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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 159

Pensées (which means thoughts) is more a series of notes than an actual book. It was written by Blaise Pascal, a Frenchman, in the 1600's, and was published a short time after his death in 1662. Pascal intended to put the notes into a more readable form, but died before he was able to do so. The Pensées address a number of different points, one of the chief being the fallibility of humans and vastness of God's love for mankind. Another concept Pascal touches on is that of the "wager," which basically means that it is preferable to believe that there is a God regardless of whether there is or not, because it costs us nothing to believe. Of course Pascal does believe in God and exhorts us seek God so that we can be at peace with the thought of eternity. Pascal goes on to relate that because God sometimes seems hidden, humans must actively seek him.


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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535

During the night of November 23, 1654, the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal experienced a profound religious conversion. Thereafter he always carried with him a description of the event:From about 10:30 at night, until about 12:30. FIRE. God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and of the learned. Certitude, certitude, feeling, joy, peace. God of Jesus Christ . . . Jesus Christ. . . . Let me never be separated from Him.

Pascal went on to write his Pensées and thereby became one of the most passionate defenders of the Christian faith.

Pascal’s best-known contribution to religious philosophy is called “Pascal’s Wager.” In the section of his Pensées devoted to it, he speaks about the search for God. For Pascal, that search is the quest for meaning in life, not least of all because God provides the hope that we can be redeemed from misery and death. The question of one’s immortality is of particularly great consequence. If only death awaits even the noblest lives, we will possess no lasting satisfaction. To have only doubt is a great burden where such questions are concerned, but even worse is a failure to try moving beyond that condition. As Pascal’s conversion experience suggests, he thought that religious experience could convey a kind of certitude, at least in the moment of its happening. He recognized, too, that life goes on and is never completely immune to doubt and uncertainty. Where the meaning of life is at stake, Pascal understood, we are dealing with faith, which means that the risk of making and sustaining a commitment is always present.

Pascal argues that we ought to bet religiously that life does make sense. That wager, he underscored, is about God’s existence and purposes. For if God does not exist, life’s meaning will at best be tragic and at worst simply annihilated. We ought to wager that God exists, asserts Pascal, and live accordingly. To do so, he contends, is not irrational but exactly the opposite. In our human situation it is not given to us to demonstrate that God exists, and yet an analysis of our predicament suggests that faith in God is sensible.

The importance of the latter claim is clarified when Pascal writes that “. . . man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. . . . Thought constitutes the greatness of man.” Pascal believes that reason is limited, but it must not be disparaged, for “all our dignity consists . . . in thought.” For Pascal, religious faith is a further expression of human dignity. The thoughtful person, Pascal believes, will see that the wager makes sense:Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

The clincher in this argument, Pascal believes, is that this wager is forced. Not to choose is also a choice, for a decision is made by refusing to try, to enter in, to venture. Lack of belief excludes one from the benefits of faith. This situation has an either/or quality. We have to choose.

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