Authors: Blaise Pascal

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French philosopher

Author Works


Lettres provinciales, 1656-1657 (The Provincial Letters, 1657)

Pensées, 1670 (Monsieur Pascal’s Thoughts, Meditations, and Prayers, 1688; best known as Pensées)


Blaise Pascal (pahs-kahl), born on June 19, 1623, was a precocious child tutored at home in Clermont-Ferrand and later in Paris by his father. During Pascal’s boyhood his father displeased Cardinal Richelieu by objecting to the cardinal’s handling of some financial matters and had to go into temporary exile. The cardinal later relented and appointed Pascal’s father intendant of Rouen in 1639, a post he held for nine years. During the years in Rouen, Pascal became acquainted with Pierre Corneille, the famous dramatist. In 1646 the Pascal family became interested in Jansenism, although Blaise Pascal himself seems to have been at the time more interested in science than in religion. He had written a geometric treatise at the age of seventeen, and his first complete demonstration of the barometer in 1647 was only one of his many achievements in mathematics and physics.{$I[AN]9810000422}{$I[A]Pascal, Blaise}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Pascal, Blaise}{$I[tim]1623;Pascal, Blaise}

Blaise Pascal

(Library of Congress)

In 1650 the Pascal family returned to Paris, where Pascal’s father died the following year. Jacqueline Pascal, a sister, joined a convent at Port Royal. During this period, Pascal continued his scientific experiments, but he also became very interested in theology and moral philosophy. In 1654 he underwent a mystical experience at the convent at Port Royal and a few months later retired from the world. He wrote his recollection of this mystical experience in a text called “The Memorial,” which he sewed into his clothing in order to have it with him at all times. “The Memorial” was found in his jacket after his death in 1662. During 1656 he came out of retirement briefly to defend Antoine Arnauld from an attack by the Jesuits, publishing a series of letters (The Provincial Letters).

Pascal continued to live a quiet, religious life within the walls of Port Royal until his death on August 19, 1662. Eight years later a committee of Jansenists, headed by the Duc de Roannez, Pascal’s friend, edited and published the Pensées, fragments salvaged from a projected but unfinished work to be called “Apologie de la religion catholique.” Pascal’s nephew Etienne Périer believed that the order in which these fragments were discovered after his uncle’s death made no sense, and he reorganized them in an order that seriously distorted Pascal’s intentions. Only nineteenth century and later editions, made from the original manuscripts, are trustworthy. It is both as a pioneer in science and mathematics and as an author that Pascal is an important figure in world history.

BibliographyAdamson, 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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