Author Archives: David Pierce

Mathematician & logician; amateur of philosophy; relation of journalists; alumnus of St John’s College (USA); living in Ankara & Istanbul since 2000

Pascal, Pensées, S 491–611

Index for this series

The reading is Sellier 491–611, which is Lafuma 592–729 and 970, or

Numbers of fragments are in the order Sellier–Le Guern–Lafuma–Brunschvicg, possibly preceded by number within the bundles above.

Massimo Stanzione
Loth et ses Filles (c. 1640)
Musée des Beaux-arts et de l’Archéologie de Besançon
(photo source)
For Pascal if perhaps not painters like Stanzione,
the daughters of Lot (III.65–591–606–713–923) show how virtue is not mechanical.

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Abraham and Gideon

The general question of this post is how Pascal’s thinking in the Pensées relates to the thinking of himself and his contemporaries about the physical and mathematical worlds.

The specific question is why Pascal juxtaposes Abraham and Gideon in two fragments of the Pensées.

A possible answer to the specific question is that God demands sacrifices of both men.

Caravaggio, Sacrifice of Isaac, 1603, Uffizi

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Pascal, Pensées, S 452–90

Index for this series

Of this reading, of Pensées Diverses I, a theme is—no theme! There is no general ruleIl n’y a point de règle générale—in the following matters.

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Pascal, Pensées, S 438–451

Pascal, Pensées, S 415–437

Before the annotated text of the Pensées of Pascal, Sellier 415–437, here is an attempt at a detailed summary. I have tried to indicate all chapters of the Bible (OT, Apocrypha, NT) quoted from by Pascal or by me. I may have figured out what passages are by looking at the notes of Descotes and Proust. I may not always have completed this work, which can be tedious and which I hope not to be doing so much for later readings. Pascal may be study scripture as scientists such as himself study nature, and Isaac Newton (nineteen years younger) may resemble him in this.

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Pascal, Pensées, S 329–414

The present reading of the Pensées of Pascal comprises the following sections, each consisting of the fragments given in the numberings of Sellier and Lafuma:

  • PREUVES DE JÉSUS-CHRIST (S 329–53, L 298–322)

    I see two points:

    • There are three orders, of body, mind, and wisdom. As Archimedes is above most of us in mind (or spirit), Jesus is above him and everybody else in wisdom (or charity).

    • Through the Babylonian Captivity, the Jewish people were sustained by their prophets, who passed along the promise that the sceptre would be returned. The Romans took the worldly or carnal sceptre away again, and it has not been returned.

  • PROPHÉTIES (S 354–80, L 323–48)

    The last point is fleshed out more, and there is a definition:

    Prophétiser c’est parler de Dieu, non par preuves du dehors, mais par sentiment intérieur et immédiat.

  • FIGURES PARTICULIÈRES (S 381–2, L 349–50)

    Two short fragments, one possibly alluding to the three orders above:

    Double loi, doubles tables de la loi, double temple, double captivité.

    There are doubles, or pairs, in the next section:

  • MORALE CHRÉTIENNE (S 383–408, L 351–76)

    We are vile and in the image of God, and the Christian is neither abject nor proud about it. We are so miserable that only a god can save us. We should understand ourselves as members of a body.

  • CONCLUSION (S 409–14, L 377–82)

    There’s a long distance between knowing and loving God. Miracles don’t convert, but condemn. You can be a believer without the Bible; you just cannot convert anybody else.

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Pascal, Pensées, S 254–328

The present reading of the Pensées of Pascal comprises the following sections, each consisting of the fragments given in the numberings of Sellier and Lafuma:

  1. RENDRE LA RELIGION AIMABLE (S 254–5, L 221–2)

  2. FONDEMENTS (S 256–77, L 223–44)

  3. LOI FIGURATIVE (S 278–307, L 245–76)

  4. RABBINAGE (S 308–10, L 277–8)

  5. PERPÉTUITÉ (S 311–21, L 279–89)

  6. PREUVES DE MOISE (S 322–8, L 290–7)

I attempt brief summaries of these sections.

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Pascal, Pensées, S 1–114

Below is the text, in French, of the first in a series of readings of Pascal’s Pensées, being discussed over Zoom in the spring of 2021. Here is the complete list of readings, linked to blog posts like this one:

Week Date in 2021 Sellier numbers Lafuma numbers
1 February 16 1–114 383–417, 1–79
2 February 23 115–82 80–149
3 March 2 183–253 150–220
4 March 9 254–328 221–97
5 March 16 329–414 298–382
6 March 23 415–37 949, 968, 953, 830–58
7 March 30 438–51 859–910
8 April 6 452–90 515–91
9 April 13 491–611 592–729, 970
10 April 20 612–50 730–98
11 April 27 651–79 799–829, 509–14, 504–8
12 May 4 680–87 418–26
13 May 11 688–719 436–84, 973
14 May 18 720–38 485–503
15 May 25 739–54 913–25, 936, 975–6, 978–9
16 June 1 755–90 926–35, 937–48, 950–1, 974, 977, 980–2, 984, 992
17 June 8 791–813 956–67, 969, 971–2, 983, 985–91, 993

By content, the present post is at the top of the list; by date of posting, it came fourth. First was “Reason in Pascal,” in which I analyzed Pascal’s use of the word raison and its derivatives in the first reading. Then I realized that it might not be too hard to obtain the full text of each reading, for posting on this blog and for marking up as I read.

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Pascal, Pensées, S 183–254

By the account of Martha Nussbaum, philosophy is one of two things:

  1. A form of inquiry pursued through conversation among equals.

  2. An activity of “a lonely thinker of profound thoughts.”

Nussbaum prefers the first, though having appeared in a film that promotes the second.

I watched and enjoyed the film, which is by Astra Taylor and is called Examined Life (2008). I first found it through a touching fragment, featuring a stroll in San Francisco by Judith Butler and Taylor’s sister Sunaura. Because they have a conversation at all, and on the theme that we all need one another’s help, the film becomes less subject to Nussbaum’s charge:

Portraying philosophers as authority figures is a baneful inversion of the entire Socratic process, which aimed to replace authority with reason.

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Pascal, Pensées, S 115–182

This document contains fragments

  • 80–149 of the Lafuma,

  • 115–182 of the Sellier

edition of Pascal’s Pensées, in modernized French and the following sections:

  • Raisons des Effets

  • Grandeur

  • Contrariétés

  • Divertissements

  • Philosophes

  • Le Souverain Bien

  • A [Port-Royal]

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