Pensées "Man Is A Thinking Reed"

Blaise Pascal

"Man Is A Thinking Reed"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: Blaise Pascal, as a seventeenth century scientist and mathematician, accepted the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. He was challenged intellectually by the scientific advancement, but at the same time he found the brave new world which was being brought into being disturbing, too. The dignity of man was still of primary importance to Pascal, and he believed man should find dignity as a human being from commanding his own thoughts, not from space and time. He believed man could command the world by his thought, and that such command would be worth more than mere ownership or possession of the world. He said, "Thought constitutes the greatness of man." It is, he believed, the power of thought that sets man apart from animals; without thought man is but a "stone or a brute":

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 advantages which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this.