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Pascal's Pensees Paperback – August 8, 2012
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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).
Man: Christians profess a religion for which they cannot give a reason and even declare that any attempt to do so would be foolishness.
Pascal. CERTAINLY, EVEN THOUGH LACKING IN PROOFS , THEY ARE NOT LACKING IN SENSE.
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.
This review is included on the new listmania Christian-themed read overs.
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.