Pensées "Self Is Hateful"
by Blaise Pascal

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"Self Is Hateful"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

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Context: French philosopher and mathematician, Pascal was born in Clermont Ferrand, Auvergne. Until 1656 he led the life of a young man of ample means. At that date he experienced a religious conversion, withdrawing from society to a simple and austere existence. He accepted in 1656 the invitation to write a defense of Antoine Arnauld, a Jansenist accused of heresy by the Sorbonne, and the first of his Lettres Provinciales appeared. The letter was widely read, and his fame continued to grow through seventeen additional letters. Pensées, found among the author's effects after his death, probably represents Pascal's notes for a projected defense of Christianity. These reflections, as T. S. Eliot has observed, constitute his spiritual autobiography. "Above all, he was a man of strong passions; and his intellectual passion for truth was reinforced by his passionate disaffection with human life unless a spiritual explanation could be found." Concerning religious belief, all men, according to Pascal, are either dogmatists or skeptics, believing either by faith or rejecting by logic. "What a chimera then is man What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth; depositary of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error; the pride and refuse of the universe!" Man, in short, is his own worst enemy; his reason would aspire on the one hand to godliness and on the other to a certainty never possible in spiritual matters:

Self is hateful. You, Milton, conceal it; you do not for that reason destroy it; you are, then, always hateful. . . . In a word, the Self has two qualities; it is unjust in itself since it makes itself the centre of everything; it is inconvenient to others since it would enslave them; for each Self is the enemy, and would like to be the tyrant of all others. You take away its inconvenience, but not its injustice, and so you do not render it lovable to those who hate injustice; you render it lovable only to the unjust, who do not any longer find in it an enemy. And thus you remain unjust, and can please only the unjust.