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Pensées and other writings by Blaise Pascal

Pensées and other writings (1670)

by Blaise Pascal

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Wow- I read the edited version, which the Levis got down to about 180, plus a few other essays which were reasonably helpful. Having done this, I'm pretty happy saying that someone should really do a 90 page version, which would give you much of the important material, without any of the random notes. When people read, say, Heidegger or Dostoevsky, they don't feel obliged to read the notes they made on the back of restaurant menus along the lines of "look up Kierkegaard on the color green" or "think through monasticism viz self-hatred". But apparently you need them for Pascal. Well, it ruins the reading experience.

Also ruining the reading experience is Pascal being a Jansenist, which raises my Pelagian hackles; and his droning on about miracles, which raises my rationalist hackles. Really, nobody alive today who is reading Pascal needs 40 pages on miracles.

Despite which, I can see that this would have been a really amazing book if he'd lived to re-draft it about a billion times.

Start with the modern, reflective, rational self; add grand conversion experience. Okay- now think about 'human nature,' concluding that it's a combination of reason and passions; of will and heart and so on. Look around you and realize that everything is shitty, thanks to original sin. Remember that you've only been happy since you converted: no more scepticism, no more self-obsession. Don't you want other people to be like that? Of course you do. You think everyone's an asshole, but you're nice enough to wish they weren't, and that they were happy. Okay. Think about conversion. Because you're a Jansenist (jerk) you believe that conversion comes from the grace of God, and only from God. Now you're in a bind: you want other people to convert, and that you should help them; and you believe that there's nothing you can do to help them. Yes, reason is important, but it can't help us be happy. Yes, (eternal) happiness is the most important thing, but there's nothing we can do to be happy. Oh shit. Begin angsting in a highly entertaining, intelligent way, which anticipates, among others, Kant and Adorno. Voila: a great book. That happens to be 100 pages too long thanks to the inclusion of nonsense about miracles.

The famous wager's pretty boring by comparison to all that: just an attempt to provide a 'proof' for belief that Pascal thinks can never work without grace.

Anyway, these editors do a fantastic job giving you a way in to this mess, which is otherwise totally overwhelming (qua quantity) and underwhelming (qua quality). ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
It is difficult to decide what to say upon reading The Pensees of Blaise Pascal. The fragments, some resembling aphorisms with a few extending to several pages of prose, were left disorganized and unedited at Pascal's death. Readers have pondered over The Pensees (literally thoughts) ever since trying to interpret them and discern some semblance of a world view from them. In my reading I also tried to comprehend the fragmentary comments and found the views of Monsieur Pascal, to the extent that I understand them, to be foreign to my own views of life. For Pascal the human condition is wretched with man's reason a frail thing on which life ultimately cannot depend. The overwhelming importance of such concepts as immortality and original sin imbue his world view with a supernatural and other-worldly outlook that is difficult to reconcile with reality. Perhaps his personal physical ailments were the source of his view that man in general shared his hatred of the human body. Of the many thinkers who have contemplated Pascal over the years since his Pensees were left to us in 1670, Voltaire expresses thoughts close to my own when he says, "Nature does not make us unhappy all the time. Pascal always speaks like a sick man who wants the entire world to suffer."(Philosophical Letters, "Twenty-fifth Letter, On Mr. Pascal's Pensees"). For Pascal unhappiness is our lot, the corruption of the body is complete and irredeemable, self esteem is to be abhorred, god's thoughts are impenetrable and yet, we would be better off if we accept the wager that he does exist. Well I, for one, neither accept Mr. Pascal's worldview nor his wager. I look forward to continued wonder at the mysteries of existence and I celebrate the continuing progress that, weak as we may be, we humans produce with our reason. ( )
  jwhenderson | May 17, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0192836552, Paperback)

For much of his life, Pascal (1623-62) worked on a magnum opus which was never published in the form the philosopher intended. Instead, Pascal left a mass of fragments, some of them meant as notes for the Apologie. These became known as the Pensées, and they occupy a crucial place in Western philosophy and religious writing. This translation is the only one based on the Pensées as Pascal left them. It includes the principal dossiers classified by Pascal, as well as the essential portion of his important Writings on Grace.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:02 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

For much of his life Pascal (1623-62) worked on a magnum opus which was never published in its intended form. Instead, he left a mass of fragments, some of them meant as notes for the Apologie. These were to become known as the Pensees, and they occupy a crucial place in Western philosophy and religious writing. Pascal's general intention was to confound scepticism about metaphysical questions. Some of the Pensees are fully developed literary reflections on the human condition, some contradict others, and some remain jottings whose meaning will never be clear. The most important are among the most powerful aphorisms about human experience and behavior ever written in any language. This translation is the only one based on the Pensees as Pascal left them. It includes the principal dossiers classified by Pascal, as well as the essential portion of the important Writings on Grace. A detailed thematic index gives access to Pascal's areas of concern, while the selection of texts and the Introduction help to show why Pascal changed the plan of his projected work before abandoning the book he might have written.… (more)

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