Customer Reviews: Pascal's Pensees
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VINE VOICEon February 17, 2011
Since this is a Kindle freebie, it is hard to have too high of expectations, but this really is a very basic edition. There are no hyperlinks in the table of contents or to end notes. The good new is that the text was transferred without any obvious errors.

This is taken from the 1958 edition published as a Dutton paperback. It does include an excellent introduction to Pascal and this book by T. S. Eliot.

Pascal is most famous as a scientist, but as with many famous scientists of that era, he was deeply religious and was a defender of his faith. This book was his attempt at a Christian apologetic. He has two main objects, to prove that man is nothing without God, and also to prove by the scriptures that Jesus is the redeemer of mankind.

This was not a finished work, but is mainly his notes that were compiled after his death. As a result, sometimes it reads a little disjointed with some incomplete thoughts and some jumping around.

Overall, he had some profound thoughts mixed with things I would consider trivial. He had obvious Catholic biases (he was French), and spent some time defending Catholic dogmas like transubstantiation. I found this to be an interesting work, but nothing that I would want to re-read for its great wisdom.

I recommend to those that want to read this work to consider another edition that has hyperlinks. In a work like this, I find the end notes to be useful (this edition did have useful end notes, but they were hard to get to).
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on May 4, 2013
Atheists sometime do, but purely out of context. Christians frequently. This brilliant Mathematician who invented the calculator and barometer and who made significant contributions to geometry by age 13 was a devout Christian. The Penses are thoughts in isolation. I particularly liked his exposition of the Old Testament types. He understood very well the foreshadowing of the Messiah and properly referred to Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. Unlike some of his contemporaries, he revered and understood the Jews as God's chosen people. On other topics, his philosophical dislike of Montaigne and Rousseau. Of course the very brilliant Pascal's Wager which every atheist must consider:

Pascal's wager:

Man: Christians profess a religion for which they cannot give a reason and even declare that any attempt to do so would be foolishness.


Man: What do you mean?
Since God is infinitely incomprehensible. Then understanding him by means of reason is a contradiction in terms.
Is it not because our reason is limited that we should have a limited idea of God?

God is, or he is not.
Reason can decide nothing here. Except to admit there is an infinity of things beyond understanding.
Are you not a skeptic? because skeptics know man has a deep need for certitude,
And a man like you wouldn't be satisfied with less,
Nor dogmatic, because we all know that life is uncertain and in constant flux.
Where does that leave us?
God is or He is not.
To which side shall you incline?
Since this game could be played forever without outcome, you must wager.
It is not optional, you are embarked
But neither to the reason nor to the heart.
Is it satisfying to wager on what is finite?
Because if you wager on what is finite and limited.
And win, you gain nothing.
But if you lose, you lose it all.
If instead you wager on the infinite
And win, you gain all;
But if you lose, you lose nothing.

Man: But aren't we still uncertain?
Pascal: Yes, of course, but you hope.
And instead of counting only on your own strength
And risking despair,
You place your hope in the reality of a superior existence.
Man: And if I lose?

And if you lose?
You have fought the good fight and will have become a charitable and sincere friend.
And, in the meantime, God might reveal himself to you.
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on June 16, 2013
Just a quick update on this kindle version -- it now has an active table of contents, as well as links to the notes. Great free version!
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on February 17, 2011
Pascal's Pensées is that one book I'd want if stranded on a desert island. It has page after page of short wisdoms each that you could contemplate for days, e.g., within each man is a God-shaped void. I've been working my way through this book for the past 30 years.

This review is included on the new listmania Christian-themed read overs.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon November 25, 2014
I originally downloaded this Kindle freebie in June, 2012, in an excess of new-Kindle freebie-grabbing enthusiasm. Before starting it this week I looked at the Amazon site and noted that the Kindle freebie was reported to be much improved, so I downloaded that. Tremendous improvement. The earlier Kindle freebie had no active notes, no active Table of Contents, and sloppy formatting that ran off the bottom of the page and so on. The Kindle freebie that is now available has active notes, active Contents, and a very crisp, sharp and easy to follow format. So, if you have an old Kindle copy residing on your Kindle you might want to download the new one, which is also free. (You might also want to reload other legacy Kindle freebies, because who knows how many other quirkily formatted books have now been improved.)

In any event, both the old and the new Kindle freebies are based on the 1958 E.P. Dutton & Co. paperback edition of "Pascal's Pensees". This edition opened with a tremendously interesting, illuminating and rewarding introduction by T.S. Eliot. That Introduction remains in this Kindle copy. It is a minor masterpiece of analysis and explanation and sets the Pensees precisely in the context of Christian apology, French literary history, and Pascal's own life. It's actually worth reading just on its own.

As to the body of the work, if you know the Pensees you don't need my commentary. If you don't know them, well this book, between the Eliot Introduction and the sharp formatting, is a wonderful way to be introduced. Some people find the whole work to just be an interesting Christian sidelight while others study it intensely. It is certainly a remarkable and generally accessible work and is accordingly worth looking at. If this free taste intrigues you and you want to look further, there are lots of books that present the Pensees in full with notes, explanations, and commentary.

So, for study or browsing, this is a goodie.
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on August 11, 2014
This edition now has active table of contents and hyperlinks to footnotes. Worked fine for me.

Enjoyed the intro by TS Elliott. Explains that Pascal grew up working to understand the way things work, like Maxwell. Comments on the battle Pascal is fighting in his writing with Montaigne. Montaigne is the doubter in Everyman, even Pascal. The mathematical genius unites with the passionate believer to create a work 'that belongs to the history of humanity'. As he notes, 'it must be remembered that he counts as one of the greatest physicists and mathematicians of all time'.

Pascal's writing sounds current to the modern ear, since the scientific world that was planted then is now in full bloom. He is writing to his contemporaries, especially the devotees of scientific rationalism. It helps to place him in his context. Descartes and Galileo are alive, Newton is born when Pascal is 20. The amazing power of mathematical science is sweeping the intellectual world. Pascal is a mathematical genius from childhood. He grows up in this fascinating new world and is a player. Young, smart, friends with the leading lights of France, theatre, parties, rich, finding his place with the prominent mathematicians of Europe, life is good.

His sister becomes a nun. More, she converts to Jansenism, a Calvinistic form of Catholicism. Strict, moral, serious, disciplined and studious. She attempts to convert him. He listens and is moved, but not very far. He becomes sick. A doctor spends time treating him. He is a Jansenist. More listening. One day he experiences a mental firestorm. He dedicates himself without reservation to the Christian God.

His memory and breadth of reading is prodigious. He was believed to have memorized the Bible. He quotes from most of the books of the Bible in these notes. Also, ancient authors such as Livy, Cicero, Augustine, Horace, Josephus, Philo, Eusebius, Thomas Aquinas, etc. His goal is the persuade the reader of the divine inspiration of the Bible and that the Christian faith is the truth from God

He presents Daniel's prophesy concerning the seventy weeks of years and the appearance of the messiah and the destruction of the temple as a proof of Jesus as the messiah and confirmation of Bible truth. He explains Daniel's prophesies on the march of the world powers and the fulfillment in history. This is just one of dozens that he uses to convince the reader.

He also expresses how this knowledge affects him. "Jesus Christ for told as to the time and the state of the world. The ruler taken from the thigh and the forth monarchy. How lucky we are to see this light amidst this darkness! How fine it is to see, with the eyes of faith, Darius and Cyrus, Alexander, Cyrus and Romans." These refer to the historical fulfillment of Daniel's prophecies. Pascal's analysis Daniel's prophesy of the kings of the north and south is amazing. The historical research must gave taken months.

Pascal comments that the prophecies are the strongest proof of Jesus Christ. Over a thousand years and spread by the Jews all around the world in advance. Clearly the work of God! He notes: "proofs of Jesus Christ. - Jesus Christ said a great things so simply, that it seems as though he had not thought them great; and yet so clearly that we easily see what he thought of them. This clearness, joined to this simplicity, is wonderful." A comment of deep meditation.

Pascal's understanding of the role of "proof" in belief is fascinating. Especially since as a mathematician he uses 'proof' as a fundamental tool in scientific discoveries. "there are three sources of belief: reason, custom, inspiration. The Christian religion, which alone has reason, does not acknowledge as her true children those who believe without inspiration. It is not that she excludes reason and custom. On the contrary, the mind must be open to proofs, must be confirmed by custom, and offer itself in humbleness to inspirations, which alone can produce a true and saving effect." Proof is a part of Christian belief but not all. Human belief is deeper than intellectual analysis.

Pascal analyzes the interplay of external and internal devotion. "It is superstition to put one's hope in formalities; but it is pride to be unwilling to submit to them." Superstition meant foolishness or unfounded belief. "The external must be joined to the internal to obtain anything from God, that is to say we must kneel, pray with the lips, etc., in order that proud man, who would not submit himself to God, may be now subject to the creature. To expect help from these externals his superstition; to refuse to join them to the internal is pride."
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on January 19, 2015
I have taken it upon myself to familiarize myself with many of the classical arguments for and against God. Blaise Pascal was a 17th century mathematician and philosopher who decided to follow Christ with his whole heart. He did so not without careful consideration of the alternatives, and his logic in Pensées is reflected in what is commonly known as Pascal's wager. He reasons that either the God of the Bible is true, or there is no God. If the God of the Bible is true and trusting him with your life results in eternal life and heaven without evil forever, the benefits are obvious. If God is true, and you reject him, the results are eternal separation and hell. If God is false, believing in Him results in the temporal benefits of a life filled with purpose only to result in oblivion. If God is false, not believing in Him simply results in a meaningless life only to end in oblivion. Pascal points out that everyone must wager one of these choices, and for him wagering that God is real and living your life that way is infinitely better. Pensées is translated as "thoughts" and it was published after Pascal died. He intended to make them his life work, but never finished the project. It is laid out much like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes as short bullet points, and that was what his notes were like. The book was published in 1669. His thoughts are absolutely powerful, and formed foundations for future philosophical discussions.
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on June 17, 2014
I won't say anymore than the fact that Pascal was a genius, a mathematician, and statetician who reasoned he way to a firm belief in God and Christ. He leaves us with much of his thinking on the subject, and has enriched us with his "thoughts". Christian or atheist, you should read and know Pascal.
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on November 1, 2015
The problem is me, not the book. I just do not understand a word of these great thoughts. Every now and then appears a terrific one-liner. Then back to slogging through words strung together. It's like reading Hume's Enquiry into a human Understanding. Understanding these books is the last thing to be gleaned from them. I would give this book a chance because you are very probably a lot smarter than I.
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on May 21, 2014
I found myself slugging my way through at times. I did not take the time to thoroughly digest the extensive footnotes, find the English version of the Latin verses (these are extensive) or "work" the messages. There are parts that discuss the offset between the Jesuits and the sitting Holy See during the life of the author but my weak understanding of Church history left this distant. Undoubtedly worthy of the serious scholar but a trial for the lazy like myself.
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