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Pensees (Penguin Classics) Paperback – December 1, 1995

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Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French

About the Author

Blaise Pascal was born in Clermont in 1623, the son of a government official. During his short life he left his mark on mathematics, physics, religious controversy and literature. A convert to Jansenism, he engaged with gusto in a controversy with the Jesuits, which gave rise to his Lettres Provincialeson which, with the Pensées, his literary fame chiefly rests. A remarkable stylist, he is regarded by many as the greatest of French prose artists. He died, after a long illness, in 1662.

Dr. A.J. Krailsheimer
was born in 1921 and was Tutor in French at Christ Church, Oxford, from 1957 until his retirement in 1988. His publications are Studies in Self-Interest (1963), Rabelais and the Franciscans (1965), Three Conteurs of the Sixteenth Century (1966), Rabelais (1967), A. J. de Rancé, Abbot of La Trappe (1974), Pascal (1980), Conversion (1980), Letters of A. J. de Rancé (1984), Rancé and the Trappist Legacy (1985) and Correspondance de Rancé (1993). He has also translated Flaubert’s Bouvard and Pécuchet and Salammbo and Pascal’s The Provincial Letters for the Penguin Classics.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 333 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reissue edition (December 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140446451
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140446456
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #27,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

151 of 166 people found the following review helpful By Craig G Cram on July 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
I always thought of Pascal as a great scientist, but as a somewhat dated Christian apologist. The general treatment of Pascal by both science and humanities is at best an unreflective nod to the importance of his scientific discoveries and a momentary and uncomfortable glance at his `other' writings.
The lack of serious consideration given to Pascal's `other' writings by philosophy and theology departments and their absence from science curriculums is indicative of major bias and ignorance. Why?
Pascal's science is embarassing to defenders of prevalent Darwinian atheistic science because of his zeal for the Christian faith. Pascal made some important discoveries but he "abandoned science for religion" and for that reason is tagged as an historical anachronism - he like many of the scientists of the 17th century were heavily tainted with `folk belief' and superstitions.
Pascal's Science and Faith is embarassing to those philosophers and theologians that cannot reconcile the two aspects of human Pensees - thoughts. They like to think of Pascal as an early `existentialist' like Kierkegaard who made a `leap' of faith against the atheistic dogmas of material science; but Pascal did not support their radical dichotomy of science versus faith.
Shunned on both sides for different reasons (for centuries!), Pascal is finally becoming more and more appreciated as someone who was `between' faith and science; a position becoming more fashionable.
All you have to do is read `The Pensees' to quickly see it as one of the most important, beautiful and penetrating books ever written. The Pensees (`Thoughts') are a long series of fragments on the the human situation, Jesus Christ, God, revelation, Infinity and finitude.
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78 of 87 people found the following review helpful By J. F Foster on February 26, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book, representing Pascal's 'pensees', or thoughts, contains many provocative views that have managed to arouse critics from many different perspectives. And while there are several strains of Pascal's thought that I considerably dissent from, it can hardly be denied that in many ways, Pascal's insights into human character as it relates to the divine are not easily dismissed, at least intellectually.
Because this work is a collection of thoughts rather than a systematic presentation, which is what Pascal ultimately had in mind but his illness and subsequent death prevented, the reader will likely find Pascal to be quite quotable. There are quite a few 'one liners' in here that are profound to the point of being humorous when one thinks about how insightful his thoughts are. And Pascal, in arguing in favor of the truth of Christianity, makes a very big investment in fulfilled prophecy and the history of the Jews that readers should find interesting. His 8 page discourse on indifference at the beginning of the second section is among the best 8 pages I've ever read and have succeeded in providing a noticeable amount of discomfort for atheists for three centuries now.
The portion of Pensees that is the most well known is Pascal's wager argument early in the second section. Personally, this argument, while interesting, is not the most compelling argument he makes and I consider it a shame that the wager argument has really overshadowed what I believe to be Pascal's most provocative argument in favor of the Christian religion - his anthropological argument. While not stated in this manner, section 1 of Pensees spends considerable time developing the notion that the extreme paradox of humanity (as Pascal sees it) of both immense greatness and horrible evil demand an explanation.
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Wesley L. Janssen VINE VOICE on July 24, 2002
Format: Paperback
Pascal, the brilliant mathematician, physicist, and engineer, presents in his posthumously titled Pensees, his philosophy of religion and a paradox rich and challenging defense of Christian faith. Says Pascal, "Knowledge has two extremes which meet; one is the pure natural ignorance of every man at birth, the other is the extreme reached by great minds who run through the whole range of human knowledge, only to find that they know nothing... but it is a wise ignorance which knows itself. Those who stand half-way... pretend to understand everything... they get everything wrong."
The book is a collection of unfinished writings; arguments and ideas which he had scribbled, intending to then develop and elaborate. As such, the text is disjointed and even mysterious; statements are abrupt, incomplete, dogmatic. Yet, out of respect for the intellectual accomplishments of the great French mathematician, these notes were published essentially as he had left them. They contain many gems; profound statements which stand like islands in a sea of sometimes jumbled thoughts.
Pascal's themes are: the nature of human knowledge, the affliction of pride, the blindness and tyranny of self, the boundaries of reason, the hiddenness of God, and his own argument for "wagering" not only on God, but on the Christian faith. Two things are obvious; (1.) the arguments are not in the form in which Pascal intended to offer them, therefore, (2.) this is not a definitive apologetic. However, Pascal's arguments are rather unique and as such they are interesting even in their [often] crude form. Read this book in conjunction with the writings of C.S. Lewis, Augustine, or Sundar Singh.
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