Section 6: The PhilosophersBlaise Pascal (1623-1662) - The Penses
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“If I believe in God and life after death and you do not, and if there is no God, we both lose when we die. However, if there is a God, you still lose and I gain everything.”
339. I can well conceive a man without hands, feet, head (for it is only experience which teaches us that the head is more necessary than feet). But I cannot conceive man without thought; he would be a stone or a brute.
340. The arithmetical machine produces effects which approach nearer to thought than all the actions of animals. But it does nothing which would enable us to attribute will to it, as to the animals.
341. The account of the pike and frog of Liancourt. They do it always, and never otherwise, nor any other thing showing mind.
342. If an animal did by mind what it does by instinct, and if it spoke by mind what it speaks by instinct, in hunting and in warning its mates that the prey is found or lost, it would indeed also speak in regard to those things which affect it closer, as example, “Gnaw me this cord which is wounding me, and which I cannot reach.”
343. The beak of the parrot, which it wipes, although it is clean.
344. Instinct and reason, marks of two natures.
345. Reason commands us far more imperiously than a master; for in disobeying the one we are unfortunate, and in disobeying the other we are fools.
346. Thought constitutes the greatness of man.
347. Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapour, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.
All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavour, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.
348. A thinking reed. — It is not from space that I must seek my dignity, but from the government of my thought. I shall have no more if I possess worlds. By space the universe encompasses and swallows me up like an atom; by thought I comprehend the world.
349. Immateriality of the soul. — Philosophers who have mastered their passions. What matter could do that?
350. The Stoics. — They conclude that what has been done once can be done always, and that, since the desire of glory imparts some power to those whom it possesses, others can do likewise. There are feverish movements which health cannot imitate.
Epictetus concludes that, since there are consistent Christians, every man can easily be so.
351. Those great spiritual efforts, which the soul sometimes assays, are things on which it does not lay hold. It only leaps to them, not as upon a throne, for ever, but merely for an instant.
352. The strength of a man’s virtue must not be measured by his efforts, but by his ordinary life.
353. I do not admire the excess of a virtue as of valour, except I see at the same time the excess of the opposite virtue, as in Epaminondas, who had the greatest valour and the greatest kindness. For otherwise it is not to rise, it is to fall. We do not display greatness by going to one extreme, but in touching both at once, and filling all the intervening space. But perhaps this is only a sudden movement of the soul from one to the other extreme, and in fact it is ever at one point only, as in the case of a firebrand. Be it so, but at least this indicates agility if not expanse of soul.
354. Man’s nature is not always to advance; it has its advances and retreats.
Fever has its cold and hot fits; and the cold proves as well as the hot the greatness of the fire of fever.
The discoveries of men from age to age turn out the same. The kindness and the malice of the world in general are the same. Plerumque gratae principibus vices. [Horace, Odes, III. xxix. 13. “Changes nearly always please the great.”]
355. Continuous eloquence wearies.
Princes and kings sometimes play. They are not always on their thrones. They weary there. Grandeur must be abandoned to be appreciated. Continuity in everything is unpleasant. Cold is agreeable, that we may get warm.
Nature acts by progress, itus et reditus. It goes and returns, then advances further, then twice as much backwards, then more forward than ever, etc.
The tide of the sea behaves in the same manner; and so, apparently, does the sun in its course.
356. The nourishment of the body is little by little. Fullness of nourishment and smallness of substance.
357. When we would pursue virtues to their extremes on either side, vices present themselves, which insinuate themselves insensibly there, in their insensible journey towards the infinitely little; and vices present themselves in a crowd towards the infinitely great, so that we lose ourselves in them and no longer see virtues. We find fault with perfection itself.
358. Man is neither angel nor brute, and the unfortunate thing is that he who would act the angel acts the brute.
359. We do not sustain ourselves in virtue by our own strength, but by the balancing of two opposed vices, just as we remain upright amidst two contrary gales. Remove one of the vices, and we fall into the other.
360. What the Stoics propose is so difficult and foolish!
The Stoics lay down that all those who are not at the high degree of wisdom are equally foolish and vicious, as those who are two inches under water.
361. The sovereign good. Dispute about the sovereign good. — Ut sis contentus temetipso et ex te nascentibus bonis. [Seneca, Epistles, xx. 8. “In order that you are satisfied with yourself and the good that is born from you.”] There is a contradiction, for in the end they advise suicide. Oh! What a happy life, from which we are to free ourselves as from the plague!
362. Ex senatus-consultis et plebiscitis…
To ask like passages.
363. Ex senatus-consultis et plebiscitis scelera exercentur. Seneca. 588. [Montaigne, Essays, ii. 12.]
Nihil tam absurde dici potest quod non dicatur ab aliquo philosophorum. [Cicero, De Divinatione, ii. 58. “There is nothing so absurd that it has not been said by some philosopher.”]
Quibusdam destinatis sententiis consecrati quae non probant coguntur defendere. [Cicero, Disputationes Tusculanae, ii. 2. “Devoted to certain fixed opinions, they are forced to defend what they hardly approve.”]
Ut omnium rerum sic litterarum quoque intemperantia laboramus. [Seneca, Epistles, cvi. “We suffer from an excess of literature as from an excess of anything.”]
Id maxime quemque decet, quod est cujusque suum maxime. [Cicero, De officiis, i. 31. “What suits each one best is what is to him the most natural.”]
Hos natura modos primum dedit. [Virgil, The Georgics, ii. “Nature gave them first these limits.”]
Paucis opus est litteris ad bonam mentem. [Seneca, Epistles, cvi. “Wisdom does not demand much teaching.”]
Si quando turpe non sit, tamen non est non turpe quum id a multitudine laudetur. [Cicero, De finibus bonorum et malorum. “What is not shameful begins to become so when it is approved by the multitude.”]
Mihi sic usus est, tibi ut opus est facto, fac.[Terence, Heauton Timorumenos, I. i. 21. “That is how I use it; you must do as you wish.”]
364. Rarum est enim ut satis se quisque vereatur. [Quintillian, x. 7. “It is rare that one sufficiently respects one’s self.”]
Tot circa unum caput tumultuantes deos. [Seneca the Elder, Suasoriae, i. 4. “So many gods are busy around a single head.”]
Nihil turpius quam cognitioni assertionem praecurrere. [Cicero, Academica, i. 45. “Nothing is more shameful than to affirm before knowing.”]
Nec me pudet, ut istos, fateri nescire quid nesciam. [Cicero, Disputationes Tusculanae, i. 25. “I have not shame, as they do, to admit that I know not what I do not know.”]
Melius non incipient.[Seneca, Epistles, lxxii. “It is easier not to begin….]
365. Thought. — All the dignity of man consists in thought. Thought is, therefore, by its nature a wonderful and incomparable thing. It must have strange defects to be contemptible. But it has such, so that nothing is more ridiculous. How great it is in its nature! How vile it is in its defects!
But what is this thought? How foolish it is!
366. The mind of this sovereign judge of the world is not so independent that it is not liable to be disturbed by the first din about it. The noise of a cannon is not necessary to hinder its thoughts; it needs only the creaking of a weathercock or pulley. Do not wonder if at present it does not reason well; a fly is buzzing in its ears; that is enough to render it incapable of good judgement. If you wish it to be able to reach the truth, chase away that animal which holds its reason in check and disturbs that powerful intellect which rules towns and kingdoms. Here is a comical god! O ridicolosissimo eroe!
367. The power of flies; they win battles, hinder our soul from acting, eat our body.
368. When it is said that heat is only the motions of certain molecules, and light the conatus recedendi which we feel, it astonishes us. What! Is pleasure only the ballet of our spirits? We have conceived so different an idea of it! And these sensations seem so removed from those others which we say are the same as those with which we compare them! The sensation from the fire, that warmth which affects us in a manner wholly different from touch, the reception of sound and light, all this appears to us mysterious, and yet it is material like the blow of a stone. It is true that the smallness of the spirits which enter into the pores touches other nerves, but there are always some nerves touched.
369. Memory is necessary for all the operations of reason.
370. Chance gives rise to thoughts, and chance removes them; no art can keep or acquire them.
A thought has escaped me. I wanted to write it down. I write instead that it has escaped me.
371. When I was small, I hugged my book; and because it sometimes happened to me to… in believing I hugged it, I doubted….
372. In writing down my thought, it sometimes escapes me; but this makes me remember my weakness, that I constantly forget. This is as instructive to me as my forgotten thought; for I strive only to know my nothingness.
373. Scepticism. — I shall here write my thoughts without order, and not perhaps in unintentional confusion; that is true order, which will always indicate my object by its very disorder. I should do too much honour to my subject, if I treated it with order, since I want to show that it is incapable of it.
374. What astonishes me most is to see that all the world is not astonished at its own weakness. Men act seriously, and each follows his own mode of life, not because it is in fact good to follow since it is the custom, but as if each man knew certainly where reason and justice are. They find themselves continually deceived, and, by a comical humility, think it is their own fault and not that of the art which they claim always to possess. But it is well there are so many such people in the world, who are not sceptics for the glory of scepticism, in order to show that man is quite capable of the most extravagant opinions, since he is capable of believing that he is not in a state of natural and inevitable weakness, but, on the contrary, of natural wisdom.
Nothing fortifies scepticism more than that there are some who are not sceptics; if all were so, they would be wrong.
375. I have passed a great part of my life believing that there was justice, and in this I was not mistaken; for there is justice according as God has willed to reveal it to us. But I did not take it so, and this is where I made a mistake; for I believed that our justice was essentially just, and that I had that whereby to know and judge of it. But I have so often found my right judgement at fault, that at last I have come to distrust myself and then others. I have seen changes in all nations and men, and thus, after many changes of judgement regarding true justice, I have recognised that our nature was but in continual change, and I have not changed since; and if I changed, I would confirm my opinion.
The sceptic Arcesilaus, who became a dogmatist.
376. This sect derives more strength from its enemies than from its friends; for the weakness of man is far more evident in those who know it not than in those who know it.
377. Discourses on humility are a source of pride in the vain and of humility in the humble. So those on scepticism cause believers to affirm. Few men speak humbly of humility, chastely of chastity, few doubtingly of scepticism. We are only falsehood, duplicity, contradiction; we both conceal and disguise ourselves from ourselves.
378. Scepticism. — Excess, like defect of intellect, is accused of madness. Nothing is good but mediocrity. The majority has settled that and finds fault with him who escapes it at whichever end. I will not oppose it. I quite consent to put there, and refuse to be at the lower end, not because it is low, but because it is an end; for I would likewise refuse to be placed at the top. To leave the mean is to abandon humanity. The greatness of the human soul consists in knowing how to preserve the mean. So far from greatness consisting in leaving it, it consists in not leaving it.
379. It is not good to have too much liberty. It is not good to have all one wants.
380. All good maxims are in the world. We only need to apply them. For instance, we do not doubt that we ought to risk our lives in defence of the public good; but for religion, no.
It is true there must be inequality among men; but if this be conceded, the door is opened not only to the highest power, but to the highest tyranny.
We must relax our minds a little; but this opens the door to the greatest debauchery. Let us mark the limits. There are no limits in things. laws would put them there, and the mind cannot suffer it.
381. When we are too young, we do not judge well; so, also, when we are too old. If we do not think enough, or if we think too much on any matter, we get obstinate and infatuated with it. If one considers one’s work immediately after having done it, one is entirely prepossessed in its favour; by delaying too long, one can no longer enter into the spirit of it. So with pictures seen from too far or too near; there is but one exact point which is the true place wherefrom to look at them: the rest are too near, too far, too high or too low. Perspective determines that point in the art of painting. But who shall determine it in truth and morality?
382. When all is equally agitated, nothing appears to be agitated, as in a ship. When all tend to debauchery, none appears to do so. He who stops draws attention to the excess of others, like a fixed point.
383. The licentious tell men of orderly lives that they stray from nature’s path, while they themselves follow it; as people in a ship think those move who are on the shore. On all sides the language is similar. We must have a fixed point in order to judge. The harbour decides for those who are in a ship; but where shall we find a harbour in morality?
384. Contradiction is a bad sign of truth; several things which are certain are contradicted; several things which are false pass without contradiction. Contradiction is not a sign of falsity, nor the want of contradiction a sign of truth.
385. Scepticism. — Each thing here is partly true and partly false. Essential truth is not so; it is altogether pure and altogether true. This mixture dishonours and annihilates it. Nothing is purely true, and thus nothing is true, meaning by that pure truth. You will say it is true that homicide is wrong. Yes; for we know well the wrong and the false. But what will you say is good? Chastity? I say no; for the world would come to an end. Marriage? No; continence is better. Not to kill? No; for lawlessness would be horrible, and the wicked would kill all the good. To kill? No; for that destroys nature. We possess truth and goodness only in part, and mingled with falsehood and evil.
386. If we dreamt the same thing every night, it would affect us as much as the objects we see every day. And if an artisan were sure to dream every night for twelve hours’ duration that he was a king, I believe he would be almost as happy as a king, who should dream every night for twelve hours on end that he was an artisan.
If we were to dream every night that we were pursued by enemies and harassed by these painful phantoms, or that we passed every day in different occupations, as in making a voyage, we should suffer almost as much as if it were real, and should fear to sleep, as we fear to wake when we dread in fact to enter on such mishaps. And, indeed, it would cause pretty nearly the same discomforts as the reality.
But since dreams are all different, and each single one is diversified, what is seen in them affects us much less than what we see when awake, because of its continuity, which is not, however, so continuous and level as not to change too; but it changes less abruptly, except rarely, as when we travel, and then we say, “It seems to me I am dreaming.” For life is a dream a little less inconstant.
387. It may be that there are true demonstrations; but this is not certain. Thus, this proves nothing else but that it is not certain that all is uncertain, to the glory of scepticism.
388. Good sense. — They are compelled to say, “You are not acting in good faith; we are not asleep,” etc. How I love to see this proud reason humiliated and suppliant! For this is not the language of a man whose right is disputed, and who defends it with the power of armed hands. He is not foolish enough to declare that men are not acting in good faith, but he punishes this bad faith with force.
389. Ecclesiastes shows that man without God is in total ignorance and inevitable misery. For it is wretched to have the wish, but not the power. Now he would be happy and assured of some truth, and yet he can neither know, nor desire not to know. He cannot even doubt.
390. My God! How foolish this talk is! “Would God have made the world to damn it? Would He ask so much from persons so weak”? etc. Scepticism is the cure for this evil, and will take down this vanity.
391. Conversation. — Great words: Religion, I deny it.
Conversation. — Scepticism helps religion.
392. Against Scepticism. — … It is, then, a strange fact that we cannot define these things without obscuring them, while we speak of them with all assurance. We assume that all conceive of them in the same way; but we assume it quite gratuitously, for we have no proof of it. I see, in truth, that the same words are applied on the same occasions, and that every time two men see a body change its place, they both express their view of this same fact by the same word, both saying that it has moved; and from this conformity of application we derive a strong conviction of a conformity of ideas. But this is not absolutely or finally convincing though there is enough to support a bet on the affirmative, since we know that we often draw the same conclusions from different premises.
This is enough, at least, to obscure the matter; not that it completely extinguishes the natural light which assures us of these things. The academicians would have won. But this dulls it and troubles the dogmatists to the glory of the sceptical crowd, which consists in this doubtful ambiguity and in a certain doubtful dimness from which our doubts cannot take away all the clearness, nor our own natural lights chase away all the darkness.
393. It is a singular thing to consider that there are people in the world who, having renounced all the laws of God and nature, have made laws for themselves which they strictly obey, as, for instance, the soldiers of Mahomet, robbers, heretics, etc. It is the same with logicians. It seems that their license must be without any limits or barriers, since they have broken through so many that are so just and sacred.
394. All the principles of sceptics, stoics, atheists, etc., are true. But their conclusions are false, because the opposite principles are also true.
395. Instinct, reason. — We have an incapacity of proof, insurmountable by all dogmatism. We have an idea of truth, invincible to all scepticism.
396. Two things instruct man about his whole nature; instinct and experience.
397. The greatness of man is great in that he knows himself to be miserable. A tree does not know itself to be miserable. It is then being miserable to know oneself to be miserable; but it is also being great to know that one is miserable.
398. All these same miseries prove man’s greatness. They are the miseries of a great lord, of a deposed king.
399. We are not miserable without feeling it. A ruined house is not miserable. Man only is miserable. Ego vir videns.[Lam. 3. 1. “I am the man that hath seen.”]
400. The greatness of man. — We have so great an idea of the soul of man that we cannot endure being despised, or not being esteemed by any soul; and all the happiness of men consists in this esteem.
401. — The brutes do not admire each other. A horse does not admire his companion. Not that there is no rivalry between them in a race, but that is of no consequence; for, when in the stable, the heaviest and most ill-formed does not give up his oats to another, as men would have others do to them. Their virtue is satisfied with itself.
402. The greatness of man even in his lust, to have known how to extract from it a wonderful code, and to have drawn from it a picture of benevolence.
403. Greatness.- The reasons of effects indicate the greatness of man, in having extracted so fair an order from lust.
404. The greatest baseness of man is the pursuit of glory. But is the greatest mark of his excellence; for whatever possessions he may have on earth, whatever health and essential comfort, he is not satisfied if he has not the esteem of men. He values human reason so highly that, whatever advantages he may have on earth, he is not content if he is not also ranked highly in the judgement of man. This is the finest position in the world. Nothing can turn him from that desire, which is the most indelible quality of man’s heart.
And those who must despise men, and put them on a level with the brutes, yet wish to be admired and believed by men, and contradict themselves by their own feelings; their nature, which is stronger than all, convincing them of the greatness of man more forcibly than reason convinces them of their baseness.
405. Contradiction. — Pride counterbalancing all miseries. Man either hides his miseries, or, if he disclose them, glories in knowing them.
406. Pride counterbalances and takes away all miseries. Here is a strange monster and a very plain aberration. He is fallen from his place and is anxiously seeking it. This is what all men do. Let us see who will have found it.
407. When malice has reason on its side, it becomes proud and parades reason in all its splendour. When austerity or stern choice has not arrived at the true good and must needs return to follow nature, it becomes proud by reason of this return.
408. Evil is easy, and has infinite forms; good is almost unique. But a certain kind of evil is as difficult to find as what we call good; and often on this account such particular evil gets passed off as good. An extraordinary greatness of soul is needed in order to attain to it as well as to good.
409. The greatness of man. — The greatness of man is so evident that it is even proved by his wretchedness. For what in animals is nature, we call in man wretchedness, by which we recognise that, his nature being now like that of animals, he has fallen from a better nature which once was his.
For who is unhappy at not being a king, except a deposed king? Was Paulus Aemilius unhappy at being no longer consul? On the contrary, everybody thought him happy in having been consul, because the office could only be held for a time. But men thought Perseus so unhappy in being no longer king, because the condition of kingship implied his being always king, that they thought it strange that he endured life. Who is unhappy at only having one mouth? And who is not unhappy at having only one eye? Probably no man ever ventured to mourn at not having three eyes. But any one is inconsolable at having none.
410. Perseus, King of Macedon. — Paulus Aemilius reproached Perseus for not killing himself.
411. Notwithstanding the sight of all our miseries, which press upon us and take us by the throat, we have an instinct which we cannot repress and which lifts us up.
412. There is internal war in man between reason and the passions.
If he had only reason without passions…If he had only passions without reason…But having both, he cannot be without strife, being unable to be at peace with the one without being at war with the other. Thus he is always divided against and opposed to himself.
413. This internal war of reason against the passions has made a division of those who would have peace into two sects. The first would renounce their passions and become gods; the others would renounce reason and become brute beasts. (Des Barreaux.) But neither can do so, and reason still remains, to condemn the vileness and injustice of the passions and to trouble the repose of those who abandon themselves to them; and the passions keep always alive in those who would renounce them.
414. Men are so necessarily mad that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.
415. The nature of man may be viewed in two ways: the one according to its end, and then he is great and incomparable; the other according to the multitude, just as we judge of the nature of the horse and the dog, popularly, by seeing its fleetness, et animum arcendi; and then man is abject and vile. These are the two ways which make us judge of him differently and which occasion such disputes among philosophers. For one denies the assumption of the other. One says, “He is not born for this end, for all his actions are repugnant to it.” The other says, “He forsakes his end, when he does these base actions.”
416. For Port-Royal. Greatness and wretchedness. — Wretchedness being deduced from greatness, and greatness from wretchedness, some have inferred man’s wretchedness all the more because they have taken his greatness as a proof of it, and others have inferred his greatness with all the more force, because they have inferred it from his very wretchedness. All that the one party has been able to say in proof of his greatness has only served as an argument of his wretchedness to the others, because the greater our fall, the more wretched we are, and vice versa. The one party is brought back to the other in an endless circle, it being certain that, in proportion as men possess light, they discover both the greatness and the wretchedness of man. In a word, man knows that he is wretched. He is therefore wretched, because be is so; but he is really great because he knows it.
417. This twofold nature of man is so evident that some have thought that we had two souls. A single subject seemed to them incapable of such sudden variations from unmeasured presumption to a dreadful dejection of heart.
418. It is dangerous to make man see too clearly his equality with the brutes without showing him his greatness. It is also dangerous to make his see his greatness too clearly, apart from his vileness. It is still more dangerous to leave him in ignorance of both. But it is very advantageous to show him both. Man must not think that he is on a level either with the brutes or with the angels, nor must he be ignorant of both sides of his nature; but he must know both.
419. I will not allow man to depend upon himself, or upon another, to the end that, being without a resting-place and without repose.
420. If he exalt himself, I humble him; if he humble himself, I exalt him; and I always contradict him, till he understands that he is an incomprehensible monster.
421. I blame equally those who choose to praise man, those who choose to blame him, and those who choose to amuse themselves; and I can only approve of those who seek with lamentation.
422. It is good to be tired and wearied by the vain search after the true good, that we may stretch out our arms to the Redeemer.
423. Contraries. After having shown the vileness and the greatness of man. — Let man now know his value. Let him love himself, for there is in him a nature capable of good; but let him not for this reason love the vileness which is in him. Let him despise himself, for this capacity is barren; but let him not therefore despise this natural capacity. Let him hate himself, let him love himself; he has within him the capacity of knowing the truth and of being happy, but he possesses no truth, either constant or satisfactory.
I would then lead man to the desire of finding truth; to be free from passions, and ready to follow it where he may find it, knowing how much his knowledge is obscured by the passions. I would, indeed, that he should hate in himself the lust which determined his will by itself so that it may not blind him in making his choice, and may not hinder him when he has chosen.
424. All these contradictions, which seem most to keep me from theknowledge of religion, have led me most quickly to the true one.