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Thoughts On Religion And Philosophy. New…

Thoughts On Religion And Philosophy. New translation with essay by Isaac…

by Blaise Pascal

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Pascal's Thoughts on Philosophy and Religion (often just referred to as his Pensées ) consists of the fragments of an unfinished work which was to be a justification of the Christian religion.
This particular volume opens with a biography and essay on Pascal, written by Isaac Taylor, which together come to around 100 pages. This explains to the reader how Pascal was one of the most eminent mathematicians, scientists, and writers of his age, in addition to being a profound philosophical thinker.
One of the bits of the Pensées I enjoyed most was near the beginning, where the place of man in the universe is described, and the human condition. Some of the emphasis of this reminded me of the Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, such as our very smallness among the infinities of time and space, but our significance despite this due to our ability to think and appreciate our condition. Pascal's other insights into the human condition seem relevant and thought provoking still now, and demonstrate his clarity of thinking, and will probably be of more interest to the general reader than some of the more theological chapters later on in the work.
French philosophers had already a reputation as religious thinkers prior to Pascal, with Descartes being a notable member of these and also an associate of Pascal's father. Pascal differs greatly in his handling of religious matters from Descartes though, despite them both being geometers, logicians, and Christians. While Descartes took a more Deistic approach to the question of God, Pascal favours a Theistic viewpoint, with much more of a reliance on scripture than logic. This might be surprising to those who know of this work through “Pascal's Wager”, which shows a belief in God to be rational through an assessment of odds: If we deny the Christian God, and God exists, we face eternal hell, if he doesn't exist, then we lose nothing; If we believe in God and he does exist, we gain eternal life, if he doesn't exist we lose nothing. The odds of this assessment favour the belief in God. What, of course, this fails to do, is to create the belief in God in the individual, and merely shows that it is rational to believe. Pascal then goes on to say that God can only be known through Christ, and through the heart, and that God cannot be found through philosophy and logic alone, which contrasts to the deism of philosophers such as Spinoza, but appears again later in the religous philosophy of Kierkegaard.
This work is of very much more than purely religious interest, with one of the most interesting chapters being a collection of miscellaneous thoughts.
The chapters vary quite widely in the ease and enjoyment with which they can be read, but this is understandable given that the work was not finished. Despite this, it remains a largely accessible book, and worth making the effort to complete if the reader is interested in the major questions of Philosophy. ( )
1 vote P_S_Patrick | Feb 24, 2013 |
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