Themes

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 182

Mathematician Blaise Pascal's collection of philosophical essays, Pensées , has various theological themes. One of the most prominent themes is the search for human existence's purpose. Pascal opines that the search for God is equivalent to the search for meaning in one's life. Therefore, our current human existence is part...

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Mathematician Blaise Pascal's collection of philosophical essays, Pensées, has various theological themes. One of the most prominent themes is the search for human existence's purpose. Pascal opines that the search for God is equivalent to the search for meaning in one's life. Therefore, our current human existence is part of our journey toward divinity.

Within this theme, Pascal states that the search for the divine will lead to immortality. He believes that our existence on Earth has limitations, such as human frailties and flaws. Humans—regardless of class and status—will all experience death, but there is a metaphysical plane beyond death.

Another theme in the text is Pascal's argument for the existence of God. God's existence itself is interlinked to our own existence. This symbiotic relationship between mortals and God is the essence of religion. However, Pascal also believes that rational thought will not conflict with religious faith. He recognizes that human behavior is rooted in thoughts, but he believes that the reasonable person will choose to believe in God, because it is the option that makes the most sense.

Christian Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 641

Having distinguished between the God of philosophers and scholars and the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus, Pascal elaborates his convictions about God and God’s relation to humankind. As a Christian, Pascal affirms that his religion teaches two essential truths: There is a God we can know; there is also a corruption in human nature that renders us unworthy. God, however, is “a God of love,” adds Pascal, and God will “fill the soul and heart of those whom He possesses.” Such claims, however, are not rationally demonstrable. On the contrary, religion often places us in a precarious position, saying that people are in “darkness and estranged from God.” Religion pushes reason to its limits, but, Pascal asserts in one of his most famous lines, “the heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.” He goes on to argue that primarily the heart, not reason, experiences God. Indeed faith is characterized by heartfelt experience of God.

As Pascal saw it, one’s decision as to whether life makes sense does not depend ultimately on reason alone but at least as much on one’s willingness to act when confronted by a forced wager. This is Pascal’s fundamental spiritual point. He argues that this situation need not offend reason. Indeed, defining life as meaningful is no greater affront to reason than the opposite decision. One has everything to gain and nothing to lose, at least in the long run, by believing. An eternity of happiness is at stake.

In fact, when forced to gamble, the paradox is that the reasonable action is to let choice transcend reason in order to allow oneself to be possessed by God. According to Pascal, those who demand certainty prior to commitment fail to understand the human situation. If one objects that religion is too uncertain and God too difficult, while sufficient meaning can be found without entanglement in the vagaries of either, Pascal thinks the issue of life beyond death is crucial where life’s significance is concerned. He finds it hard to conceive that death is not the end for us unless a loving God exists.

“To deny, to believe, and to doubt well,” Pascal thought, “are to a man what the race is to a horse.” Pascal likens life to a game, but one that should be played out earnestly. To do so takes one beyond reason, for “the last proceeding of reason is to recognize that there is an infinity of things beyond it.” Played well, the game of life teaches reason to trust the heart. Yet that result can occur only when we give reason its due as well. Each has its own order. In searching for meaning in life, Pascal recommends that we must be careful not to confuse the two or try to reduce one to the other. Life might be simpler if we could do the latter, but Pascal insists that this is impossible. There are two levels, two ways of proceeding. They can supplement each other, but they do not always blend. We must learn to live with both and discount neither. It is this complexity that forces us to wager where the meaning of life is concerned.

When we ask, “Does life make sense?” Pascal’s first reply is: “Not of itself and not on its own.” Life does not come with built-in answers for our questions, in spite of hopes that it will. But for Pascal this outcome does not mean that life has no meaning in itself. Nor does it follow, as some philosophers assert, that all meaning is dependent on us and varies with each person. Pascal thinks life has meaning in itself, but our awareness of and participation in it are not assured unless we gamble. We must make the wager. Then the purpose of life may become clear.

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