Blaise Pascal.

Pascal's Pensées online

. (page 7 of 26)
Online LibraryBlaise PascalPascal's Pensées → online text (page 7 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


in every respect from that good breeding which they seek, that they
would be more likely to correct than to pervert those who had an
inclination to follow them. And indeed, make them give an account of
their opinions, and of the reasons which they have for doubting
religion, and they will say to you things so feeble and so petty, that
they will persuade you of the contrary. The following is what a person
one day said to such a one very appositely: "If you continue to talk in
this manner, you will really make me religious." And he was right, for
who would not have a horror of holding opinions in which he would have
such contemptible persons as companions!

Thus those who only feign these opinions would be very unhappy, if they
restrained their natural feelings in order to make themselves the most
conceited of men. If, at the bottom of their heart, they are troubled at
not having more light, let them not disguise the fact; this avowal will
not be shameful. The only shame is to have none. Nothing reveals more an
extreme weakness of mind than not to know the misery of a godless man.
Nothing is more indicative of a bad disposition of heart than not to
desire the truth of eternal promises. Nothing is more dastardly than to
act with bravado before God. Let them then leave these impieties to
those who are sufficiently ill-bred to be really capable of them. Let
them at least be honest men, if they cannot be Christians. Finally, let
them recognise that there are two kinds of people one can call
reasonable; those who serve God with all their heart because they know
Him, and those who seek Him with all their heart because they do not
know Him.

But as for those who live without knowing Him and without seeking Him,
they judge themselves so little worthy of their own care, that they are
not worthy of the care of others; and it needs all the charity of the
religion which they despise, not to despise them even to the point of
leaving them to their folly. But because this religion obliges us always
to regard them, so long as they are in this life, as capable of the
grace which can enlighten them, and to believe that they may, in a
little time, be more replenished with faith than we are, and that, on
the other hand, we may fall into the blindness wherein they are, we must
do for them what we would they should do for us if we were in their
place, and call upon them to have pity upon themselves, and to take at
least some steps in the endeavour to find light. Let them give to
reading this some of the hours which they otherwise employ so uselessly;
whatever aversion they may bring to the task, they will perhaps gain
something, and at least will not lose much. But as for those who bring
to the task perfect sincerity and a real desire to meet with truth,
those I hope will be satisfied and convinced of the proofs of a religion
so divine, which I have here collected, and in which I have followed
somewhat after this order ...


195

Before entering into the proofs of the Christian religion, I find it
necessary to point out the sinfulness of those men who live in
indifference to the search for truth in a matter which is so important
to them, and which touches them so nearly.

Of all their errors, this doubtless is the one which most convicts them
of foolishness and blindness, and in which it is easiest to confound
them by the first glimmerings of common sense, and by natural feelings.

For it is not to be doubted that the duration of this life is but a
moment; that the state of death is eternal, whatever may be its nature;
and that thus all our actions and thoughts must take such different
directions according to the state of that eternity, that it is
impossible to take one step with sense and judgment, unless we regulate
our course by the truth of that point which ought to be our ultimate
end.

There is nothing clearer than this; and thus, according to the
principles of reason, the conduct of men is wholly unreasonable, if they
do not take another course.

On this point, therefore, we condemn those who live without thought of
the ultimate end of life, who let themselves be guided by their own
inclinations and their own pleasures without reflection and without
concern, and, as if they could annihilate eternity by turning away their
thought from it, think only of making themselves happy for the moment.

Yet this eternity exists, and death, which must open into it, and
threatens them every hour, must in a little time infallibly put them
under the dreadful necessity of being either annihilated or unhappy for
ever, without knowing which of these eternities is for ever prepared for
them.

This is a doubt of terrible consequence. They are in peril of eternal
woe; and thereupon, as if the matter were not worth the trouble, they
neglect to inquire whether this is one of those opinions which people
receive with too credulous a facility, or one of those which, obscure in
themselves, have a very firm, though hidden, foundation. Thus they know
not whether there be truth or falsity in the matter, nor whether there
be strength or weakness in the proofs. They have them before their eyes;
they refuse to look at them; and in that ignorance they choose all that
is necessary to fall into this misfortune if it exists, to await death
to make trial of it, yet to be very content in this state, to make
profession of it, and indeed to boast of it. Can we think seriously on
the importance of this subject without being horrified at conduct so
extravagant?

This resting in ignorance is a monstrous thing, and they who pass their
life in it must be made to feel its extravagance and stupidity, by
having it shown to them, so that they may be confounded by the sight of
their folly. For this is how men reason, when they choose to live in
such ignorance of what they are, and without seeking enlightenment. "I
know not," they say ...


196

Men lack heart; they would not make a friend of it.


197

To be insensible to the extent of despising interesting things, and to
become insensible to the point which interests us most.


198

The sensibility of man to trifles, and his insensibility to great
things, indicates a strange inversion.


199

Let us imagine a number of men in chains, and all condemned to death,
where some are killed each day in the sight of the others, and those who
remain see their own fate in that of their fellows, and wait their turn,
looking at each other sorrowfully and without hope. It is an image of
the condition of men.


200

A man in a dungeon, ignorant whether his sentence be pronounced, and
having only one hour to learn it, but this hour enough, if he know that
it is pronounced, to obtain its repeal, would act unnaturally in
spending that hour, not in ascertaining his sentence, but in playing
piquet. So it is against nature that man, etc. It is making heavy the
hand of God.

Thus not only the zeal of those who seek Him proves God, but also the
blindness of those who seek Him not.


201

All the objections of this one and that one only go against themselves,
and not against religion. All that infidels say ...


202

[From those who are in despair at being without faith, we see that God
does not enlighten them; but as to the rest, we see there is a God who
makes them blind.]


203

_Fascinatio nugacitatis._[87] - That passion may not harm us, let us act
as if we had only eight hours to live.


204

If we ought to devote eight hours of life, we ought to devote a hundred
years.


205

When I consider the short duration of my life, swallowed up in the
eternity before and after, the little space which I fill, and even can
see, engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces of which I am
ignorant, and which know me not, I am frightened, and am astonished at
being here rather than there; for there is no reason why here rather
than there, why now rather than then. Who has put me here? By whose
order and direction have this place and time been allotted to me?
_Memoria hospitis unius diei prætereuntis._[88]


206

The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me.


207

How many kingdoms know us not!


208

Why is my knowledge limited? Why my stature? Why my life to one hundred
years rather than to a thousand? What reason has nature had for giving
me such, and for choosing this number rather than another in the
infinity of those from which there is no more reason to choose one than
another, trying nothing else?


209

Art thou less a slave by being loved and favoured by thy master? Thou
art indeed well off, slave. Thy master favours thee; he will soon beat
thee.


210

The last act is tragic, however happy all the rest of the play is; at
the last a little earth is thrown upon our head, and that is the end for
ever.


211

We are fools to depend upon the society of our fellow-men. Wretched as
we are, powerless as we are, they will not aid us; we shall die alone.
We should therefore act as if we were alone, and in that case should we
build fine houses, etc.? We should seek the truth without hesitation;
and, if we refuse it, we show that we value the esteem of men more than
the search for truth.


212

_Instability._[89] - It is a horrible thing to feel all that we possess
slipping away.


213

Between us and heaven or hell there is only life, which is the frailest
thing in the world.


214

_Injustice._ - That presumption should be joined to meanness is extreme
injustice.


215

To fear death without danger, and not in danger, for one must be a man.


216

Sudden death alone is feared; hence confessors stay with lords.


217

An heir finds the title-deeds of his house. Will he say, "Perhaps they
are forged?" and neglect to examine them?


218

_Dungeon._ - I approve of not examining the opinion of Copernicus; but
this...! It concerns all our life to know whether the soul be mortal or
immortal.


219

It is certain that the mortality or immortality of the soul must make an
entire difference to morality. And yet philosophers have constructed
their ethics independently of this: they discuss to pass an hour.

Plato, to incline to Christianity.


220

The fallacy of philosophers who have not discussed the immortality of
the soul. The fallacy of their dilemma in Montaigne.


221

Atheists ought to say what is perfectly evident; now it is not perfectly
evident that the soul is material.


222

_Atheists._ - What reason have they for saying that we cannot rise from
the dead? What is more difficult, to be born or to rise again; that what
has never been should be, or that what has been should be again? Is it
more difficult to come into existence than to return to it? Habit makes
the one appear easy to us; want of habit makes the other impossible. A
popular way of thinking!

Why cannot a virgin bear a child? Does a hen not lay eggs without a
cock? What distinguishes these outwardly from others? And who has told
us that the hen may not form the germ as well as the cock?


223

What have they to say against the resurrection, and against the
child-bearing of the Virgin? Which is the more difficult, to produce a
man or an animal, or to reproduce it? And if they had never seen any
species of animals, could they have conjectured whether they were
produced without connection with each other?


224

How I hate these follies of not believing in the Eucharist, etc.! If the
Gospel be true, if Jesus Christ be God, what difficulty is there?


225

Atheism shows strength of mind, but only to a certain degree.


226

Infidels, who profess to follow reason, ought to be exceedingly strong
in reason. What say they then? "Do we not see," say they, "that the
brutes live and die like men, and Turks like Christians? They have their
ceremonies, their prophets, their doctors, their saints, their monks,
like us," etc. (Is this contrary to Scripture? Does it not say all
this?)

If you care but little to know the truth, here is enough of it to leave
you in repose. But if you desire with all your heart to know it, it is
not enough; look at it in detail. This would be sufficient for a
question in philosophy; but not here, where it concerns your all. And
yet, after a trifling reflection of this kind, we go to amuse ourselves,
etc. Let us inquire of this same religion whether it does not give a
reason for this obscurity; perhaps it will teach it to us.


227

_Order by dialogues._ - What ought I to do? I see only darkness
everywhere. Shall I believe I am nothing? Shall I believe I am God?

"All things change and succeed each other." You are mistaken; there
is ...


228

Objection of atheists: "But we have no light."


229

This is what I see and what troubles me. I look on all sides, and I see
only darkness everywhere. Nature presents to me nothing which is not
matter of doubt and concern. If I saw nothing there which revealed a
Divinity, I would come to a negative conclusion; if I saw everywhere the
signs of a Creator, I would remain peacefully in faith. But, seeing too
much to deny and too little to be sure, I am in a state to be pitied;
wherefore I have a hundred time wished that if a God maintains nature,
she should testify to Him unequivocally, and that, if the signs she
gives are deceptive, she should suppress them altogether; that she
should say everything or nothing, that I might see which cause I ought
to follow. Whereas in my present state, ignorant of what I am or of what
I ought to do, I know neither my condition nor my duty. My heart
inclines wholly to know where is the true good, in order to follow it;
nothing would be too dear to me for eternity.

I envy those whom I see living in the faith with such carelessness, and
who make such a bad use of a gift of which it seems to me I would make
such a different use.


230

It is incomprehensible that God should exist, and it is incomprehensible
that He should not exist; that the soul should be joined to the body,
and that we should have no soul; that the world should be created, and
that it should not be created, etc.; that original sin should be, and
that it should not be.


231

Do you believe it to be impossible that God is infinite, without
parts? - Yes. I wish therefore to show you an infinite and indivisible
thing. It is a point moving everywhere with an infinite velocity; for it
is one in all places, and is all totality in every place.

Let this effect of nature, which previously seemed to you impossible,
make you know that there may be others of which you are still ignorant.
Do not draw this conclusion from your experiment, that there remains
nothing for you to know; but rather that there remains an infinity for
you to know.


232

Infinite movement, the point which fills everything, the moment of rest;
infinite without quantity, indivisible and infinite.


233

_Infinite_ - _nothing._ - Our soul is cast into a body, where it finds
number, time, dimension. Thereupon it reasons, and calls this nature,
necessity, and can believe nothing else.

Unity joined to infinity adds nothing to it, no more than one foot to an
infinite measure. The finite is annihilated in the presence of the
infinite, and becomes a pure nothing. So our spirit before God, so our
justice before 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 vast like His compassion. Now justice to the
outcast is less vast, and ought less to offend our feelings than mercy
towards the elect.

We know that there is an infinite, and are ignorant of its nature. As we
know it to be false that numbers are finite, it is therefore true that
there is an infinity in number. But we do not know what it is. It is
false that it is even, it is false that it is odd; for the addition of a
unit can make no change in its nature. Yet it is a number, and every
number is odd or even (this is certainly true of every finite number).
So we may well know that there is a God without knowing what He is. Is
there not one substantial truth, seeing there are so many things which
are not the truth itself?

We know then the existence and nature of the finite, because we also are
finite and have extension. We know the existence of the infinite, and
are ignorant of its nature, because it has extension like us, but not
limits like us. But we know neither the existence nor the nature of God,
because He has neither extension nor limits.

But by faith we know His existence; in glory we shall know His nature.
Now, I have already shown that we may well know the existence of a
thing, without knowing its nature.

Let us now speak according to natural lights.

If there is a God, He is infinitely incomprehensible, since, having
neither parts nor limits, He has no affinity 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 decision of the question? Not we, who have no
affinity to Him.

Who then will blame Christians for not being able to give a reason for
their belief, since they profess a religion for which they cannot give a
reason? They declare, in expounding it to the world, that it is a
foolishness, _stultitiam_;[90] and then you complain that they do not
prove it! If they proved it, they would not keep their word; it is in
lacking proofs, 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 forward 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 decide nothing
here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being
played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails
will turn up. What will you wager? According to reason, you can do
neither the one thing nor the other; according to reason, you can defend
neither of the propositions.

Do not then reprove for error those who have made a choice; for you know
nothing about it. "No, but I blame them for having made, not this
choice, but a choice; for again both he who chooses heads and he who
chooses tails are equally at fault, they are both in the wrong. The true
course is not to wager at all."

Yes; but you must wager. It is not optional. You are embarked. Which
will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see
which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the
good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your
knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun,
error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather
than the other, since you must of necessity choose. This is one point
settled. But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in
wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain,
you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without
hesitation that He is. - "That is very fine. Yes, I must wager; but I may
perhaps wager too much." - Let us see. Since there is an equal risk of
gain and of loss, if you had only to gain two lives, instead of one, you
might still wager. But if there were three lives to gain, you would have
to play (since you are under the necessity of playing), and you would be
imprudent, when you are forced to play, not to chance your life to gain
three at a game where there is an equal risk of loss and gain. But there
is an eternity of life and happiness. And this being so, if there were
an infinity of chances, of which one only would be for you, you would
still be right in wagering one to win two, and you would act stupidly,
being obliged to play, by refusing to stake one life against three at a
game in which out of an infinity of chances there is one for you, if
there were an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain. But there is
here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain
against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is
finite. It is all divided; wherever the infinite is and there is not an
infinity of chances of loss against that of gain, there is no time to
hesitate, you must give all. And thus, when one is forced to play, he
must renounce reason to preserve his life, rather than risk it for
infinite gain, as likely to happen as the loss of nothingness.

For it is no use to say it is uncertain if we will gain, and it is
certain that we risk, and that the infinite distance between the
_certainty_ of what is staked and the _uncertainty_ of what will be
gained, equals the finite good which is certainly staked against the
uncertain infinite. It is not so, as every player stakes a certainty to
gain an uncertainty, and yet he stakes a finite certainty to gain a
finite uncertainty, without transgressing against reason. There is not
an infinite distance between the certainty staked and the uncertainty of
the gain; that is untrue. In truth, there is an infinity between the
certainty of gain and the certainty of loss. But the uncertainty of the
gain is proportioned to the certainty of the stake according to the
proportion of the chances of gain and loss. Hence it comes that, if
there are as many risks on one side as on the other, the course is to
play even; and then the certainty of the stake is equal to the
uncertainty of the gain, so far is it from fact that there is an
infinite distance between them. And so our proposition is of infinite
force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal
risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain. This is
demonstrable; and if men are capable of any truths, this is one.

"I confess it, I admit it. But, still, is there no means of seeing the
faces of the cards?" - Yes, Scripture and the rest, etc. "Yes, but I have
my hands tied and my mouth closed; I am forced to wager, and am not
free. I am not released, and am so made that I cannot believe. What,
then, would you have me do?"

True. But at least learn your inability to believe, since reason brings
you to this, and yet you cannot believe. Endeavour then to convince
yourself, not by increase of proofs of God, but by the abatement of your
passions. You would like to attain faith, and do not know the way; you
would like to cure yourself of unbelief, and ask the remedy for it.
Learn of those who have been bound like you, and who now stake all their
possessions. These are people who know the way which you would follow,
and who are cured of an ill of which you would be cured. Follow the way
by which they began; by acting as if they believed, taking the holy
water, having masses said, etc. Even this will naturally make you
believe, and deaden your acuteness. - "But this is what I am afraid
of." - And why? What have you to lose?

But to show you that this leads you there, it is this which will lessen
the passions, which are your stumbling-blocks.

_The end of this discourse._ - Now, what harm will befall you in taking
this side? You will be faithful, honest, humble, grateful, generous, a
sincere friend, truthful. Certainly you will not have those poisonous
pleasures, glory and luxury; but will you not have others? I will tell
you that you will thereby gain in this life, and that, at each step you
take on this road, you will see so great certainty of gain, so much
nothingness in what you risk, that you will at last recognise that you
have wagered for something certain and infinite, for which you have
given nothing.

"Ah! This discourse transports me, charms me," etc.

If this discourse pleases you and seems impressive, know that it is
made by a man who has knelt, both before and after it, in prayer to that
Being, infinite and without parts, before whom he lays all he has, for
you also to lay before Him all you have for your own good and for His
glory, that so strength may be given to lowliness.


234

If we must not act save on a certainty, we ought not to act on religion,
for it is not certain. But how many things we do on an uncertainty, sea
voyages, battles! I say then we must do nothing at all, for nothing is
certain, and that there is more certainty in religion than there is as
to whether we may see to-morrow; for it is not certain that we may see
to-morrow, and it is certainly possible that we may not see it. We
cannot say as much about religion. It is not certain that it is; but who
will venture to say that it is certainly possible that it is not? Now
when we work for to-morrow, and so on an uncertainty, we act reasonably;



Online LibraryBlaise PascalPascal's Pensées → online text (page 7 of 26)