
truth, 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 this same fact by the same word, both saying that it has moved;
and from this conformity of application we derive a strong conviction of
a conformity of ideas. But this is not absolutely or finally convincing,
though there is enough to support a bet on the affirmative, since we
know that we often draw the same conclusions from different premisses.

This is enough, at least, to obscure the matter; not that it completely
extinguishes the natural light which assures us of these things. The
academicians[153] would have won. But this dulls it, and troubles the
dogmatists to the glory of the sceptical crowd, which consists in this
doubtful ambiguity, and in a certain doubtful dimness from which our
doubts cannot take away all the clearness, nor our own natural lights
chase away all the darkness.


393

It is a singular thing to consider that there are people in the world
who, having renounced all the laws of God and nature, have made laws for
themselves which they strictly obey, as, for instance, the soldiers of
Mahomet, robbers, heretics, etc. It is the same with logicians. It seems
that their licence must be without any limits or barriers, since they
have broken through so many that are so just and sacred.


394

All the principles of sceptics, stoics, atheists, etc., are true. But
their conclusions are false, because the opposite principles are also
true.


395

_Instinct, reason._ - We have an incapacity of proof, insurmountable by
all dogmatism. We have an idea of truth, invincible to all scepticism.


396

Two things instruct man about his whole nature; instinct and experience.


397

The greatness of man is great in that he knows himself to be miserable.
A tree does not know itself to be miserable. It is then being miserable
to know oneself to be miserable; but it is also being great to know that
one is miserable.


398

All these same miseries prove man's greatness. They are the miseries of
a great lord, of a deposed king.


399

We are not miserable without feeling it. A ruined house is not
miserable. Man only is miserable. _Ego vir videns._[154]


400

_The greatness of man._ - We have so great an idea of the soul of man
that we cannot endure being despised, or not being esteemed by any soul;
and all the happiness of men consists in this esteem.


401

_Glory._ - The brutes do not admire each other. A horse does not admire
his companion. Not that there is no rivalry between them in a race, but
that is of no consequence; for, when in the stable, the heaviest and
most ill-formed does not give up his oats to another, as men would have
others do to them. Their virtue is satisfied with itself.


402

The greatness of man even in his lust, to have known how to extract from
it a wonderful code, and to have drawn from it a picture of benevolence.


403

_Greatness._ - The reasons of effects indicate the greatness of man, in
having extracted so fair an order from lust.


404

The greatest baseness of man is the pursuit of glory. But it is also the
greatest mark of his excellence; for whatever possessions he may have on
earth, whatever health and essential comfort, he is not satisfied if he
has not the esteem of men. He values human reason so highly that,
whatever advantages he may have on earth, he is not content if he is not
also ranked highly in the judgment of man. This is the finest position
in the world. Nothing can turn him from that desire, which is the most
indelible quality of man's heart.

And those who most despise men, and put them on a level with the brutes,
yet wish to be admired and believed by men, and contradict themselves by
their own feelings; their nature, which is stronger than all, convincing
them of the greatness of man more forcibly than reason convinces them of
their baseness.


405

_Contradiction._ - Pride counterbalancing all miseries. Man either hides
his miseries, or, if he disclose them, glories in knowing them.


406

Pride counterbalances and takes away all miseries. Here is a strange
monster, and a very plain aberration. He is fallen from his place, and
is anxiously seeking it. This is what all men do. Let us see who will
have found it.


407

When malice has reason on its side, it becomes proud, and parades reason
in all its splendour. When austerity or stern choice has not arrived at
the true good, and must needs return to follow nature, it becomes proud
by reason of this return.


408

Evil is easy, and has infinite forms; good is almost unique.[155] But a
certain kind of evil is as difficult to find as what we call good; and
often on this account such particular evil gets passed off as good. An
extraordinary greatness of soul is needed in order to attain to it as
well as to good.


409

_The greatness of man._ - The greatness of man is so evident, that it is
even proved by his wretchedness. For what in animals is nature we call
in man wretchedness; by which we recognise that, his nature being now
like that of animals, he has fallen from a better nature which once was
his.

For who is unhappy at not being a king, except a deposed king? Was
Paulus Æmilius[156] unhappy at being no longer consul? On the contrary,
everybody thought him happy in having been consul, because the office
could only be held for a time. But men thought Perseus so unhappy in
being no longer king, because the condition of kingship implied his
being always king, that they thought it strange that he endured life.
Who is unhappy at having only one mouth? And who is not unhappy at
having only one eye? Probably no man ever ventured to mourn at not
having three eyes. But any one is inconsolable at having none.


410

_Perseus, King of Macedon._ - Paulus Æmilius reproached Perseus for not
killing himself.


411

Notwithstanding the sight of all our miseries, which press upon us and
take us by the throat, we have an instinct which we cannot repress, and
which lifts us up.


412

There is internal war in man between reason and the passions.

If he had only reason without passions ...

If he had only passions without reason ...

But having both, he cannot be without strife, being unable to be at
peace with the one without being at war with the other. Thus he is
always divided against, and opposed to himself.


413

This internal war of reason against the passions has made a division of
those who would have peace into two sects. The first would renounce
their passions, and become gods; the others would renounce reason, and
become brute beasts. (Des Barreaux.)[157] But neither can do so, and
reason still remains, to condemn the vileness and injustice of the
passions, and to trouble the repose of those who abandon themselves to
them; and the passions keep always alive in those who would renounce
them.


414

Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another
form of madness.


415

The nature of man may be viewed in two ways: the one according to its
end, and then he is great and incomparable; the other according to the
multitude, just as we judge of the nature of the horse and the dog,
popularly, by seeing its fleetness, _et animum arcendi_; and then man is
abject and vile. These are the two ways which make us judge of him
differently, and which occasion such disputes among philosophers.

For one denies the assumption of the other. One says, "He is not born
for this end, for all his actions are repugnant to it." The other says,
"He forsakes his end, when he does these base actions."


416

_For Port-Royal.[158] Greatness and wretchedness._ - Wretchedness being
deduced from greatness, and greatness from wretchedness, some have
inferred man's wretchedness all the more because they have taken his


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26

Online LibraryBlaise PascalPascal's Pensées → online text (page 10 of 26)