Blaise Pascal

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When we understand that man is the only animal who must create meaning, who must open a wedge into neutral nature, we already understand the essence of love. Love is the problem of an animal who must find life, create a dialogue with nature in order to experience his own being.
Ernest Becker
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Our reason is always disappointed by the inconstancy of appearances.

Blaise Pascal (19 June 162319 August 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist and theologian

Sourced

  • People almost invariably arrive at their beliefs not on the basis of proof but on the basis of what they find attractive.
    • The Art of Persuasion
  • Entre nous, et l'enfer ou le ciel, il n'y a que la vie entre deux, qui est la chose du monde la plus fragile.
    • Discours sur les passions de l'amour
    • Literally: Between us and heaven or hell there is only life, which is the frailest thing in the world. (213)
    • Translation: Between us, and Hell or Heaven, there is only life between the two, which is the most fragile thing in the world.
  • Je n'ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n'ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte.
    • Literally: I made this [letter] very long, because I did not have the leisure to make it shorter.
    • Translation: I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.
    • Source: Provincial Letters: Letter XVI (English Translation)
    • This quote has been also attributed to Mark Twain, T.S. Eliot, Cicero, and others besides.
  • L'homme n'est ni ange ni bête, et le malheur veut que qui veut faire l'ange fait la bête.
    • Laf. 678

Pensées

  • Qu’est-ce donc que nous crie cette avidité et cette impuissance, sinon qu’il y a eu autrefois en l’homme un véritable bonheur dont il ne lui reste maintenant que la marque et la trace toute vide, qu’il essaye inutilement de remplir de tout ce qui l’environne, en cherchant dans les choses absentes le secours qu’il n’obtient pas des présentes, et que les unes et les autres sont incapables de lui donner, parce que ce gouffre infini ne peut être rempli que par un objet infini et immuable, c'est-à-dire que par Dieu même. (425)
    • Translation: What does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object, in other words by God himself.
  • A trifle consoles us because a trifle upsets us. (136)
  • All men naturally hate one another; there could not be four friends in the world. (101)
  • Tout notre raisonnement se réduit à céder au sentiment. (274)
    • Translation: All our reasoning boils down to yielding to sentiment.
  • All these examples of wretchedness prove his greatness. It is the wretchedness of a great lord, the wretchedness of a dispossessed king. (425)
  • An advocate who has been well paid in advance will find the cause he is pleading all the more just. (82)
  • Anyone who found the secret of rejoicing when things go well without being annoyed when they go badly would have found the point. (181)
  • Bless yourself with holy water, have Masses said, and so on; by a simple and natural process this will make you believe, and will dull you - will quiet your proudly critical intellect. (233)
  • Caesar was too old, it seems to me, to go off and amuse himself conquering the world. Such a pastime was all right for Augustus and Alexander; they were young men, not easily held in check, but Caesar ought to have been more mature. (132)
  • Curiosité n'est que vanité. Le plus souvent, on ne veut savoir que pour en parler. (152)
    • Translation: Curiosity is nothing more than vanity. More often than not we only seek knowledge to show it off.
  • Epictetus goes much further when he asks: Why do we not lose our temper if someone tells us that we have a headache, while we do lose it if someone says there is anything wrong with our arguments or our choice? (80)
  • Equality of possessions is no doubt right, but, as men could not make might obey right, they have made right obey might. (299)
  • Peu d'amitiés subsisteraient, si chacun savait ce que son ami dit de lui lorsqu'il n'y est pas. (100)
    • Translation: Few friendships would remain, if each knew what his friend said of him when he wasn't there.
  • For after all what is man in nature? A nothing in relation to infinity, all in relation to nothing, a central point between nothing and all and infinitely far from understanding either. (72)
  • For knowledge of the first principles, like space, time, motion, number, is as solid as any derived through reason, and it is on such knowledge, coming from the heart and instinct, that reason has to depend and base all its arguments. (282)
  • Go to confession and communion; you will find it a relief and a strengthening. (82)
  • Dieu est une sphère infinie, dont le centre est partout et la circonférence nulle part. (72)
    • Translation: God is an infinite sphere whose center is everywhere and circumference is nowhere.
  • How hollow is the heart of man, and how full of excrement! (143)
  • I cannot imagine a man without thought; he would be a stone or an animal. (339)
  • S'il se vante, je l'abaisse,
    S'il s'abaisse, je le vante;
    Et le contredis toujours,
    Jusqu'à ce qu'il comprenne
    Qu'il est un monstre incompréhensible.
    (420)
    • Translation: If [Man] exalt himself, I humble him,
      If he humble himself, I exalt him;
      And [I] always contradict him,
      Until he understands
      That he is an incomprehensible monster.
  • If our condition were truly happy we should not need to divert ourselves from thinking about it. (170)
  • If we look at our work immediately after completing it, we are still too involved; if too long afterwards, we cannot pick up the thread again. (381)
  • Imagination cannot make fools wise, but it makes them happy, as against reason, which only makes its friends wretched: one covers them with glory, the other with shame. (82)
  • It is a funny sort of justice whose limits are marked by a river; true on this side of the Pyrenees, false on the other. (294)
  • Il n'est pas certain que tout soit incertain. (387)
    • Translation: It is not certain that everything is uncertain.
  • It is not in space that I must seek my human dignity, but in the ordering of my thought. It will do me no good to own land. Through space the universe grasps me and swallows me up like a speck; through thought I grasp it. (348)
  • Il n'est pas honteux pour l'homme de succomber sous la douleur et il est honteux de succomber sous le plaisir. (160)
    • Translation: It is not shameful for a man to succumb to pain and it is shameful to succumb to pleasure.
  • Justice is as much a matter of fashion as charm is. (309)
  • Knowledge of physical science will not console me for ignorance of morality in time of affliction, but knowledge of morality will always console me for ignorance of physical science. (67)
  • Make religion attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is. Worthy of reverence because it really understands human nature. Attractive because it promises true good. (187)
  • L'homme est un roseau, le plus faible de la nature, mais c'est un roseau pensant. (347)
    • Translation: Man is a reed, the weakest of nature, but he is a thinking reed.
  • Man is only a disguise, a liar, a hypocrite, both to himself and to others. (377)
  • Man is so made that if he is told often enough that he is a fool he believes it. (535)
  • Men spend their time chasing a ball or a hare; it is the very sport of kings. (141)
  • Nothing is so conformable to reason as to disavow reason. (272)
  • Nothing is surer than that the people will be weak. (330)
  • One must have deeper motives and judge everything accordingly, but go on talking like an ordinary person. (336)
  • One must know oneself. If this does not serve to discover truth, it at least serves as a rule of life, and there is nothing better. (66)
  • Notre raison est toujours déçue par l'inconstance des apparences. (83)
    • Translation: Our reason is always disappointed by the inconsistency of appearances.
  • Put the world's greatest philosopher on a plank that is wider than need be; if there is a precipe below, although his reason may convince him that he is safe, his imagination will prevail. (82)
  • Le silence est la plus grande persécution; jamais les saints ne se sont tus. (919)
    • Translation: Silence is the greatest persecution; never do the saints keep themselves silent.
  • That something so obvious as the vanity of the world should be so little recognized that people find it odd and surprising to be told that it is foolish to seek greatness; that is most remarkable.
  • The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.
  • The fairest man in the world is not allowed to be judge in his own cause.
  • The grandeur of man is great in that he knows himself to be miserable.
  • Le coeur a ses raisons, que la raison ne connaît point. On le sent en mille choses. C'est le cœur qui sent Dieu, et non la raison. Voilà ce que c'est que la foi parfaite, Dieu sensible au cœur.
    • Translation: The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. We feel it in a thousand things. It is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by the reason.
  • Le nez de Cléopâtre, s'il eût été plus court, toute la face de la terre aurait changé.
    • Translation: The nose of Cleopatra, if it had been shorter, would have changed all the face of the earth.
  • The two principles of truth, reason and senses, are not only both not genuine, but are engaged in mutual deception. The senses deceive reason through false appearances, and the senses are disturbed by passions, which produce false impressions.
  • The wisest reason takes as her own principles those which the imagination of man has everywhere rashly introduced.
  • There no doubt exist natural laws, but once this fine reason of ours was corrupted, it corrupted everything.
  • Thinking too little about things or thinking too much both make us obstinate and fanatical.
  • This is what I see, and what troubles me. I look on all sides, and everywhere I see nothing but obscurity. Nature offers me nothing that is not a matter of doubt and disquiet.
  • Those who are clever in imagination are far more pleased with themselves than prudent men could reasonably be.
  • Thought constitutes the greatness of man.
  • To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher.
  • La vraie morale se moque de la morale.
    • Translation: True morality makes fun of morality.
  • We understand nothing of the works of God unless we take it as a principle that He wishes to blind some and to enlighten others.
  • We would never travel on the sea if we had no hope of telling about it later... We lose our lives with joy provided people talk about it... Even philosophers wish for admirers.
  • What a Chimera is man! What a novelty, a monster, a chaos, a contradiction, a prodigy! Judge of all things, an imbecile worm of the earth; depository of truth, and sewer of error and doubt; the glory and refuse of the universe.
  • What amazes me the most is to see that everyone is not amazed at his own weakness.
  • What must I do? I see nothing but obscurities on every side. Shall I believe I am nothing? Shall I believe I am God?
  • What part of us feels pleasure? Is it our hand, our arm, our flesh, or our blood? It must obviously be something immaterial.
  • Who dispenses reputation? Who makes us respect and rever persons, works, laws, the great? Who but this faculty of imagination? All the riches of the earth are inadequate without its approval.
  • Qui sait si cette autre moitié de la vie où nous pensons veiller n'est pas un autre sommeil un peu différent du premier.
    • Translation: Who knows if this other half of life where we think we're awake is not another sleep a little different from the first.
  • Why are you killing me for your own benefit? I am unarmed.' 'Why, do you not live on the other side of the water? My friend, if you lived on this side, I should be a murderer, but since you live on the other side, I am a brave man and it is right.'
    • Variant: "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." (293)
  • Wisdom leads us back to childhood.
    • Variant: Wisdom sends us to childhood. Nisi efficiamini sicut parvuli. (271)
  • You must wager; it is not optional... Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God exists... If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation, that He exists.

Unsourced

  • Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
  • If God does not exist, one will lose nothing by believing in him, while if he does exist, one will lose everything by not believing.
  • In every man's heart there is an emptiness that only God can fill with his son Jesus Christ.
  • Justice without force is powerless; force without justice is tyrannical.
  • Ne pouvant fortifier la justice, on a justifié la force.
    • Translation: Not being able to fortify justice, they justified force.
  • Ce qui fait qu'on va si loin dans l'amour, c'est que l'on ne songe pas que l'on aura besoin d'autre chose que ce que l'on aime.
    • Translation: That which makes us go so far for love is that we never think that we might have need of anything besides that which we love.
  • C'est une maladie naturelle à l'homme de croire qu'il possède la vérité.
    • Translation: It is man's natural sickness to believe that he possesses the Truth.
  • Les hommes se gouvernent plus par caprice que par raison.
    • Translation: Man governs himself more by capriciousness (impulse) than reason
  • Penser fait la grandeur de l'homme.
    • Translation: Thinking makes man great.
  • Puisqu'on ne peut être universel en sachant tout ce qui se peut savoir sur tout, il faut savoir peu de tout.
    • Since one cannot be universal by knowing everything that can be known about everything, it is necessary to know a little about everything.
  • Jurisdiction is given not for the sake of the judge, but for that of the litigant.
    • Possibly translated from Pensées, Section XIV, 879
  • The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first.

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