Blaise Pascal.

Pascal's Pensées online

. (page 9 of 26)
Online LibraryBlaise PascalPascal's Pensées → online text (page 9 of 26)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

"Why do you kill me?"


He lives on the other side of the water.


"Why do you kill me? What! do you not live on the other side of the
water? If you lived on this side, my friend, I should be an assassin,
and it would be unjust to slay you in this manner. But since you live on
the other side, I am a hero, and it is just."


On what shall man found the order of the world which he would
govern?[109] Shall it be on the caprice of each individual? What
confusion! Shall it be on justice? Man is ignorant of it.

Certainly had he known it, he would not have established this maxim, the
most general of all that obtain among men, that each should follow the
custom of his own country. The glory of true equity would have brought
all nations under subjection, and legislators would not have taken as
their model the fancies and caprice of Persians and Germans instead of
this unchanging justice. We should have seen it set up in all the States
on earth and in all times; whereas we see neither justice nor injustice
which does not change its nature with change in climate. Three degrees
of latitude reverse all jurisprudence; a meridian decides the truth.
Fundamental laws change after a few years of possession; right has its
epochs; the entry of Saturn into the Lion marks to us the origin of
such and such a crime. A strange justice that is bounded by a river!
Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error on the other side.

Men admit that justice does not consist in these customs, but that it
resides in natural laws, common to every country. They would certainly
maintain it obstinately, if reckless chance which has distributed human
laws had encountered even one which was universal; but the farce is that
the caprice of men has so many vagaries that there is no such law.

Theft, incest, infanticide, parricide, have all had a place among
virtuous actions. Can anything be more ridiculous than that a man should
have the right to kill me because he lives on the other side of the
water, and because his ruler has a quarrel with mine, though I have none
with him?

Doubtless there are natural laws; but good reason once corrupted has
corrupted all. _Nihil amplius nostrum est;[110] quod nostrum dicimus,
artis est. Ex senatus - consultis et plebiscitis crimina exercentur.[111]
Ut olim vitiis, sic nunc legibus laboramus._[112]

The result of this confusion is that one affirms the essence of justice
to be the authority of the legislator; another, the interest of the
sovereign;[113] another, present custom,[114] and this is the most sure.
Nothing, according to reason alone, is just in itself; all changes with
time. Custom creates the whole of equity, for the simple reason that it
is accepted. It is the mystical foundation of its authority;[115]
whoever carries it back to first principles destroys it. Nothing is so
faulty as those laws which correct faults. He who obeys them because
they are just, obeys a justice which is imaginary, and not the essence
of law; it is quite self-contained, it is law and nothing more. He who
will examine its motive will find it so feeble and so trifling that if
he be not accustomed to contemplate the wonders of human imagination, he
will marvel that one century has gained for it so much pomp and
reverence. The art of opposition and of revolution is to unsettle
established customs, sounding them even to their source, to point out
their want of authority and justice. We must, it is said, get back to
the natural and fundamental laws of the State, which an unjust custom
has abolished. It is a game certain to result in the loss of all;
nothing will be just on the balance. Yet people readily lend their ear
to such arguments. They shake off the yoke as soon as they recognise it;
and the great profit by their ruin, and by that of these curious
investigators of accepted customs. But from a contrary mistake men
sometimes think they can justly do everything which is not without an
example. That is why the wisest of legislators[116] said that it was
necessary to deceive men for their own good; and another, a good
politician, _Cum veritatem qua liberetur ignoret, expedit quod
fallatur._[117] We must not see the fact of usurpation; law was once
introduced without reason, and has become reasonable. We must make it
regarded as authoritative, eternal, and conceal its origin, if we do not
wish that it should soon come to an end.


_Mine, thine._ - "This dog is mine," said those poor children; "that is
my place in the sun." Here is the beginning and the image of the
usurpation of all the earth.


When the question for consideration is whether we ought to make war, and
kill so many men - condemn so many Spaniards to death - only one man is
judge, and he is an interested party. There should be a third, who is


_Veri juris._[118] - We have it no more; if we had it, we should take
conformity to the customs of a country as the rule of justice. It is
here that, not finding justice, we have found force, etc.


_Justice, might._ - It is right that what is just should be obeyed; it is
necessary that what is strongest should be obeyed. Justice without might
is helpless; might without justice is tyrannical. Justice without might
is gainsaid, because there are always offenders; might without justice
is condemned. We must then combine justice and might, and for this end
make what is just strong, or what is strong just.

Justice is subject to dispute; might is easily recognised and is not
disputed. So we cannot give might to justice, because might has gainsaid
justice, and has declared that it is she herself who is just. And thus
being unable to make what is just strong, we have made what is strong


The only universal rules are the laws of the country in ordinary
affairs, and of the majority in others. Whence comes this? From the
might which is in them. Hence it comes that kings, who have power of a
different kind, do not follow the majority of their ministers.

No doubt equality of goods is just; but, being unable to cause might to
obey justice, men have made it just to obey might. Unable to strengthen
justice, they have justified might; so that the just and the strong
should unite, and there should be peace, which is the sovereign good.


"When a strong man armed keepeth his goods, his goods are in


Why do we follow the majority? It is because they have more reason? No,
because they have more power.

Why do we follow the ancient laws and opinions? Is it because they are
more sound? No, but because they are unique, and remove from us the root
of difference.


... It is the effect of might, not of custom. For those who are capable
of originality are few; the greater number will only follow, and refuse
glory to those inventors who seek it by their inventions. And if these
are obstinate in their wish to obtain glory, and despise those who do
not invent, the latter will call them ridiculous names, and would beat
them with a stick. Let no one then boast of his subtlety, or let him
keep his complacency to himself.


Might is the sovereign of the world, and not opinion. - But opinion makes
use of might. - It is might that makes opinion. Gentleness is beautiful
in our opinion. Why? Because he who will dance on a rope will be
alone,[120] and I will gather a stronger mob of people who will say that
it is unbecoming.


The cords which bind the respect of men to each other are in general
cords of necessity; for there must be different degrees, all men wishing
to rule, and not all being able to do so, but some being able.

Let us then imagine we see society in the process of formation. Men will
doubtless fight till the stronger party overcomes the weaker, and a
dominant party is established. But when this is once determined, the
masters, who do not desire the continuation of strife, then decree that
the power which is in their hands shall be transmitted as they please.
Some place it in election by the people, others in hereditary
succession, etc.

And this is the point where imagination begins to play its part. Till
now power makes fact; now power is sustained by imagination in a certain
party, in France in the nobility, in Switzerland in the burgesses, etc.

These cords which bind the respect of men to such and such an individual
are therefore the cords of imagination.


The Swiss are offended by being called gentlemen, and prove themselves
true plebeians in order to be thought worthy of great office.


As duchies, kingships, and magistracies are real and necessary, because
might rules all, they exist everywhere and always. But since only
caprice makes such and such a one a ruler, the principle is not
constant, but subject to variation, etc.


The chancellor is grave, and clothed with ornaments, for his position is
unreal. Not so the king, he has power, and has nothing to do with the
imagination. Judges, physicians, etc. appeal only to the imagination.


The habit of seeing kings accompanied by guards, drums, officers, and
all the paraphernalia which mechanically inspire respect and awe, makes
their countenance, when sometimes seen alone without these
accompaniments, impress respect and awe on their subjects; because we
cannot separate in thought their persons from the surroundings with
which we see them usually joined. And the world, which knows not that
this effect is the result of habit, believes that it arises by a natural
force, whence come these words, "The character of Divinity is stamped on
his countenance," etc.


_Justice._ - As custom determines what is agreeable, so also does it
determine justice.


_King and tyrant._ - I, too, will keep my thoughts secret.

I will take care on every journey.

Greatness of establishment, respect for establishment.

The pleasure of the great is the power to make people happy.

The property of riches is to be given liberally.

The property of each thing must be sought. The property of power is to

When force attacks humbug, when a private soldier takes the square cap
off a first president, and throws it out of the window.


The government founded on opinion and imagination reigns for some time,
and this government is pleasant and voluntary; that founded on might
lasts for ever. Thus opinion is the queen of the world, but might is its


Justice is what is established; and thus all our established laws will
necessarily be regarded as just without examination, since they are


_Sound opinions of the people._ - Civil wars are the greatest of
evils.[121] They are inevitable, if we wish to reward desert; for all
will say they are deserving. The evil we have to fear from a fool who
succeeds by right of birth, is neither so great nor so sure.


God has created all for Himself. He has bestowed upon Himself the power
of pain and pleasure.

You can apply it to God, or to yourself. If to God, the Gospel is the
rule. If to yourself, you will take the place of God. As God is
surrounded by persons full of charity, who ask of Him the blessings of
charity that are in His power, so ... Recognise then and learn that you
are only a king of lust, and take the ways of lust.


_The reason of effects._ - It is wonderful that men would not have me
honour a man clothed in brocade, and followed by seven or eight lackeys!
Why! He will have me thrashed, if I do not salute him. This custom is a
force. It is the same with a horse in fine trappings in comparison with
another! Montaigne[122] is a fool not to see what difference there is,
to wonder at our finding any, and to ask the reason. "Indeed," says he,
"how comes it," etc....


_Sound opinions of the people._ - To be spruce is not altogether foolish,
for it proves that a great number of people work for one. It shows by
one's hair, that one has a valet, a perfumer, etc., by one's band,
thread, lace, ... etc. Now it is not merely superficial nor merely
outward show to have many arms at command. The more arms one has, the
more powerful one is. To be spruce is to show one's power.


Deference means, "Put yourself to inconvenience." This is apparently
silly, but is quite right. For it is to say, "I would indeed put myself
to inconvenience if you required it, since indeed I do so when it is of
no service to you." Deference further serves to distinguish the great.
Now if deference was displayed by sitting in an arm-chair, we should
show deference to everybody, and so no distinction would be made; but,
being put to inconvenience, we distinguish very well.


He has four lackeys.


How rightly do we distinguish men by external appearances rather than by
internal qualities! Which of us two shall have precedence? Who will give
place to the other? The least clever. But I am as clever as he. We
should have to fight over this. He has four lackeys, and I have only
one. This can be seen; we have only to count. It falls to me to yield,
and I am a fool if I contest the matter. By this means we are at peace,
which is the greatest of boons.


The most unreasonable things in the world become most reasonable,
because of the unruliness of men. What is less reasonable than to choose
the eldest son of a queen to rule a State? We do not choose as captain
of a ship the passenger who is of the best family.

This law would be absurd and unjust; but because men are so themselves,
and always will be so, it becomes reasonable and just. For whom will men
choose, as the most virtuous and able? We at once come to blows, as each
claims to be the most virtuous and able. Let us then attach this quality
to something indisputable. This is the king's eldest son. That is clear,
and there is no dispute. Reason can do no better, for civil war is the
greatest of evils.


Children are astonished to see their comrades respected.


To be of noble birth is a great advantage. In eighteen years it places a
man within the select circle, known and respected, as another would have
merited in fifty years. It is a gain of thirty years without trouble.


What is the Ego?

Suppose a man puts himself at a window to see those who pass by. If I
pass by, can I say that he placed himself there to see me? No; for he
does not think of me in particular. But does he who loves someone on
account of beauty really love that person? No; for the small-pox, which
will kill beauty without killing the person, will cause him to love her
no more.

And if one loves me for my judgment, memory, he does not love _me_, for
I can lose these qualities without losing myself. Where, then, is this
Ego, if it be neither in the body nor in the soul? And how love the body
or the soul, except for these qualities which do not constitute _me_,
since they are perishable? For it is impossible and would be unjust to
love the soul of a person in the abstract, and whatever qualities might
be therein. We never, then, love a person, but only qualities.

Let us, then, jeer no more at those who are honoured on account of rank
and office; for we love a person only on account of borrowed qualities.


The people have very sound opinions, for example:

1. In having preferred diversion and hunting to poetry. The half-learned
laugh at it, and glory in being above the folly of the world; but the
people are right for a reason which these do not fathom.

2. In having distinguished men by external marks, as birth or wealth.
The world again exults in showing how unreasonable this is; but it is
very reasonable. Savages laugh at an infant king.[123]

3. In being offended at a blow, on in desiring glory so much. But it is
very desirable on account of the other essential goods which are joined
to it; and a man who has received a blow, without resenting it, is
overwhelmed with taunts and indignities.

4. In working for the uncertain; in sailing on the sea; in walking over
a plank.


Montaigne is wrong. Custom should be followed only because it is custom,
and not because it is reasonable or just. But people follow it for this
sole reason, that they think it just. Otherwise they would follow it no
longer, although it were the custom; for they will only submit to reason
or justice. Custom without this would pass for tyranny; but the
sovereignty of reason and justice is no more tyrannical than that of
desire. They are principles natural to man.

It would therefore be right to obey laws and customs, because they are
laws; but we should know that there is neither truth nor justice to
introduce into them, that we know nothing of these, and so must follow
what is accepted. By this means we would never depart from them. But
people cannot accept this doctrine; and, as they believe that truth can
be found, and that it exists in law and custom, they believe them, and
take their antiquity as a proof of their truth, and not simply of their
authority apart from truth. Thus they obey laws, but they are liable to
revolt when these are proved to be valueless; and this can be shown of
all, looked at from a certain aspect.


_Injustice._ - It is dangerous to tell the people that the laws are
unjust; for they obey them only because they think them just. Therefore
it is necessary to tell them at the same time that they must obey them
because they are laws, just as they must obey superiors, not because
they are just, but because they are superiors. In this way all sedition
is prevented, if this can be made intelligible, and it be understood
what is the proper definition of justice.


The world is a good judge of things, for it is in natural ignorance,
which is man's true state.[124] The sciences have two extremes which
meet. The first is the pure natural ignorance in which all men find
themselves at birth. The other extreme is that reached by great
intellects, who, having run through all that men can know, find they
know nothing, and come back again to that same ignorance from which they
set out; but this is a learned ignorance which is conscious of itself.
Those between the two, who have departed from natural ignorance and not
been able to reach the other, have some smattering of this vain
knowledge, and pretend to be wise. These trouble the world, and are bad
judges of everything. The people and the wise constitute the world;
these despise it, and are despised. They judge badly of everything, and
the world judges rightly of them.


_The reason of effects._ - Continual alternation of pro and con.

We have then shown that man is foolish, by the estimation he makes of
things which are not essential; and all these opinions are destroyed. We
have next shown that all these opinions are very sound, and that thus,
since all these vanities are well founded, the people are not so foolish
as is said. And so we have destroyed the opinion which destroyed that of
the people.

But we must now destroy this last proposition, and show that it remains
always true that the people are foolish, though their opinions are
sound; because they do not perceive the truth where it is, and, as they
place it where it is not, their opinions are always very false and very


_The reason of effects._ - The weakness of man is the reason why so many
things are considered fine, as to be good at playing the lute. It is
only an evil because of our weakness.


The power of kings is founded on the reason and on the folly of the
people, and specially on their folly. The greatest and most important
thing in the world has weakness for its foundation, and this foundation
is wonderfully sure; for there is nothing more sure than this, that the
people will be weak. What is based on sound reason is very ill founded,
as the estimate of wisdom.


We can only think of Plato and Aristotle in grand academic robes. They
were honest men, like others, laughing with their friends, and when they
diverted themselves with writing their _Laws_ and the _Politics_, they
did it as an amusement. That part of their life was the least
philosophic and the least serious; the most philosophic was to live
simply and quietly. If they wrote on politics, it was as if laying down
rules for a lunatic asylum; and if they presented the appearance of
speaking of a great matter, it was because they knew that the madmen, to
whom they spoke, thought they were kings and emperors. They entered into
their principles in order to make their madness as little harmful as


Tyranny consists in the desire of universal power beyond its scope.

There are different assemblies of the strong, the fair, the sensible,
the pious, in which each man rules at home, not elsewhere. And sometimes
they meet, and the strong and the fair foolishly fight as to who shall
be master, for their mastery is of different kinds. They do not
understand one another, and their fault is the desire to rule
everywhere. Nothing can effect this, not even might, which is of no use
in the kingdom of the wise, and is only mistress of external actions.

_Tyranny_ - ... So these expressions are false and tyrannical: "I am
fair, therefore I must be feared. I am strong, therefore I must be
loved. I am ..."

Tyranny is the wish to have in one way what can only be had in another.
We render different duties to different merits; the duty of love to the
pleasant; the duty of fear to the strong; the duty of belief to the

We must render these duties; it is unjust to refuse them, and unjust to
ask others. And so it is false and tyrannical to say, "He is not strong,
therefore I will not esteem him; he is not able, therefore I will not
fear him."


Have you never seen people who, in order to complain of the little fuss
you make about them, parade before you the example of great men who
esteem them? In answer I reply to them, "Show me the merit whereby you
have charmed these persons, and I also will esteem you."


_The reason of effects._ - Lust and force are the source of all our
actions; lust causes voluntary actions, force involuntary ones.


_The reason of effects._ - It is then true to say that all the world is
under a delusion; for, although the opinions of the people are sound,
they are not so as conceived by them, since they think the truth to be
where it is not. Truth is indeed in their opinions, but not at the point
where they imagine it. [Thus] it is true that we must honour noblemen,
but not because noble birth is real superiority, etc.


_The reason of effects._ - We must keep our thought secret, and judge
everything by it, while talking like the people.


_The reason of effects._ - Degrees. The people honour persons of high
birth. The semi-learned despise them, saying that birth is not a
personal, but a chance superiority. The learned honour them, not for
popular reasons, but for secret reasons. Devout persons, who have more
zeal than knowledge, despise them, in spite of that consideration which
makes them honoured by the learned, because they judge them by a new
light which piety gives them. But perfect Christians honour them by
another and higher light. So arise a succession of opinions for and
against, according to the light one has.


True Christians nevertheless comply with folly, not because they respect
folly, but the command of God, who for the punishment of men has made
them subject to these follies. _Omnis creatura subjecta est
vanitati.[125] Liberabitur._[126] Thus Saint Thomas[127] explains the
passage in Saint James on giving place to the rich, that if they do it
not in the sight of God, they depart from the command of religion.




I can well conceive a man without hands, feet, head (for it is only
experience which teaches us that the head is more necessary than feet).
But I cannot conceive man without thought; he would be a stone or a


The arithmetical machine produces effects which approach nearer to
thought than all the actions of animals. But it does nothing which would
enable us to attribute will to it, as to the animals.


The account of the pike and frog of Liancourt.[128] They do it always,
and never otherwise, nor any other thing showing mind.


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 in warning its mates
that the prey is found or lost; it would indeed also speak in regard to
those things which affect it closer, as example, "Gnaw me this cord

Online LibraryBlaise PascalPascal's Pensées → online text (page 9 of 26)