By François Mauriac

11,621 ratings - 3.96* vote

En los Pensamientos esta presente la reflexion de Pascal sobre la condicion humana y las relaciones de la misma con Dios. Aunque su meditacion no es cientifica, si lo es su constante referencia al modo de pensar. Su metodo y punto de partida es el corazon, y lo razonable consiste en apoyarse en el. Estudia lo que el llama " el hombre honesto," que es aquel cuyo trato con l En los Pensamientos esta presente la reflexion de Pascal sobre la condicion humana y las relaciones de la misma

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Book details

Paperback, 348 pages
December 31st 1999 by Losada

(first published 1670)

Original Title
Pensées sur la religion et autres sujets
0140446451 (ISBN13: 9789500392686)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


Perhaps half of this was basically wasted on me. As an atheist, books providing proofs for the existence of God are perhaps 40 years or so too late. The problem here isn’t so much that he is trying to prove the existence of an entity that he himself admits particularly likes to hide – presumably you can see the problem here – but also that some of his proofs seemed utterly bizarre to me. One of my favourites was him saying that the Old Testament was the oldest book in the world. You see, it was written not terribly long after the world had been created. And, at that time there wasn’t a hell of a lot to talk about – science hadn’t really gotten going and that sort of thing – so people mostly sat around talking about their family tree. So, that is why you can pretty well rely on the fact that the first part of the Bible is – well – gospel. I know, you think I’m making this sound dafter than it actually is as one of those standard ploys atheist engage in. You are right to be cynical. So, here it is, quoted in full:

The longevity of the patriarchs, instead of causing the loss of past history, conduced, on the contrary, to its preservation. For the reason why we are sometimes insufficiently instructed in the history of our ancestors, is that we have never lived long with them, and that they are often dead before we have attained the age of reason. Now, when men lived so long, children lived long with their parents. They conversed long with them. But what else could be the subject of their talk save the history of their ancestors, since to that all history was reduced, and men did not study science or art, which now form a large part of daily conversation? We see also that in these days tribes took particular care to preserve their genealogies.”

Other parts of this require a much closer knowledge of the Bible than I have to be able to follow. All the same, it didn’t exactly inspire me to go rushing off to look up Deut. xxx.

So, my advice, unless you are interested in these more or less iffy proofs of the existence of God, is to stop about halfway though this. You’ll know when – it will become quite clear.

The only thing I would point to in the last half of this book is something I had always thought was said by an atheist.

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”

The reason why I read this was because Bourdieu calls himself a Pascallian and so I thought I had better see why. And there are lots of reasons why this might be the case and I think they are all in the first half of the book.

The first is the bit that almost completely reminds me of a couple of books on happiness I read a few years ago: both The Happiness Hypothesis and Stumbling on Happiness. The main lesson to be drawn from both of these books is that we humans are pathetically bad at knowing what it is that will make us happy. Pascal makes the point that we do things happily where the prize itself really isn’t what we are after. The example he gives is spending a day chasing a hare that you wouldn’t buy in the market or accept as a gift. The modern version of this is ‘it’s about the journey, rather than the destination’ – and I think this is really true. I think the worst thing that can happen to you is to have an achievable goal in life and to reach that goal. He makes the point repeatedly that if you were given whatever you were likely to win at the beginning of the day and then told to enjoy your leisure for the rest of the day that nothing would be more likely to make you miserable. That activity with some form of reward provides us with the greatest source of happiness.

The other thing he says is his most quoted line: The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know. This is one of the ideas that Bourdieu certainly borrows from Pascal, this whole notion of habit and embodied reasons that we justify afterwards with our mental reason. I kept thinking of Haidt’s elephant and elephant driver (reason and habit) and his saying that habit wins in the end (the elephant) because eventually reason needs to sleep. Pascal would have had no trouble accepting this idea.

The first half of this book is just brimming over with lovely thoughts – the meaning of the title of the book, after all – and that is possibly also true of the second half of the book, but as I’ve said, a lot of that went over my head. A large part of this is designed to convince non-believers of the benefits of belief. But anyone who says things like - we laugh and cry about the same things – honestly, they can’t be all bad.


Pascal has caused atheists to doubt their atheism more often than Nietzsche has theists their theism - why? Because those that let their hearts guide their thoughts are never in doubt, but those who unwisely look to results to guide them, as macho ubermensches perforce exclusively must, are always finding their conviction to be as slippery as the passing moment (no one result ever convinces the result-minded). Recognizing this, Pascal places a weighty emphasis on the heart and the nature of its law, which is ultimately inscrutable but much less so than the world around us; he hauntingly chastises our placing undue emphasis on rationality, saying "Contradiction is no more an indication of falsehood than lack of it an indication of truth." Yeah! Pascal - the master dialectician. Indeed, so masterful is Pascal, one truly cannot believe an atheist sincere if s/he has not read him; at least I cannot, for the thought contained here remains, for science has done nothing to weaken its impact, the epitome of profundity.

E. G.

Introduction, by Anthony LeviNote on the TextSelect BibliographyA Chronology of Blaise Pascal--Pensées--Discussion with Monsieur de Sacy--The Art of PersuasionWritings on Grace:--Letter on the Possibility of the Commandments--Treatise concerning PredestinationExplanatory NotesThematic Index


Pascal's philosophy is quite simple, far from being a conceptual or speculative exposition, as it would seem at first sight. It is an experience of thinking in meditation on human being, and on the christian faith, à result of a passionate spirit, particularly sensitive to the turmoil and contradictions in man and in the age in which he lived.
I would place his thoughts on the line of a protestant or catholic theology, but also as an anticipation of a contemporary pragmatism or irrationalism.
The central problem of Pascal's philosophy is the harmonization of reason with faith, but everywhere the problem of man - a being difficult to define - follows him as a shadow, for he lets himself be guided by the heart, and " the heart has reasons which reason itself does not know ".
This edition is an abbreviated one, of only 92 pages, but so dense, that on any page I would open the book, it is full of strong sentences, it is practically a river of maxims of a staggering depth.
The general idea focuses on one statement : man is a heap of contradictions, contradictions between thought and deed, and as a true christian you must be able to recognize these contradictions. His misery comes from originar sin, and greatness from a divine vocation, but paradoxically, the source of these contradictions is Reason, because of it we are subject to originar sin, and at the same time, through it man can prove his greatness.
I could not say that I was overly enthusiastic about this volume, but as a reading it was an absolutely delightful one, each sentence making me refflect on my own self, in relation to the contradictions listed by Pascal :)
And I think, that, despite Pascal's apparent attempt to convert the reader religiously, the book can also be read without believing in God, but in the power of writing.

David Sarkies

Religious Thoughts of a Mathematician
29 August 2016 - Paris, France

When I was learning French I was rather thrown by the way their numbers work after about 60, as is demonstrated by this picture, which shows how English, German, and French construct the number 98:

French Numbers

My first thought was 'this is absolutely ridiculous, how on Earth could the French have produced any mathematicians?” Well, it turns out that they produced at least two – Rene Descartes (notable for Cartesian Geometry) and Blaise Pascal (who built his own calculator, most likely to assist him in deciphering the French numerical system). At least the Germans only switch their numbers around, it just seems like the French reached the number 60 and simply became too lazy to work out any beyond that (and if you look at the numbers 17, 18, and 19, you will see a similar pattern there). Anyway, I'm not writing this to bag the French (only the way they count), but to have another look at Pascal's Pensees.

This is the second time I have read this book, and I thought it was an appropriate book to read while travelling through France, and I have just managed to finish it off on my first day in Paris (while sitting out the front of a cafe drinking what was effectively an overpriced beer and an over priced bottle of Pine-apple juice, which is another oddity – the English refer to them and Pineapples while those on the continent refer to them as Annanas – but that is another story). As I have done previously, I have left my previous review below, though that was written back when I was studying Church History at a Bible college and having realised that I had already written a review on it I was about to move on to another book when I felt that I should read him again, just to see if I end up viewing him differently.

Well, I'm going to have to agree with what Trevor said in his review in that the first part of the book, namely the section where Pascal managed to order his Pensees, is actually pretty good, but when you get to the section where the editor has then tried to put them into some sort of order, and failing that just thrown the rest of them into a miscellaneous chapter, it does sort of start to go down hill. For instance you will find some that are simply huge chucks of the Bible, and not really ethical thoughts, but rather ideas on prophecies and their fulfilments. Like a lot of fundamentalist preachers these days he does seem to spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on the book of Daniel.

The other thing is that Pascal spends a lot of time arguing that Christianity cannot be proved through reason, however the proceeds to use reason to try to prove Christianity. I remember my father telling me once that it is impossible to prove Christianity by using science namely because non-scientists generally don't understand the detailed scientific explanations, and non-Christian scientists have their own explanations as to why things happen. For instance, I asked my Dad why is it that the events at the Big Bang seems to go against the Law of Therodynamics, that is the scientific law that says that everything moves from a state of order to a state of disorder. Well, just like gravity (what goes up, must come down), there are exceptions (unless you have a really big rocket underneath you). The other thing with the Big Bang is that nobody was around to measure it so we don't actually know what went on. Also the universe is also constantly expanding, which once again seems to go against the law of entropy, though I think I'll leave it at that is it is starting to make my brain hurt.

Anyway, reading through the Pensees it seems as if Pascal was one of those guys who started off as a scientist (or rather a mathematician), discovered God, and then started to try to use science to prove God. It reminded me a lot of those Creation Scientists, the ones who go around claiming that if you don't believe in a six-day creation you are denying Christ, and if you deny Christ then you are going to hell. Well, I guess that is it for me then, but that is beside the point. The thing is that while I believe that they have some valid ideas, I do try to leave my mind open for other possibilities. However, as I was reading Pascal this time I simply found how his arguments simply didn't seem to work all that well, and while it might have worked with the people of his time period, these days it simply seems that his writings would probably only appeal to the fundamentalist sects (and even then they would probably end up rejecting him as a heretic namely because he is a Catholic).

Despite all that, I do feel that he does have a lot to say and I will touch on a couple of things here, the first being distractions. There is a lot of criticism of distractions in the modern world – such as sport, movies, Keeping up with the Kardasians, et al – and that these distractions serve to keep the actions of the power elite from being known by the common people. Well, Pascal suggests that this is not necessarily the case, and I sort of agree with him. The thing is that the common people generally don't care what the power elite are doing, and as long as they have their goodies they will be happy. It is not a question of human rights, nor is it a question of freedom of speech – people will do what they are prone to do – no it is a question of boredom. It is not as if the common person, if the truth is revealed to them, are suddenly going to take to the streets with pitchforks – the Peasants in France knew what the Aristocracy and the Church was all about, they only revolted when their own situation became so dire that they had nothing left to lose (and were also prodded on by a pretty powerful bourgeoisie). Rather, it is to prevent boredom. The thing is that if a person is bored they get up to mischief, and if a lot of people get up to mischief together then anarchy reigns.

The other thing about distraction is how it is used in relation to the monarch. Pascal suggests that the monarch is fed distractions by his advisors to prevent the monarch from establishing his (or her) own agenda. Mind you, that depends on how strong the monarch actually is – a strong monarch is going to do their own thing no matter what. However, in most cases, as is suggested by Pascal, it is the advisors and the inner circle that actually dictates how the country is administered. The king is fed distractions so that he will in effect relinquish his (or her) power to them. It could be said that it is the same with politicians today, especially career politicians who probably have no skill set outside of doing what politicians actually do (which is a question to which I an struggling to find an answer). The reality is that most politicians (and cabinet ministers) have no idea how to actually do their job and thus rely on advisors to help them make the decision. In the end the politician, seeing that it is all too hard, arranges for another overseas junket and gets the advisors to make the final decisions and simply signs on the dotted line.

One of the things that seems to get up Pascal's nose are vain people – namely those who think of themselves over others. Mind you, he is probably right because it is our vanity that seems to be the cause of a lot of problems that we face in the world, and it is not just the question of the rich not paying their taxes because many of us in the Western World (me included) generally think of our own happiness above the welfare and security of others. In fact it is coming to the point where many of our countries are doing everything that we can to close our borders to refugees and immigrants and blaming in influx of foreigners for all of our woahs. In a way one of the main reasons that the leave vote won out in Britain was because people believed that by voting leave they would get rid of all of the immigrants and return Britain to that of the Anglo-Saxons. In many cases we in the west are hoarders – sure, we might be generous to an extent, even the absurdly rich are pretty generous with their money – they give to charities and to cultural institutions – in fact on a proportionate basis they are probably more generous than many of us who can actually afford to be charitable (though I am not taking into account the reasons for their giving since many of us give for ulterior motives such as a tax deduction). However, when Pascal looked around he we would see an awful lot of vanity in the world, and even when people appeared to be kind and generous he tended to see something beyond that. As Jesus pointed out at the temple one day it was the poor widow who gave the single coin who was the more generous because while the rich gave out of their wealth she gave out of her poverty.

Which leads me to the concept of the inversion – people who consider themselves good and righteous end up being anything but. Mind you, this isn't something that Pascal comes up with himself but rather something that is a constant theme throughout the Bible and can best be seen in the Sermon on the Mount, in particular the beatitudes – the poor become rich, the weak become strong, the sorrowful become joyful. In a way it is not a question of outward appearances but inward appearances. Isn't it interesting that when somebody gives out of their wealth an organisation will reward them for that, which means that such people continue to give knowing that their generosity will be rewarded and they will be viewed as a generous person. As Jesus suggests these people have received their reward in full, especially if that is the reason for them giving generously. However those who give a small amount tend to never to be recognised. Well, they might get a thankyou (or a Merci Beaucoup) but a lot of organisations will tend to ignore them when they give and only say thankyou when tapping them for more money. This is another thing that I have noticed – when you start giving to these organisations they will continue to ask for money, and normally will ask for more and more – if I give them $500.00 within a month I will receive a letter asking for $750, $1000, or even $2000. In fact the only letters that I seem to get from them is 'can you make another donation and can you make it more this time'.

I should finish off with the idea of the wager, that is that life is a wager and the stakes are eternity, so you either have the choice to live a moral life or an immoral one. The results are that if you live a moral life but it turns out that God doesn't exist then you lose nothing because the moral life is always the better life, but if you live an immoral life and it turns out that God does exist then you lose out big time. Mind you, I have simplified it somewhat, especially since it should actually be 'Christian life' instead of 'moral life' but I'm sure you understand what I mean. The thing is that people outwardly parade their goodness to receive praise from those around them tend not to actually be moral people – sure, they may life immaculate lives in front of everybody but their private life may hold a huge number of dirty secrets. As far as I am concerned it is always going to be a heart things, you don't do things because you want people to say 'gee, what a good person' you do things because it is always better to live a moral life than an immoral life, especially since the immoral life always comes back and bites you.

A collection of Theological statements
11 May 2012 - Adelaide, Australia

Blaise Pascal is an enigma. He is a Catholic who in his book writes like an evangelical (or, more to the point, protestant as they were in those days). He is also a scientist/mathematician/engineer who writes what I must admit is an incredibly intense theological treatise. Well, not so much a treatise, but more a collection of sayings (some short, some quite long) exploring the nature of God, Jesus, the Bible, and our relationship with the Trinity. The book is not finished. He became too sick to continue the work and what we have now is a collection of the 'sayings' (if that is what you want to call them) in the order that he wanted them to be in, and a whole heap of others with no rhyme or reason (or at least they are not quite complete nor are they in any particular order). As such the later editors have done their best to attempt to put them where they think they best fit, but it is highly unlikely anybody would be able to know what Pascal's original intentions were.

This book does allow one to get into Pascal's mind and understand his theology and his response to it, though Pascal was one of those very rare individuals that appears to live in a world of his own, though through this book we do catch a glimpse of this world.


Men are so necessarily mad that it would be another twist of madness not to be mad.

And what completes our inability to understand things is that they are not so simple in themselves, and we are made up of two different kinds of opposing natures, body and soul...For this reason almost all philosophers confuse the ideas of things, and speak spiritually of corporeal things and corporeally of spiritual ones...Instead of accepting the idea of these things in their pure state, we tint them with our qualities, and imprint our composite nature on to all the simple things we see.

The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me.


This bushy and dense work is the last book of Jansenist Blaise Pascal, singing the praises of the Christian religion in the face of non-believers and sceptics in a whole lot of reflections. For my part, this reading was compulsory in the academic baccalaureate program, since I only put two stars, it goes without saying that I did not stick at all to Pascalian ideas.


“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.”

Originally intended to be an Apology for Christianism, this book comes out as a unique mashup of casual notes, musings, ethical, logical and metaphysical observations put together by Pascal's family.

As it is, it is mainly about two unsplittable halves : the vanity of Man, the greatness of Man.


“L’homme n’est qu’un roseau, le plus faible de la nature; mais c’est un roseau pensant. Il ne faut pas que l’univers entier s’arme pour l’écraser : une vapeur, une goutte d’eau suffit pour le tuer. Mais quand l’univers l’écraserait, l’homme serait encore plus noble que ce qui le tue, parce qu’il sait qu’il meurt, et l’avantage que l’univers a sur lui, l’univers n’en sait rien”

Comme le nom l'indique, vous tenez une collection hétéroclite de pensées sur l'éthique, le droit, la puissance de l'habitude et de l'imagination chez l'homme. Ce qui devait former les fondations d'une apologie de la Chrétienté par Blaise Pascal, d'obédience janséniste.


Pascal's Pensées were never intended to be read, much like Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. As such, they honestly reveal the private thoughts of great philosophers on the human condition, and lo, they speak of how miserable people are. Both were lonely men made so by their great intellect and great character. While Marcus continues to strive with Ragnarokian futility to fulfill all his duties in a life of perfect virtue, Pascal is a bit more pessimistic, yet in the end more hopeful when he looks to Christ for ultimate purpose.

Even those who don't believe in God will extract much wisdom from Pascal. His one-liners are some of the most devastating observations of human psychology. Even a cursory exercise in quote-mining will yield many seeds for extended thought. This book should be read carefully and digested fragment by fragment, line by line.

Some of my favorite one-liners:
- 'We search for happiness and find only wretchedness and death.'
- 'I blame equally those who decide to praise man, those who blame him, and those who want to be diverted. I can only approve those who search in anguish.'
- 'If you do not think about it enough, or if you think about it too much, you become obstinate and blinkered.'
- 'Man's condition: Inconstancy, boredom, anxiety.'
- 'What is based on reason alone is very ill-founded, like the appreciation of wisdom.'
- 'Anyone who does not see the vanity of the world is very vain himself.'
- 'But take away their distractions and you will see them wither from boredom.'
- 'When we read too quickly or too slowly we understand nothing.'
- 'More often than not curiosity is merely vanity. We only want to know something in order to talk about it.'
- 'It is easier to put up with death without thinking about it, than with the idea of death when there is no danger of it.'
- 'Our instinct leads us to believe we must seek our happiness outside ourselves.'
- 'Humans, it is hopeless to look for the remedy for your wretchedness in yourselves. All your intelligence can only bring you to realize that it is not in yourselves that you will find either truth or good.'
- 'We are fools to rely on the company of our equals as wretched and helpless as we are. We will die alone.'
- 'Contradiction is not an indication of falsehood and the absence of contradiction is not a sign of truth.'
- 'There are many who believe, but through superstition. There are many who do not believe, but through licentiousness.'
- 'To uphold piety to the point of superstition is to destroy it.'
- 'Knowing God without knowing our wretchedness leads to pride.'
- 'Knowing wretchedness without knowing God leads to despair.'