Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 297
During the last few years of his life, Pascal was writing “an apology for the Christian religion,” but extremely poor health required him to rest frequently and this prevented him from writing for extended periods of time. He was, however, able to compose eight hundred fragments that were discovered and edited after his death by his nephew Étienne Périer, who called these fragments Thoughts (Pensées). Despite the uncompleted nature of Thoughts, it contains profound insights into the myriad relationships between ethical and religious problems. Unlike his fellow mathematician and philosopher René Descartes, who had argued in his 1637 book Discourse on Method that logic alone sufficed to explore moral problems, Pascal was convinced that only an acceptance of the revealed truths of Christianity could enable him to recognize the moral foundation for a just society.
Pascal stated that there were basically two ways of dealing with moral problems. By means of “the spirit of geometry” (“l’esprit de géométrie”) one examines in a purely logical manner the many steps that are involved in resolving ethical questions. “The spirit of insight” (“l’esprit de finesse”) helps one to recognize intuitively that certain actions are morally wrong whereas others are morally correct. Although he did not deny the importance of logical reasoning for discussions of ethical problems, Pascal sensed that most moral decisions are inspired by intuitive feelings that are formed by one’s religious training and by the diversity of one’s experiences. In Thoughts, Pascal appealed to the deep emotional and psychological reactions of his readers in order to persuade them that an acceptance of “the grandeur of man with God” and “the misery of man without God” will lead people to embrace those religious and ethical values that are presented in the Bible.
Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 472
Adamson, Donald. Blaise Pascal: Mathematician, Physicist, and Thinker About God. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Explores how Pascal dealt with the insights and conflicts produced by his mathematical, scientific, and religious experiences.
Coleman, Francis X. J. Neither Angel nor Beast: The Life and Work of Blaise Pascal. New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1986. An insightful overview of Pascal’s life and work, good at placing Pascal in the context of seventeenth century thought.
Davidson, Hugh M. Blaise Pascal. Boston: Twayne, 1983. This good first introduction to Pascal discusses his major philosophical and religious works.
Davidson, Hugh M. Pascal and the Arts of the Mind. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993. Discusses Pascal’s views on the nature and variety of human experience.
Groothius, Douglas. On Pascal. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 2003. A short introduction to Pascal, covering his biography and explaining the core concepts of his philosophy.
Hammond, Nicholas. Playing with the Truth: Language and the Human Condition in Pascal’s “Pensées.” New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Explores the ways in which belief and doubt are expressed linguistically in Pascal’s work.
Jordan, Jeff, ed. Gambling on God: Essays on Pascal’s Wager. 1994. Reprint. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002. Pascal scholars explain and evaluate the most controversial features of Pascal’s philosophy of religion.
Kolakowski, Lezek. God Owes Us Nothing: A Brief Remark on Pascal’s Religion and on the Spirit of Jansenism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. An important philosopher of religion reflects on the main points of Pascal’s views about faith and the relationship between God and humankind.
Marvin, Richard O’Connell. Blaise Pascal: Reasons of the Heart. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1997. A worthwhile discussion of Pascal’s efforts to reconcile the demands of human rationality and the yearnings of feeling and hope, especially as the latter are expressed religiously.
Morris, Thomas V. Making Sense of It All: Pascal and the Meaning of Life. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W. B. Eerdmans, 1992. A clear and sensitive interpretation of Pascal’s struggle to identify what the meaning of human life may be.
Nelson, Robert J. Pascal: Adversary and Advocate. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981. Takes a psychological approach to Pascal’s biography and work and offers extensive critical study of his individual works.
Rogers, Ben. Pascal. New York: Routledge, 1999. An excellent biographical introduction to the thoughts of the philosopher, clearly presented and requiring no special background. Bibliography.
Topliss, Patricia. The Rhetoric of Pascal: A Study of His Art of Persuasion in the Provinciales and the Pensées. Leicester, England: Leicester University Press, 1966. Concentrates on Pascal’s literary technique and rhetorical style.
Wetsel, David. Pascal and Disbelief: Catechesis and Conversion in the “Pensees.” Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1994. A helpful discussion of Pascal’s approach to an affirmative religious faith, which Pascal develops and defends in a context of skepticism.
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