Pascal’s Pensées, A Tour: III

PascalSince our walk through Summa Contra Gentiles is going so well, why not let’s do the same with Pascal’s sketchbook on what we can now call Thinking Thursdays. We’ll use the Dutton Edition, freely available at Project Gutenberg. (I’m removing that edition’s footnotes.)

Previous post. Due to orders from on high, I’m experimenting with putting footnotes closer to the material referenced, as I was told the other way made it too hard to read.


Mathematics, intuition.—True eloquence makes light of eloquence, true morality makes light of morality; that is to say, the morality of the judgment, which has no rules, makes light of the morality of the intellect.

For it is to judgment that perception belongs, as science belongs to intellect. Intuition is the part of judgment, mathematics of intellect.

To make light of philosophy is to be a true philosopher.1

1This isn’t a plea for intellectual philistinism. What was it Socrates said? Something on the order of “I know that I know nothing.” And what did St Thomas say of his monumentally perspicacious lifetime’s work? “Straw.” And what do modern academic philosophers say of the work of their colleagues, particularly when soliciting government to fund its “research”? Superlatives and pomposity aren’t in it.


Those who judge of a work by rule are in regard to others as those who have a watch are in regard to others. One says, “It is two hours ago”; the other says, “It is only three-quarters of an hour.” I look at my watch, and say to the one, “You are weary,” and to the other, “Time gallops with you”; for it is only an hour and a half ago, and I laugh at those who tell me that time goes slowly with me, and that I judge by imagination. They do not know that I judge by my watch.2

2Time passing is surely subjective. But judging by a watch doesn’t fix this. Try watching a microwave count down one minute or waiting for the minute to change on a digital clock. As an experiment, talk to yourself while you are waiting. It takes something near an eternity.


Just as we harm the understanding, we harm the feelings also.

The understanding and the feelings are moulded by intercourse; the understanding and feelings are corrupted by intercourse. Thus good or bad society improves or corrupts them. It is, then, all-important to know how to choose in order to improve and not to corrupt them; and we cannot make this choice, if they be not already improved and not corrupted. Thus a circle is formed, and those are fortunate who escape it.3

3This reminds me we have to create the One Week High Culture Challenge, in which the participant is allowed only that which is beautiful and ennobling. Since entrants won’t know what this means, guidelines will be provided. Loosely, no newspapers nor television, and no music, books, or art produced after 1900. Not that there are great and worthy items after this date, but they are becoming fewer and fewer.

Oh, it is a false that people have “always” said culture was in decline, but it is true that it is often said when culture is declining.


The greater intellect one has, the more originality one finds in men. Ordinary persons find no difference between men.4

4This includes cynicism, a sin which often tempts your intrepid interpreter. But this warning must also include (what we can call) Grubering, a corrosive and hate-filled version of the sin in which a self-awarded elitist looks out over the mass of humanity and finds them all unfortunately ignorant and incapable of understanding what only he, the elitist, knows as best.


There are many people who listen to a sermon in the same way as they listen to vespers.5

5Speaking of the Culture Challenge, vespers (Anglican evensong) is the evening prayer service. “O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.” Immediately breaking my rule, here is a beautiful version (but produced after 1900), and here is a modern, uh, implementation.

Anyway, Pascal means, I think, that some let the homily wash over them, not attending to the content, but hearing the words as a sort of dull music. It probably doesn’t have to be emphasize that this sometimes is useful escape mechanism.


  1. Gary

    “Time passing is surely subjective.”
    As we grow older it seems to pass more quickly because we have increasingly more history of time experience to compare it to. The young are blessed with naïveté.

  2. Gary: Also accounts for “memory loss” as we grow older. We have far more to remember than younger people do. It’s not loss, it’s overload.

    Briggs: Aren’t footnotes supposed be at the foot? Just curious. (Call them reference notes maybe, if they are located in the text. As a vote, I would prefer them at the end. I will, of course, adapt to whatever appears.)
    The One Week High Culture is beyond my capacity. If you do get it going and have participants, I will be interested in how it goes.

  3. Gary

    Sheri, yeah, I forgot about that.

  4. john b

    Gary … The young are blessed with naïveté.

    To quote Bob Seger:

    wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then

  5. MattS

    “The understanding and the feelings are moulded by intercourse; the understanding and feelings are corrupted by intercourse.”

    Why does everything have to be about sex? 🙂

  6. MattS


    “The young are blessed with naïveté.”

    In regards to time perception, remember back to being a kid waiting for Christmas day. Blessed is not the word I would choose here.

  7. Briggs


    Your comment reminds me of the joke which has the punchline, “You’re the one that keeps showing me all the dirty pictures.”

  8. Ray

    I much prefer Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 to any sermon.

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