Why Blaise Pascal was “one of our deepest thinkers”

Portrait of Blaise Pascal exhibited at the Palace of Versailles (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

Gabsolute and multifaceted genius, gifted mathematician (he helped invent the calculation of probabilities and infinitesimal calculus), innovative physicist (he highlighted atmospheric pressure and the reality of vacuum), Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) was above all a writer dazzling, an outstanding psychologist, a rigorous theologian and mystic, finally one of our deepest thinkers.

He is sometimes denied the title of philosopher, because he did not invent system. It is that he understood, after Montaigne and before Nietzsche, the falsity of all. This Christian believes in nothing, or rather he believes only in God: on everything else – man, reason, politics, love, philosophy – he sheds a harsh light that brings out our lies. , our pettiness, our illusions. No one has better penetrated the misery of man than he; no one, better than him, has measured his greatness.

Death, Love and God

Torn between the infinitely large and the infinitely small, which are equally out of reach for us, we cannot find our place in the universe (in an infinite space, they are all equal), even less our happiness. Nature offers neither meaning nor salvation (“The eternal silence of these infinite spaces frightens me”). Nothing awaits us there except death: “The last act is bloody, however beautiful the comedy in all the rest. We finally throw earth on the head, and there you have it forever. »

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This is why we invented entertainment: to forget that we are going to die and that we are not happy. “Nothing is so intolerable to man as to be in complete repose, without passion, without business, without entertainment, without application. He then feels his nothingness, his abandonment, his insufficiency, his dependence, his impotence, his emptiness. Immediately, boredom, darkness, sadness, grief, spite, despair will emerge from the depths of his soul. »

We would like to be happy, and we cannot. How would we be, since we never stop hoping to become one? “The present never satisfies us” ; happiness is always for tomorrow, which is never there. “So we never live, we hope to live” ; so that “always disposing ourselves to be happy, it is inevitable that we never will be.”

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How to get out? By love, since we only live for it. But we only know how to love ourselves (this is what Pascal calls self-love) or for us (this is what he calls concupiscence). These two loves, legitimate at first, have taken center stage in man since the fall of Adam and Eve. This is what dooms us to sin, unhappiness, dissatisfaction: we desire only what we lack; we are indefinitely lacking the very thing that makes us live. It shows the way. “This infinite chasm can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object” : for Pascal, only God, who is infinitely lovable and loving, can fulfill us.

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