Pensées Blaise Pascal

 Title:    Pensées

Autor:    Blaise Pascal   

Category:    Filosofia

Language:    Inglês

Pensées Blaise Pascal


 by Blaise Pascal
 translated by W. F. Trotter
1. The difference between the mathematical and the intuitive mind.--In the
one, the principles are palpable, but removed from ordinary use; so that for
want of habit it is difficult to turn one's mind in that direction: but if
one turns it thither ever so little, one sees the principles fully, and one
must have a quite inaccurate mind who reasons wrongly from principles so
plain that it is almost impossible they should escape notice.
But in the intuitive mind the principles are found in common use and are
before the eyes of everybody. One has only to look, and no effort is
necessary; it is only a question of good eyesight, but it must be good, for
the principles are so subtle and so numerous that it is almost impossible
but that some escape notice. Now the omission of one principle leads to
error; thus one must have very clear sight to see all the principles and, in
the next place, an accurate mind not to draw false deductions from known
All mathematicians would then be intuitive if they had clear sight, for they
do not reason incorrectly from principles known to them; and intuitive minds
would be mathematical if they could turn their eyes to the principles of
mathematics to which they are unused.
The reason, therefore, that some intuitive minds are not mathematical is
that they cannot at all turn their attention to the principles of
mathematics. But the reason that mathematicians are not intuitive is that
they do not see what is before them, and that, accustomed to the exact and
plain principles of mathematics, and not reasoning till they have well
inspected and arranged their principles, they are lost in matters of
intuition where the principles do not allow of such arrangement. They are
scarcely seen; they are felt rather than seen; there is the greatest
difficulty in making them felt by those who do not of themselves perceive
them. These principles are so fine and so numerous that a very delicate and
very clear sense is needed to perceive them, and to judge rightly and justly
when they are perceived, without for the most part being able to demonstrate
them in order as in mathematics, because the principles are not known to us
in the same way, and because it would be an endless matter to undertake it.
We must see the matter at once, at one glance, and not by a process of
reasoning, at least to a certain degree. And thus it is rare that
mathematicians are intuitive and that men of intuition are mathematicians,
because mathematicians wish to treat matters of intuition mathematically and
make themselves ridiculous, wishing to begin with definitions and then with
axioms, which is not the way to proceed in this kind of reasoning. Not that
the mind does not do so, but it does it tacitly, naturally, and without
technical rules; for the expression of it is beyond all men, and only a few
can feel it.
Intuitive minds, on the contrary, being thus accustomed to judge at a single
glance, are so astonished when they are presented with propositions of which
they understand nothing, and the way to which is through definitions and
axioms so sterile, and which they are not accustomed to see thus in detail,
that they are repelled and disheartened.
But dull minds are never either intuitive or mathematical.
Mathematicians who are only mathematicians have exact minds, provided all
things are explained to them by means of definitions and axioms; otherwise
they are inaccurate and insufferable, for they are only right when the
principles are quite clear.
And men of intuition who are only intuitive cannot have the patience to
reach to first principles of things speculative and conceptual, which they
have never seen in the world and which are altogether out of the common.
2. There are different kinds of right understanding; some have right
understanding in a certain order of things, and not in others, where they go
astray. Some draw conclusions well from a few premises, and this displays an
acute judgment.
Others draw conclusions well where there are many premises.
For example, the former easily learn hydrostatics, where the premises are
few, but the conclusions are so fine that only the greatest acuteness can
reach them.
And in spite of that these persons would perhaps not be great
mathematicians, because mathematics contain a great number of premises, and
there is perhaps a kind of intellect that can search with ease a few
premises to the bottom and cannot in the least penetrate those matters in
which there are many premises.
There are then two kinds of intellect: the one able to penetrate acutely and
deeply into the conclusions of given premises, and this is the precise
intellect; the other able to comprehend a great number of premises without
confusing them, and this is the mathematical intellect. The one has force
and exactness, the other comprehension. Now the one quality can exist
without the other; the intellect can be strong and narrow, and can also be
comprehensive and weak.
3. Those who are accustomed to judge by feeling do not understand the
process of reasoning, for they would understand at first sight and are not
used to seek for principles. And others, on the contrary, who are accustomed
to reason from principles, do not at all understand matters of feeling,
seeking principles and being unable to see at a glance.
4. Mathematics, intuition.--True eloquence makes light of eloquence, true
morality makes light of morality; that is to say, the morality of the
judgement, which has no rules, makes light of the morality of the intellect.
For it is to judgement that perception belongs, as science belongs to
intellect. Intuition is the part of judgement, mathematics of intellect.
To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher.
5. Those who judge of a work by rule are in regard to others as those who
have a watch are in regard to others. One says, "It is two hours ago"; the
other says, "It is only three-quarters of an hour." I look at my watch, and
say to the one, "You are weary," and to the other, "Time gallops with you";
for it is only an hour and a half ago, and I laugh at those who tell me that
time goes slowly with me and that I judge by imagination. They do not know
that I judge by my watch.
6. Just as we harm the understanding, we harm the feelings also.
The understanding and the feelings are moulded by intercourse; the
understanding and feelings are corrupted by intercourse. Thus good or bad
society improves or corrupts them. It is, then, all-important to know how to
choose in order to improve and not to corrupt them; and we cannot make this
choice, if they be not already improved and not corrupted. Thus a circle is
formed, and those are fortunate who escape it.
7. The greater intellect one has, the more originality one finds in men.
Ordinary persons find no difference between men.
8. There are many people who listen to a sermon in the same way as they
listen to vespers.
9. When we wish to correct with advantage and to show another that he errs,
we must notice from what side he views the matter, for on that side it is
usually true, and admit that truth to him, but reveal to him the side on
which it is false. He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not
mistaken and that he only failed to see all sides. Now, no one is offended
at not seeing everything; but one does not like to be mistaken, and that
perhaps arises from the fact that man naturally cannot see everything, and
that naturally he cannot err in the side he looks at, since the perceptions
of our senses are always true.
10. People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have
themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.
11. All great amusements are dangerous to the Christian life; but among all
those which the world has invented there is none more to be feared than the
theatre. It is a representation of the passions so natural and so delicate
that it excites them and gives birth to them in our hearts, and, above all,
to that of love, principally when it is represented as very chaste and
virtuous. For the more innocent it appears to innocent souls, the more they
are likely to be touched by it. Its violence pleases our self-love, which
immediately forms a desire to produce the same effects which are seen so
well represented; and, at the same time, we make ourselves a conscience
founded on the propriety of the feelings which we see there, by which the
fear of pure souls is removed, since they imagine that it cannot hurt their
purity to love with a love which seems to them so reasonable.
So we depart from the theatre with our heart so filled with all the beauty
and tenderness of love, the soul and the mind so persuaded of its innocence,
that we are quite ready to receive its first impressions, or rather to seek
an opportunity of awakening them in the heart of another, in order that we
may receive the same pleasures and the same sacrifices which we have seen so
well represented in the theatre.
12. Scaramouch, who only thinks of one thing.
The doctor, who speaks for a quarter of an hour after he has said
everything, so full is he of the desire of talking.
13. One likes to see the error, the passion of Cleobuline, because she is
unconscious of it. She would be displeasing, if she were not deceived.
14. When a natural discourse paints a passion or an effect, one feels within
oneself the truth of what one reads, which was there before, although one
did not know it. Hence one is inclined to love him who makes us feel it, for
he has not shown us his own riches, but ours. And thus this benefit renders
him pleasing to us, besides that such community of intellect as we have with
him necessarily inclines the heart to love.
15. Eloquence, which persuades by sweetness, not by authority; as a tyrant,
not as a king.
16. Eloquence is an art of saying things in such a way (1) that those to
whom we speak may listen to them without pain and with pleasure; (2) that
they feel themselves interested, so that self-love leads them more willingly
to reflection upon it.
It consists, then, in a correspondence which we seek to establish between
the head and the heart of those to whom we speak, on the one hand, and, on
the other, between the thoughts and the expressions which we employ. This
assumes that we have studied well the heart of man so as to know all its
powers and, then, to find the just proportions of the discourse which we
wish to adapt to them. We must put ourselves in the place of those who are
to hear us, and make trial on our own heart of the turn which we give to our
discourse in order to see whether one is made for the other, and whether we
can assure ourselves that the hearer will be, as it were, forced to
surrender. We ought to restrict ourselves, so far as possible, to the simple
and natural, and not to magnify that which is little, or belittle that which
is great. It is not enough that a thing be beautiful; it must be suitable to
the subject, and there must be in it nothing of excess or defect.
17. Rivers are roads which move, and which carry us whither we desire to go.
18. When we do not know the truth of a thing, it is of advantage that there
should exist a common error which determines the mind of man, as, for
example, the moon, to which is attributed the change of seasons, the
progress of diseases, etc. For the chief malady of man is restless curiosity
about things which he cannot understand; and it is not so bad for him to be
in error as to be curious to no purpose.
The manner in which Epictetus, Montaigne, and Salomon de Tultie wrote is the
most usual, the most suggestive, the most remembered, and the oftenest
quoted, because it is entirely composed of thoughts born from the common
talk of life. As when we speak of the common error which exists among men
that the moon is the cause of everything, we never fail to say that Salomon
de Tultie says that, when we do not know the truth of a thing, it is of
advantage that there should exist a common error, etc.; which is the thought
19. The last thing one settles in writing a book is what one should put in
20. Order.--Why should I undertake to divide my virtues into four rather
than into six? Why should I rather establish virtue in four, in two, in one?
Why into Abstine et sustine[1] rather than into "Follow Nature," or,
"Conduct your private affairs without injustice," as Plato, or anything
else? But there, you will say, everything is contained in one word. Yes, but
it is useless without explanation, and when we come to explain it, as soon
as we unfold this maxim which contains all the rest, they emerge in that
first confusion which you desired to avoid. So, when they are all included
in one, they are hidden and useless, as in a chest, and never appear save in
their natural confusion. Nature has established them all without including
one in the other.
21. Nature has made all her truths independent of one another. Our art makes
one dependent on the other. But this is not natural. Each keeps its own
22. Let no one say that I have said nothing new; the arrangement of the
subject is new. When we play tennis, we both play with the same ball, but
one of us places it better.
I had as soon it said that I used words employed before. And in the same way
if the same thoughts in a different arrangement do not form a different
discourse, no more do the same words in their different arrangement form
different thoughts!
23. Words differently arranged have a different meaning, and meanings
differently arranged have different effects.
24. Language.--We should not turn the mind from one thing to another, except
for relaxation, and that when it is necessary and the time suitable, and not
otherwise. For he that relaxes out of season wearies, and he who wearies us
out of season makes us languid, since we turn quite away. So much does our
perverse lust like to do the contrary of what those wish to obtain from us
without giving us pleasure, the coin for which we will do whatever is
25. Eloquence.--It requires the pleasant and the real; but the pleasant must
itself be drawn from the true.
26. Eloquence is a painting of thought; and thus those who, after having
painted it, add something more, make a picture instead of a portrait.
27. Miscellaneous. Language.--Those who make antitheses by forcing words are
like those who make false windows for symmetry. Their rule is not to speak
accurately, but to make apt figures of speech.
28. Symmetry is what we see at a glance; based on the fact that there is no
reason for any difference, and based also on the face of man; whence it
happens that symmetry is only wanted in breadth, not in height or depth.
29. When we see a natural style, we are astonished and delighted; for we
expected to see an author, and we find a man. Whereas those who have good
taste, and who, seeing a book, expect to find a man, are quite surprised to
find an author. Plus poetice quam humane locutus es.2 Those honour Nature
well who teach that she can speak on everything, even on theology.
30. We only consult the ear because the heart is wanting. The rule is
Beauty of omission, of judgement.
31. All the false beauties which we blame in Cicero have their admirers, and
in great number.
32. There is a certain standard of grace and beauty which consists in a
certain relation between our nature, such as it is, weak or strong, and the
thing which pleases us.
Whatever is formed according to this standard pleases us, be it house, song,
discourse, verse, prose, woman, birds, rivers, trees, rooms, dress, etc.
Whatever is not made according to this standard displeases those who have
good taste.
And as there is a perfect relation between a song and a house which are made
after a good model, because they are like this good model, though each after
its kind; even so there is a perfect relation between things made after a
bad model. Not that the bad model is unique, for there are many; but each
bad sonnet, for example, on whatever false model it is formed, is just like
a woman dressed after that model.
Nothing makes us understand better the ridiculousness of a false sonnet than
to consider nature and the standard and, then, to imagine a woman or a house
made according to that standard.
33. Poetical beauty.--As we speak of poetical beauty, so ought we to speak
of mathematical beauty and medical beauty. But we do not do so; and the
reason is that we know well what is the object of mathematics, and that it
consists in proofs, and what is the object of medicine, and that it consists
in healing. But we do not know in what grace consists, which is the object
of poetry. We do not know the natural model which we ought to imitate; and
through lack of this knowledge, we have coined fantastic terms, "The golden
age," "The wonder of our times," "Fatal," etc., and call this jargon
poetical beauty.
But whoever imagines a woman after this model, which consists in saying
little things in big words, will see a pretty girl adorned with mirrors and
chains, at whom he will smile; because we know better wherein consists the
charm of woman than the charm of verse. But those who are ignorant would
admire her in this dress, and there are many villages in which she would be
taken for the queen; hence we call sonnets made after this model "Village
34. No one passes in the world as skilled in verse unless he has put up the
sign of a poet, a mathematician, etc. But educated people do not want a sign
and draw little distinction between the trade of a poet and that of an
People of education are not called poets or mathematicians, etc.; but they
are all these and judges of all these. No one guesses what they are. When
they come into society, they talk on matters about which the rest are
talking. We do not observe in them one quality rather than another, save
when they have to make use of it. But then we remember it, for it is
characteristic of such persons that we do not say of them that they are fine
speakers, when it is not a question of oratory, and that we say of them that
they are fine speakers, when it is such a question.
It is therefore false praise to give a man when we say of him, on his entry,
that he is a very clever poet; and it is a bad sign when a man is not asked
to give his judgement on some verses.
35. We should not be able to say of a man, "He is a mathematician," or "a
preacher," or "eloquent"; but that he is "a gentleman." That universal
quality alone pleases me. It is a bad sign when, on seeing a person, you
remember his book. I would prefer you to see no quality till you meet it and
have occasion to use it (Ne quid minis),[3] for fear some one quality
prevail and designate the man. Let none think him a fine speaker, unless
oratory be in question, and then let them think it.
36. Man is full of wants: he loves only those who can satisfy them all.
"This one is a good mathematician," one will say. But I have nothing to do
with mathematics; he would take me for a proposition. "That one is a good
soldier." He would take me for a besieged town. I need, then, an upright man
who can accommodate himself generally to all my wants.
37. Since we cannot be universal and know all that is to be known of
everything, we ought to know a little about everything. For it is far better
to know something about everything than to know all about one thing. This
universality is the best. If we can have both, still better; but if we must
choose, we ought to choose the former. And the world feels this and does so;
for the world is often a good judge.
38. A poet and not an honest man.
39. If lightning fell on low places, etc., poets, and those who can only
reason about things of that kind, would lack proofs.
40. If we wished to prove the examples which we take to prove other things,
we should have to take those other things to be examples; for, as we always
believe the difficulty is in what we wish to prove, we find the examples
clearer and a help to demonstration.
Thus, when we wish to demonstrate a general theorem, we must give the rule
as applied to a particular case; but if we wish to demonstrate a particular
case, we must begin with the general rule. For we always find the thing
obscure which we wish to prove and that clear which we use for the proof;
for, when a thing is put forward to be proved, we first fill ourselves with
the imagination that it is, therefore, obscure and, on the contrary, that
what is to prove it is clear, and so we understand it easily.
41. Epigrams of Martial.--Man loves malice, but not against one-eyed men nor
the unfortunate, but against the fortunate and proud. People are mistaken in
thinking otherwise.
For lust is the source of all our actions, and humanity, etc. We must please
those who have humane and tender feelings. That epigram about two one-eyed
people is worthless, for it does not console them and only gives a point to
the author's glory. All that is only for the sake of the author is
worthless. Ambitiosa recident ornamenta.[4]
42. To call a king "Prince" is pleasing, because it diminishes his rank.
43. Certain authors, speaking of their works, say: "My book," "My
commentary," "My history," etc. They resemble middle-class people who have a
house of their own and always have "My house" on their tongue. They would do
better to say: "Our book," "Our commentary," "Our history," etc., because
there is in them usually more of other people's than their own.
44. Do you wish people to believe good of you? Don't speak.
45. Languages are ciphers, wherein letters are not changed into letters, but
words into words, so that an unknown language is decipherable.
46. A maker of witticisms, a bad character.
47. There are some who speak well and write badly. For the place and the
audience warm them, and draw from their minds more than they think of
without that warmth.
48. When we find words repeated in a discourse and, in trying to correct
them, discover that they are so appropriate that we would spoil the
discourse, we must leave them alone. This is the test; and our attempt is
the work of envy, which is blind, and does not see that repetition is not in
this place a fault; for there is no general rule.
49. To mask nature and disguise her. No more king, pope, bishop--but august
monarch, etc.; not Paris--the capital of the kingdom. There are places in
which we ought to call Paris, "Paris," others in which we ought to call it
the capital of the kingdom.
50. The same meaning changes with the words which express it. Meanings
receive their dignity from words instead of giving it to them. Examples
should be sought....
51. Sceptic, for obstinate.
52. No one calls another a Cartesian but he who is one himself, a pedant but
a pedant, a provincial but a provincial; and I would wager it was the
printer who put it on the title of Letters to a Provincial.
53. A carriage upset or overturned, according to the meaning. To spread
abroad or upset, according to the meaning. (The argument by force of M. le
Maitre over the friar.)
54. Miscellaneous.--A form of speech, "I should have liked to apply myself
to that."
55. The aperitive virtue of a key, the attractive virtue of a hook.
56. To guess: "The part that I take in your trouble." The Cardinal did not
want to be guessed.
"My mind is disquieted." I am disquieted is better.
57. I always feel uncomfortable under such compliments as these: "I have
given you a great deal of trouble," "I am afraid I am boring you," "I fear
this is too long." We either carry our audience with us, or irritate them.
58. You are ungraceful: "Excuse me, pray." Without that excuse I would not
have known there was anything amiss. "With reverence be it spoken..." The
only thing bad is their excuse.
59. "To extinguish the torch of sedition"; too luxuriant. "The restlessness
of his genius"; two superfluous grand words.
60. First part: Misery of man without God.
Second part: Happiness of man with God.
Or, First part: That nature is corrupt. Proved by nature itself.
Second part: That there is a Redeemer. Proved by Scripture.
61. Order.--I might well have taken this discourse in an order like this: to
show the vanity of all conditions of men, to show the vanity of ordinary
lives, and then the vanity of philosophic lives, sceptics, stoics; but the
order would not have been kept. I know a little what it is, and how few
people understand it. No human science can keep it. Saint Thomas did not
keep it. Mathematics keep it, but they are useless on account of their
62. Preface to the first part.--To speak of those who have treated of the
knowledge of self; of the divisions of Charron, which sadden and weary us;
of the confusion of Montaigne; that he was quite aware of his want of method
and shunned it by jumping from subject to subject; that he sought to be
His foolish project of describing himself! And this not casually and against
his maxims, since every one makes mistakes, but by his maxims themselves,
and by first and chief design. For to say silly things by chance and
weakness is a common misfortune, but to say them intentionally is
intolerable, and to say such as that...
63. Montaigne.--Montaigne's faults are great. Lewd words; this is bad,
notwithstanding Mademoiselle de Gournay. Credulous; people without eyes.
Ignorant; squaring the circle, a greater world. His opinions on suicide, on
death. He suggests an indifference about salvation, without fear and without
repentance. As his book was not written with a religious purpose, he was not
bound to mention religion; but it is always our duty not to turn men from
it. One can excuse his rather free and licentious opinions on some relations
of life; but one cannot excuse his thoroughly pagan views on death, for a
man must renounce piety altogether, if he does not at least wish to die like
a Christian. Now, through the whole of his book his only conception of death
is a cowardly and effeminate one.
64. It is not in Montaigne, but in myself, that I find all that I see in
65. What good there is in Montaigne can only have been acquired with
difficulty. The evil that is in him, I mean apart from his morality, could
have been corrected in a moment, if he had been informed that he made too
much of trifles and spoke too much of himself.
66. One must know oneself. If this does not serve to discover truth, it at
least serves as a rule of life, and there is nothing better.
67. The vanity of the sciences.--Physical science will not console me for
the ignorance of morality in the time of affliction. But the science of
ethics will always console me for the ignorance of the physical sciences.
68. Men are never taught to be gentlemen and are taught everything else; and
they never plume themselves so much on the rest of their knowledge as on
knowing how to be gentlemen. They only plume themselves on knowing the one
thing they do not know.
69. The infinites, the mean.--When we read too fast or too slowly, we
understand nothing.
70. Nature... --Nature has set us so well in the centre, that if we change
one side of the balance, we change the other also. This makes me believe
that the springs in our brain are so adjusted that he who touches one
touches also its contrary.
71. Too much and too little wine. Give him none, he cannot find truth; give
him too much, the same.
72. Man's disproportion.--This is where our innate knowledge leads us. If it
be not true, there is no truth in man; and if it be true, he finds therein
great cause for humiliation, being compelled to abase himself in one way or
another. And since he cannot exist without this knowledge, I wish that,
before entering on deeper researches into nature, he would consider her both
seriously and at leisure, that he would reflect upon himself also, and
knowing what proportion there is... Let man then contemplate the whole of
nature in her full and grand majesty, and turn his vision from the low
objects which surround him. Let him gaze on that brilliant light, set like
an eternal lamp to illumine the universe; let the earth appear to him a
point in comparison with the vast circle described by the sun; and let him
wonder at the fact that this vast circle is itself but a very fine point in
comparison with that described by the stars in their revolution round the
firmament. But if our view be arrested there, let our imagination pass
beyond; it will sooner exhaust the power of conception than nature that of
supplying material for conception. The whole visible world is only an
imperceptible atom in the ample bosom of nature. No idea approaches it. We
may enlarge our conceptions beyond an imaginable space; we only produce
atoms in comparison with the reality of things. It is an infinite sphere,
the centre of which is everywhere, the circumference nowhere. In short, it
is the greatest sensible mark of the almighty power of God that imagination
loses itself in that thought.
Returning to himself, let man consider what he is in comparison with all
existence; let him regard himself as lost in this remote corner of nature;
and from the little cell in which he finds himself lodged, I mean the
universe, let him estimate at their true value the earth, kingdoms, cities,
and himself. What is a man in the Infinite?
But to show him another prodigy equally astonishing, let him examine the
most delicate things he knows. Let a mite be given him, with its minute body
and parts incomparably more minute, limbs with their joints, veins in the
limbs, blood in the veins, humours in the blood, drops in the humours,
vapours in the drops. Dividing these last things again, let him exhaust his
powers of conception, and let the last object at which he can arrive be now
that of our discourse. Perhaps he will think that here is the smallest point
in nature. I will let him see therein a new abyss. I will paint for him not
only the visible universe, but all that he can conceive of nature's
immensity in the womb of this abridged atom. Let him see therein an infinity
of universes, each of which has its firmament, its planets, its earth, in
the same proportion as in the visible world; in each earth animals, and in
the last mites, in which he will find again all that the first had, finding
still in these others the same thing without end and without cessation. Let
him lose himself in wonders as amazing in their littleness as the others in
their vastness. For who will not be astounded at the fact that our body,
which a little while ago was imperceptible in the universe, itself
imperceptible in the bosom of the whole, is now a colossus, a world, or
rather a whole, in respect of the nothingness which we cannot reach? He who
regards himself in this light will be afraid of himself, and observing
himself sustained in the body given him by nature between those two abysses
of the Infinite and Nothing, will tremble at the sight of these marvels; and
I think that, as his curiosity changes into admiration, he will be more
disposed to contemplate them in silence than to examine them with
For, in fact, what is man in nature? A Nothing in comparison with the
Infinite, an All in comparison with the Nothing, a mean between nothing and
everything. Since he is infinitely removed from comprehending the extremes,
the end of things and their beginning are hopelessly hidden from him in an
impenetrable secret; he is equally incapable of seeing the Nothing from
which he was made, and the Infinite in which he is swallowed up.
What will he do then, but perceive the appearance of the middle of things,
in an eternal despair of knowing either their beginning or their end. All
things proceed from the Nothing, and are borne towards the Infinite. Who
will follow these marvellous processes? The Author of these wonders
understands them. None other can do so.
Through failure to contemplate these Infinites, men have rashly rushed into
the examination of nature, as though they bore some proportion to her. It is
strange that they have wished to understand the beginnings of things, and
thence to arrive at the knowledge of the whole, with a presumption as
infinite as their object. For surely this design cannot be formed without
presumption or without a capacity infinite like nature.
If we are well informed, we understand that, as nature has graven her image
and that of her Author on all things, they almost all partake of her double
infinity. Thus we see that all the sciences are infinite in the extent of
their researches. For who doubts that geometry, for instance, has an
infinite infinity of problems to solve? They are also infinite in the
multitude and fineness of their premises; for it is clear that those which
are put forward as ultimate are not self-supporting, but are based on others
which, again having others for their support, do not permit of finality. But
we represent some as ultimate for reason, in the same way as in regard to
material objects we call that an indivisible point beyond which our senses
can no longer perceive anything, although by its nature it is infinitely
Of these two Infinites of science, that of greatness is the most palpable,
and hence a few persons have pretended to know all things. "I will speak of
the whole," said Democritus.
But the infinitely little is the least obvious. Philosophers have much
oftener claimed to have reached it, and it is here they have all stumbled.
This has given rise to such common titles as First Principles, Principles of
Philosophy, and the like, as ostentatious in fact, though not in appearance,
as that one which blinds us, De omni scibili.5
We naturally believe ourselves far more capable of reaching the centre of
things than of embracing their circumference. The visible extent of the
world visibly exceeds us; but as we exceed little things, we think ourselves
more capable of knowing them. And yet we need no less capacity for attaining
the Nothing than the All. Infinite capacity is required for both, and it
seems to me that whoever shall have understood the ultimate principles of
being might also attain to the knowledge of the Infinite. The one depends on
the other, and one leads to the other. These extremes meet and reunite by
force of distance and find each other in God, and in God alone.
Let us, then, take our compass; we are something, and we are not everything.
The nature of our existence hides from us the knowledge of first beginnings
which are born of the Nothing; and the littleness of our being conceals from
us the sight of the Infinite.
Our intellect holds the same position in the world of thought as our body
occupies in the expanse of nature.
Limited as we are in every way, this state which holds the mean between two
extremes is present in all our impotence. Our senses perceive no extreme.
Too much sound deafens us; too much light dazzles us; too great distance or
proximity hinders our view. Too great length and too great brevity of
discourse tend to obscurity; too much truth is paralysing (I know some who
cannot understand that to take four from nothing leaves nothing). First
principles are too self-evident for us; too much pleasure disagrees with us.
Too many concords are annoying in music; too many benefits irritate us; we
wish to have the wherewithal to overpay our debts. Beneficia eo usque laeta
sunt dum videntur exsolvi posse; ubi multum antevenere, pro gratia odium
redditur.[6] We feel neither extreme heat nor extreme cold. Excessive
qualities are prejudicial to us and not perceptible by the senses; we do not
feel but suffer them. Extreme youth and extreme age hinder the mind, as also
too much and too little education. In short, extremes are for us as though
they were not, and we are not within their notice. They escape us, or we
This is our true state; this is what makes us incapable of certain knowledge
and of absolute ignorance. We sail within a vast sphere, ever drifting in
uncertainty, driven from end to end. When we think to attach ourselves to
any point and to fasten to it, it wavers and leaves us; and if we follow it,
it eludes our grasp, slips past us, and vanishes for ever. Nothing stays for
us. This is our natural condition and yet most contrary to our inclination;
we burn with desire to find solid ground and an ultimate sure foundation
whereon to build a tower reaching to the Infinite. But our whole groundwork
cracks, and the earth opens to abysses.
Let us, therefore, not look for certainty and stability. Our reason is
always deceived by fickle shadows; nothing can fix the finite between the
two Infinites, which both enclose and fly from it.
If this be well understood, I think that we shall remain at rest, each in
the state wherein nature has placed him. As this sphere which has fallen to
us as our lot is always distant from either extreme, what matters it that
man should have a little more knowledge of the universe? If he has it, he
but gets a little higher. Is he not always infinitely removed from the end,
and is not the duration of our life equally removed from eternity, even if
it lasts ten years longer?
In comparison with these Infinites, all finites are equal, and I see no
reason for fixing our imagination on one more than on another. The only
comparison which we make of ourselves to the finite is painful to us.
If man made himself the first object of study, he would see how incapable he
is of going further. How can a part know the whole? But he may perhaps
aspire to know at least the parts to which he bears some proportion. But the
parts of the world are all so related and linked to one another that I
believe it impossible to know one without the other and without the whole.
Man, for instance, is related to all he knows. He needs a place wherein to
abide, time through which to live, motion in order to live, elements to
compose him, warmth and food to nourish him, air to breathe. He sees light;
he feels bodies; in short, he is in a dependent alliance with everything. To
know man, then, it is necessary to know how it happens that he needs air to
live, and, to know the air, we must know how it is thus related to the life
of man, etc. Flame cannot exist without air; therefore, to understand the
one, we must understand the other.
Since everything, then, is cause and effect, dependent and supporting,
mediate and immediate, and all is held together by a natural though
imperceptible chain which binds together things most distant and most
different, I hold it equally impossible to know the parts without knowing
the whole and to know the whole without knowing the parts in detail.
The eternity of things in itself or in God must also astonish our brief
duration. The fixed and constant immobility of nature, in comparison with
the continual change which goes on within us, must have the same effect.
And what completes our incapability of knowing things is the fact that they
are simple and that we are composed of two opposite natures, different in
kind, soul and body. For it is impossible that our rational part should be
other than spiritual; and if any one maintain that we are simply corporeal,
this would far more exclude us from the knowledge of things, there being
nothing so inconceivable as to say that matter knows itself. It is
impossible to imagine how it should know itself.
So, if we are simply material, we can know nothing at all; and if we are
composed of mind and matter, we cannot know perfectly things which are
simple, whether spiritual or corporeal. Hence it comes that almost all
philosophers have confused ideas of things, and speak of material things in
spiritual terms, and of spiritual things in material terms. For they say
boldly that bodies have a tendency to fall, that they seek after their
centre, that they fly from destruction, that they fear the void, that they
have inclinations, sympathies, antipathies, all of which attributes pertain
only to mind. And in speaking of minds, they consider them as in a place,
and attribute to them movement from one place to another; and these are
qualities which belong only to bodies.
Instead of receiving the ideas of these things in their purity, we colour
them with our own qualities, and stamp with our composite being all the
simple things which we contemplate.
Who would not think, seeing us compose all things of mind and body, but that
this mixture would be quite intelligible to us? Yet it is the very thing we
least understand. Man is to himself the most wonderful object in nature; for
he cannot conceive what the body is, still less what the mind is, and least
of all how a body should be united to a mind. This is the consummation of
his difficulties, and yet it is his very being. Modus quo corporibus
adhaerent spiritus comprehendi ab hominibus non potest, et hoc tamen homo
est.7 Finally, to complete the proof of our weakness, I shall conclude with
these two considerations...
73. But perhaps this subject goes beyond the capacity of reason. Let us
therefore examine her solutions to problems within her powers. If there be
anything to which her own interest must have made her apply herself most
seriously, it is the inquiry into her own sovereign good. Let us see, then,
wherein these strong and clear-sighted souls have placed it and whether they
One says that the sovereign good consists in virtue, another in pleasure,
another in the knowledge of nature, another in truth, Felix qui potuit rerum
cognoscere causas,[8] another in total ignorance, another in indolence,
others in disregarding appearances, another in wondering at nothing, nihil
admirari prope res una quae possit facere et servare beatum,[9] and the true
sceptics in their indifference, doubt, and perpetual suspense, and others,
wiser, think to find a better definition. We are well satisfied.
We must see if this fine philosophy has gained nothing certain from so long
and so intent study; perhaps at least the soul will know itself. Let us hear
the rulers of the world on this subject. What have they thought of her
substance? 394.[10] Have they been more fortunate in locating her? 395. What
have they found out about her origin, duration, and departure? Harum
sententiarum, 399.[11]
Is, then, the soul too noble a subject for their feeble lights? Let us,
then, abase her to matter and see if she knows whereof is made the very body
which she animates and those others which she contemplates and moves at her
will. What have those great dogmatists, who are ignorant of nothing, known
of this matter? 393.[12]
This would doubtless suffice, if Reason were reasonable. She is reasonable
enough to admit that she has been unable to find anything durable, but she
does not yet despair of reaching it; she is as ardent as ever in this
search, and is confident she has within her the necessary powers for this
conquest. We must therefore conclude, and, after having examined her powers
in their effects, observe them in themselves, and see if she has a nature
and a grasp capable of laying hold of the truth.
74. A letter On the Foolishness of Human Knowledge and Philosophy...

Pensées	Blaise Pascal

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Juan 3 16 Porque Dios amó tanto al mundo que dio a su Hijo unigénito, para que todos los que creen en él no perezcan, sino que tengan vida eterna.