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Pensees Publisher: Penguin Classics Paperback – 1996
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His "Pensees" ("Thoughts") were published posthumously, and had been intended to be part of an "Apology for the Christian Religion," but he died before it could be completed. This edition groups his thoughts by topics, such as Vanity; Wretchedness; Philosophers; Excellence of this Means of Proving God; Transition from Knowledge of Man to Knowledge of God; Falseness of Other Religions; Make Religion Attractive; Rabbinism; Proofs of Moses; Proofs of Jesus Christ; Prophecies; Christian Morality, etc.
He observes, "Equality of possessions is no doubt right, but, as men could not make might obey right, they have made right obey might. As they could not fortify justice they have fortified force, so that might and right might live together and peace reigns, the sovereign good." (V, 81; pg. 51)
He suggests, "God alone is man's true good, and since man abandoned him it is a strange fact that nothing in nature has been found to take his place: stars, sky, earth, elements, plants, cabbages, leeks, animals, insects, calves, serpents, fever, plague, war, famine, vice, adultery, incest. Since losing his true good, man is capable of seeing it in anything, even his own destruction, although it is so contrary at once to God, to reason and to nature." (X, 148, pg. 75)
Of course, the most famous part of the book is his "Wager": "Who then will condemn Christians for being unable to give rational grounds for their belief, professing as they do a religion for which they cannot give rational grounds? They declare that it is a folly... in expounding it to the world, and then you complain that they do not prove it... Let us then examine this point, and let us say: `Either God is or he is not.' But to which view shall we be inclined? Reason cannot decide this question. Infinite chaos separates us. At the far end of this infinite distance a coin is being spun which will come down heads or tails. How will you wager? Reason cannot make you choose either, reason cannot prove either wrong. Do not then condemn as wrong those who have made a choice, for you know nothing about it. `No, but I will condemn them... for ... having made... any choice... the right thing is not to wager at all.' Yes, but you must wager. There is no choice, you are already committed. Which will you choose then?... since a choice must be made, let us see which offers you the least interest... your nature has two things to avoid: error and wretchedness. Since you must necessarily choose, your reason is no more affronted by choosing one rather than the other... Let us weight up the gain and the loss involved in calling heads that God exists... if you win you win everything, if you lose you lose nothing. Do not hesitate then; wager that he does exist... And thus, since you are obliged to play, you must be renouncing reason if you hoard your life rather than risk it for an infinite gain, just as likely to occur as a loss amounting to nothing... Thus our argument carries infinite weight, when the stakes are finite in a game where there are even chances of winning and losing and an infinite prize to be won. This is conclusive and if men are capable of any truth this is it." (Series II, 418, pg. 150-152)
He asks, "What is the self?... what about a person who loves someone for the sake of her beauty; does he love HER? No, for smallpox, which will destroy beauty without destroying the person, will put an end to his love for her. And if someone loves me for my judgment or my memory, do they love me? ME, myself? No, for I could lose these qualities without losing my self. Where then is this self, if it is neither in the body nor the soul? And how can one love the body or the soul except for the sake of such qualities, which are not what makes up the self, since they are perishable? Would we love the substance of a person's soul, in the abstract, whatever qualities might be in it? That is not possible, and it would be wrong. Therefore we never love anyone, but only qualities. Let us then stop scoffing at those who win honour through their appointments and offices, for we never love anyone except for borrowed qualities." (XXV, 688, pg. 245)
Since the book is basically Pascal's "notes," it obviously lacks the cohesion that a finished book would have had. But Pascal's meditations and thoughts---by one who was acknowledged as one of the most brilliant minds of his time---are well worth pondering.